Mary' an Orphan. Part 1.
It must be owned, though iff be a strange thing, that the history of the Virgin is barren of facts and full of interruptions: one might compare it to the majestic ruins of some ancient city of the desert. Here, gigantic pillars, whose bases are as immovable us those of the mountains; there, porticoes which the Arab, fond of marvellous tales, proclaims as the work of the genii; farther on, temples buried in sand, which the imagination can still build up again; and then at intervals a plain of sand, bare and barren, which has not a single blade of grass for the camel of the Bedouin. Instead of the apostles,—who, it would seem, were too much taken up with the grand person of Christ to think of his earthly family,—the fathers have introduced us to the virtues of St. Ann: we have entered after them beneath her humble roof; we have been witnesses of her vows, of her fervent prayers, of the joys of her late maternity, of the effusion of her gratitude; but here the thread of tradition becomes so loose that it breaks continually, and the rest of St. Ann's life is almost entirely matter of conjecture. This mother, who had obtained her blessed daughter after so many fasts and prayers, who had surrounded her childhood with so much love, who had brought her in her arms to the Lord, 1 and deposited her with tears in his sanctuary, appears again upon the scene but for a moment,—and then it is to die. Still it is not to be supposed that the spouse of Joachim remained nine years without seeing Mary again. The exterior buildings of the temple, where children consecrated to the God of Israel were brought up, could not have been forbidden to mothers: a mother has also sacred and religious rights; all nations declare them inviolable, and moreover, the Scripture informs us that Anna, the wife of Elcana, freely visited her son at Silo, on solemn days, and that she never failed to bring a tunic woven with her own hands to the young prophet whom she had lent to the Lord. Anna had had. after the birth of Samuel several children, whom she beheld growing up under her eyes like young olive-trees, and who shared with the little servant of the tabernacle her maternal solicitude: St. Ann had none but Mary; 2 the sum of her happiness, the hope of her old age, the source of her joy on earth, were all centred in her. It is not then to bo doubted that, in company with her spouse, she came to see her every time that her piety led her to the temple, and that she also sat up, by the light of her lamp at home, or by the white light of the moon, 3 to weave the virginal robes of her child.
It is believed that St. Ann and St. Joachim returned to their home after the presentation of Mary, and dwelt there some years before they settled finally in Jerusalem. Joachim, who was not an artisan, like Joseph, apparently cultivated the small property inherited from his forefathers, and enjoyed that happy mediocrity which has always been the ambition of sages, great men, and poets, in their moments of grumbling at fortune. 4 Churches have been erected at Sephoris, Nazareth, and Jerusalem, on sites which formed part of his patrimony; but the vineyard or field of his fathers must have been in the environs of Sephoris: this, was the cause of his returning to lower Galilee. Joachim was a true Israelite, much attached to the law of Moses; he went up to the temple at all tile solemn festivals with his wife and some of his relations, after the custom of the Hebrews, and it is to be supposed that the desire of seeing his daughter increased his attraction for the ceremonies of divine worship. With what joy did his good and pious partner take her travelling veil to journey to the holy city! How long did those tracks which she saw winding across the mountains and plains appear to travel over! She reached by sight, she gained twenty times over in thought, before she arrived at them in reality, the bushes of nopals, the tufts of rose-bay, the masses of green oaks or sycamores which arose at intervals upon her journey; for when each of these points were gained, she was the nearer to her daughter,—her daughter, the gift of the Lord, the child of miracle, she whom an angel had proclaimed the glory of Israel ! With what emotion must she have hailed, from the bottom of the valley, that tower of Antonia which arose, splendid and menacing, on its base of polished marble, 5 to protect the house of prayer! and how much must the sight of the temple, which contained her child and her God, have affected that tender and holy soul!
When the evening was come, and the trumpets of the priests called the people to the ceremony, 6 Ann hastened to adore God, and cast her eyes upon her daughter, whom she had not seen for whole months. The court, which had no ceiling but the sky, mingled the dazzling light of its chandeliers 7 with the flickering light of the stars; thousands of lights intersected each other beneath the portions adorned with fresh garlands; 8 and the princes of the priests passed through the crowd with their splendid ornaments, brought from the borders of India by the caravans of Palmyra. 9 From time to time, the insulated harmonies of harps seemed to accompany the low shrill sound, like the confused noise of the waves, 10 which a multitude of Hebrews made at their prayers, who had come from the banks of the Nile, the Euphrates, and the Tiber, to bend their knees before the only altar of the God of their fathers. 11 Amidst this immense concourse of believers, national and foreign, Ann, who prayed fervently, raised her head but for a moment: it was when Mary and her young companions were passing along, white and veiled, with lamps in their hands, like the wise virgins of the gospel.
When the feast was over, Ann, after having blessed and embraced Mary, took the road of the mountains again with Joachim; she departed from Jerusalem with slow steps, without daring to look back, and carried with her happiness and recollections to last her all the time till the next festival.
1 St. Alphonsus, Le Glorie di Maria, Disc. 3, p. 59.
2 Some have given Ann another daughter, named Mary, born twenty years before the Blessed Virgin; this tradition has not been received by the Church.
3 The Jewish women spun together during the summer by moonlight, since the Jewish doctors authorised a husband to repudiate his wife when the women who spun by moonlight spoke ill of her.—(Sotah c. 6, p. 250.) This custom of spinning by moonlight still continues in many southern countries.
4 According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, the father of the Blessed Virgin was " an honourable citizen," of signal piety, and much fearing God. F. de Valverde assures us, on the testimony of some fathers of the Church, that enjoying easy circumstances, Ann and Joachim gave one part of their savings to the temple and the other to the distressed.—(Life of Jesus Christ, t. i. p. 46.)
6 The religious festivals of the Jews always began in the evening.
7 These chandeliers were of gold, and fifty cubits high. The light -which they diffused was seen, say the rabbins, who were born to exaggerate, to an incredible distance from Jerusalem, and even in the towns the houses were so well lighted that, without the help of their lamps, the cooks could pick out the different kinds of grain for their soups.—(Talmud, tract Succa., fol. 3.)
8 These green garlands were put on during the Feast of Tabernacles.—(Basn., liv. vii. c. 16.)
9 The dresses which the priests wore in the evening on solemn feasts came from India, and were very expensive.—(Basn., liv. vii; c. 16)
10 We know that the Jews and Arabs pray aloud.
11 While the temple existed, the Jews made it a particular point of devotion to repair thither. More than eleven hundred thousand persons perished at the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus, because they were assembled for the feast of the Passover, when it was besieged.—(Joseph., lib. vii. c. 17.)