The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 24.

Chapter 8.

Paolo Veronese The Annunciation
The Annunciation. Part 1.

It is easy to imagine the tranquil and blessed life which the married couple led during the first months of their chaste union; the peace of God reigned in their humble dwelling, and work divided their time with prayer, which made it less laborious by sanctifying it. After an ancient custom, which still subsists among the Arabs and in a great part of the East, Joseph exercised his trade in a different place from that where Mary lived. 1 His workshop, where Jesus himself worked, was a low room of ten or twelve feet square: a stone seat outside offered rest to the passer-by, or the traveller, which was protected from the burning rays of the sun by a kind of awning of twisted palm-leaves. 2 There it was that the laborious workman formed his ploughs, his yokes, and rustic carts. Sometimes he built under his own inspection the huts of the valley; sometimes his arm, yet strong, cut down the tall sycamores and black turpentine-trees of Mount Carmel. 3 The pay which he received for so much fatigue was but small, and this little he shared with the poor.

His gentle and holy companion was not idle on her side ; gifted with a mind enlightened, judicious, and wise, without regret for the past, without illusions for the future, viewing the world such as it is, and her own position in its true light, she piously conformed herself to it, and desired to fulfil its sacred obligations with religious exactitude. From the moment that she took possession of the house of her mother, she put on poverty as a garment of honour sent her from God, and became what it behoved her to be in the obscure condition to which Providence had reduced her—a young and simple daughter of the people. All the brilliant and fancy works belonging to the elegancies of life were at once laid aside, and replaced by the fatiguing cares and monotonous occupations of a poor household, where the mistress of the house has neither slaves nor servants. The delicate hands of Mary, accustomed to handle silken tissues, platted with leaves of the date-palm, or rushes pulled from the banks of the Jordan, the matting which covered the rough floor of her dwelling; her spindle was covered with coarse flax; she had to grind the grains of wheat, barley, and doura, 4 the coarse and yellow flour of which she kneaded into round and thin cakes. Covered with her white veil, with an antique urn upon her head, 5 she went to draw water at a fountain at a little distance, 6 like the wives of the patriarchs, or to wash her blue robes in the running water of the brooks, like the princesses of Homer.
Jesus Christ, witness of the laborious habits of this valiant woman, sometimes alludes to them in his parables; and these simple occupations of Mary are preserved in the gospel narrative, like a sea-weed in amber. We see, in fact, the industrious woman putting leaven into three measures of meal, 7 carefully sweeping her floor to recover something lost, 8 and economically mending an old garment. 9 When Jesus seeks a comparison, to recommend purity of heart, he draws it from the remembrance of her who carefully cleans " both the inside and outside of the cup; " 10 and we suspect that his thought is of Mary when he praises the offering of the widow " who gives not of her abundance, but of her indigence."Thus the poet of Chios represents to us Justice under the features of his mother, a poor woman of the people, weighing exactly the wool which she is going to spin for the support of herself and her son, and remaining upright and just towards the rich, in the midst of deep misery.

At the approach of night, 11 when the birds seek a shelter beneath the foliage, Mary placed upon a neat polished table, the work of Joseph's hands, little loaves of barley and doura, savoury dates, butter, and cheese, dry fruits and herbs, which composed the frugal banquet of the descendant of the princes of Israel. These dishes, simply prepared, were the chief food of the ancient Hebrews,—a sober race, who knew how to be contented with bread and water when necessity required it. 12

1 This house of St. Joseph is a hundred and thirty or a hundred and forty paces from that of St. Ann. The place is still pointed out, under the name of the workshop of Joseph, This shop had been transformed into a large church ; the Turks have destroyed one part of it; hut there remains a chapel where the holy sacrifice of the mass is daily offered.—(Pelerinage a Jerusalem, par le P. de Geramb.)

2 These shops are still the same all over the Levant.—(See Burckhardt, Voyage en Arabie, t. i.)

3 St. Justin, martyr (Dialog, cum Tryphone), records that Jesus Christ helped his adopted father in making yokes and ploughs. St. Ambrose (in Luc., lib. iii. 2) assures us that St. Joseph worked at felling and cutting out trees, at building houses, and other such work.

4 The first mills that were invented were hand-mills. In Egypt, Arabia, Palestine, and even in Greece, they were turned by women. There is still shown at Mecca, in a fine house, which is believed to have been that of Khadidje, a hollow place, where it is said that Fatima, surnamed w the Brilliant,*' daughter of Mahomet, and who of Ali, turned her own hand-mill when she was grown up.—(See* Burckhardt, Voyage en Arabie.) The wives of the Arab sheiks have still this painful occupation allotted to them. Under the reign of the eons of Clovis, St. Radegundes, Queen of France, ground herself, in imitation of the Blessed Virgin, all the corn that she consumed during Lent—(Le Grand d'Aussy, Hist, privee des Fran9ais.) The invention of water-mills is attributed to Mithridates. It is certain that they were in existence in his time. Among other proofs, is cited that fine epigram of Antipater of Thessalonica, of which the following is a translation:—"You women who have been hitherto employed in grinding our corn, let your arms rest henceforth, and sleep without care; the birds will no longer proclaim with their songs the break of day for you. Ceres has commanded the Naiads to do your work: they obey, and quickly turn a wheel which rapidly moves by itself the heavy millstones." The Romans did not bring water-mills to perfection till Constantino had abolished slavery.

5 These urns are enormous earthen vessels, of a height out of all proportion. The women of Nazareth carry them on their heads, and beneath so great a weight, sometimes even with an infant in their arms, they walk with an activity quite astonishing.—(F. de Geramb, t ii. p. 239.)

6 This fountain is called in the country the fountain of Mary. Tradition relates that the divine Mother of Jesus went habitually to draw the water which she required, and to be convinced that it must have been so, it would suffice to consider that water is extremely rare at Nazareth. The road which leads to this fountain, where the pious mother of Constantino had had fine basins and reservoirs constructed, is bordered With nopals and fruit-trees.—(F. de Geramb, loco citato.)

St. Luke xiii. 21, and St. Matt. xiii. 34.

8  Ibid., v. 36.

9 Ibid., xv. 8.

10 St. Luke xi. 39, and St. Matt. xxv: 25.

11 In Israel, those who kept regular hours eat after their work, and pretty late.—(Fleury, Moeurs des Israelites.) The principal meal of Joseph and Mary was about six o'clock in the evening.

12 Fleury, Moeurs des Israel., p. 61.