The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 17.

Chapter 6

Mary' an Orphan. Part 2.

"When age and labour had worn out Joachim, and he was no longer able to cultivate his paternal land by himself, he thought of coming to live near to his daughter; the holy couple finally quit lower Galilee, and came to live at Jerusalem, in a quarter near the temple. Ann had then arrived at the summit of her wishes: she could serve the Lord in his holy house, and see Mary often. How many times, during the fine summer evenings, while turning her spindle on the terrace roof of her house, must she have let it slip out of her motionless fingers, while her maternal looks were thoughtfully fixed on the gold and cedar roof v of the temple ? " Where a man's treasure is," says the Scripture, " there is his heart."

St. Ann could have shortened the term of this painful absence, as the law of Moses would have accepted her compensation. She did not desire it: her gratitude towards God spoke more powerfully than her maternal tenderness; and when the voice of religion was heard, the cry of nature was appeased.

The Virgin had lived nearly nine years secluded in the temple, 1 when the first dark cloud came to sadden the sweet and serene sky of her young life; her beloved father, Joachim, the just man, fell seriously ill, and soon the symptoms of approaching dissolution were apparent. Alarmed at his situation, his relatives and friends hastened to afford him a thousand testimonies of affection and sympathy; for there reigned a great and laudable union among the families of Juda. The dying man benignantly smiled upon his friends and relations; like Jacob, he had long been a sojourner upon the earth, and it mattered but little to him that the wind came and overturned his tabernacle, for beyond this planet of earth, he beheld in spirit the happy regions where he was going to repose in the bosom of Abraham.

"When the gradual exhaustion of his strength had given the aged man to understand that life was departing from him, he made aloud, in presence of all, the confession of his sins, after the manner of the Hebrews, 2 and offered up his death to the sovereign Judge in expiation of the faults inherent in our nature, from which the most just are not exempt. This duty fulfilled, Joachim asked for his daughter, to give her his blessing. Mary came; 3 her ardent prayers for the preservation of the author of her days had not been heard: the jealous God was pleased to dissolve by degrees the terrestrial attachments of the spouse whom he had chosen for himself, that she might no longer have any support upon earth but

Pious authors have been of opinion that at the moment when Joachim stretched out his hands in the attitude of blessing over his child, a revelation from above allowed him to see all at once the glorious destiny to which Heaven called his daughter: the joy of the elect was diffused over his venerable face; he dropped his arms, bowed down his head, and died.

The house then resounded with wailings and shrill cries; the women struck their bosoms and tore their hair; 4 the men covered their heads with ashes and rent their garments; while certain Jewish matrons, moved by a principle of devotion and charity, extended a thick veil over the pale but serene countenance of the just man, whom it was no longer permitted to see in this world, and bent his thumb in his hand, which they left open, as a sign of being abandoned by all earthly things.

After washing the body with water mixed with myrrh and the leaves of dry roses, these pious women wrapped it up in a linen winding-sheet, which they bound round with bandages after the manner of Egypt. Then, having opened all the doors and windows of the house, 5 they lighted a brazen lamp with several lights near the corpse, the lamp of the dead, which cast its mournful reflexion over the funeral couch.

The next day a numerous train, in which were seen some flute-players, 6 stopped before the house of the dead. The relations made their way to the upper chamber, where Joachim had been laid forth, and deposited the corpse upon a litter, 7 which they took up upon their shoulders. They passed along the streets of Jerusalem, chanting funeral canticles, accompanied by the soft and plaintive sound of flutes, and above which were .heard the loud lamentations of the mourners. Ann and Mary were present at the funeral, and walked with their heads down, among the matrons of their family, who shed streams of tears. 8

The procession passed the sheep-gate, which afterwards, among the Christians, bore the name of the Gate of the Virgin. When they had arrived at the place of interment, the sound of the flutes, the canticles, and lamentations ceased for a short time, and he who conducted the mourning made this address to the corpse :—" Blessed be God who formed thee, fed thee, and has taken away thy life. 0 ye dead, he knows your number, and he will one day raise you up again. Blessed be he who takes away life and restores it! " 9

A small bag of earth was laid upon the head of the dead man, then the sepulchre was opened,—a dark cave, which was called the house of the living 10 where the patriarch was going to sleep his last sleep, waiting for the other members of his family. Then cries arose from all sides, enough to wring the heart. Ann threw herself upon the mortal remains of her spouse, to pay him the last adieu, and soon she was carried off in a state of insensibility. After consigning to the earth the sacred remains of the just man, they rolled up to the entrance of the sepulchral cave an enormous stone, which no one must remove under pain of excommunication. The funeral cries began again, and the spectators, pulling up three several times a tuft of grass, and throwing it each time behind them, said in a mournful tone, " They shall flourish as the grass of the field!" These rites terminated the obsequies of the descendant of the kings of Juda, the father of Mary, the grandfather of Jesus Christ according to the flesh. 11

1 F. Croiset, Exercises de Piete, t. xviii. p. 59.

2 Confession among the Hebrews is of the highest antiquity; the Jews made it at the hour of death, not only aloud, but before ten persons and a rabbin. Aaron Ben-Berachia, in his book entitled Maavar Jobbok, where he treats of the art of dying well, and of the manner of assisting the dying, relates the manner of confessing sins, and the prayers of the agony. Abraham Ben-Isaac Laniado has also made a book entitled The Buckler of Abraham, a work esteemed by the Jews, in which he treats of the confession of sins.—(See also Basn. liv. vii. c. 24.)

3 It was a custom which came down from the patriarchs, that children should receive the blessing of their dying father: Mary must have conformed to this custom ; her retirement in the temple was not a monastic enclosure, and St. Joachim lived at that time in Jerusalem.

4 St. Jerom remarks, that in his time, most of the Jews mangled their skin at the death of their near relations, and made themselves bald by tearing off their hair, which they sacrificed to death.

5 Dead bodies, among the Jews, defile and render unclean those who touch them.—(Misnah, Ordo puritatum.) " When the doors are shut, the house of the dead is regarded as a sepulchre, and consequently it is denied; when the doors are open, on the contrary, the uncleanness departs."—(Maimonides.)

6 Jesus Christ found minstrels who made a great rout at the door of a ruler whose daughter he had raised to life. Maimonides says, that the poorest Jew is obliged to hire two flute-players and a female mourner for the funeral of his wife, and that the rich must increase the number in proportion to their wealth.—(See also Fleury, Manners of the Israelites, p. 106.)

7 These funeral litters were used long before coffins, which are still unknown to the Arabs, who bury their dead in a linen cloth only, which gives the jackals, who prowl about the cemeteries by night, the facility of disinterring corpses to devour them.

8 Women and children assisted at the funerals of their husbands and fathers. The widow of Nairn followed the corpse of her son; Joseph conducted the obsequies of his father; this custom still continues in Judea. The children of the Hebrews received the blessing of their parents, closed their eyelids, and accompanied them to the field of repose, to gather them to the bones of their forefathers. —(Salvador, Hist, des Institutions de Moise et du peuple Hebreu, t. ii. p. 398.)

9 Leo of Modena, Cont. des Juifs. Buxtorf, Syn. Hebr., p. 502.

10 The sepulchre should have been called the house of the dead; but they gave it, on the contrary, the title of house of the living, to indicate that the immortal soul still lives after the separation from the body : this denomination is attributed to the Pharisees.—(Basn., liv. vii. c. 24.) The rabbins give an exact description of these sepulchres. They make the entrance to them very narrow, for usually a stone rolled up to the entrance sufficed to close them. They left a great space empty, where the bearers went in and deposited the coffin, before they set it in its place. They hollowed out a certain number of niches in the sides and at the end, in which they placed the bodies of each family. Tombs were greatly respected; it was not allowed to pass over them by making an aqueduct or a high-road through them, nor to go thither to cut wood, nor to lead flocks there to feed. They were placed on the high-roads, in order to excite the remembrance of those who passed by, and preserve the memory of the dead.—(Lightfoot, Gent. Chorogr., c. 100.) In the gospel, we see that the tomb of Lazarus was a cave closed by a large stone.

11 Salom. Ben-Virg√¶, Hist. Jud., p. 193; Leo of Modena, Oont. relig. des Juifs: Basn., liv. vii. c. 25.