St Mary The Virgin Chapter XI. pt 1.


ZEBEDEE, the father of James and John, was a fisher of Galilee, and probably of Bethsaida. We know that he had hired servants in his employment; 1 he was therefore a boat-owner, enjoying a certain amount of ease. This would not have been sufficient to make him one of the chief among the leading men of Galilee, but it renders less improbable what is written in an ancient chronicle: " After the death of Zebedee his father, John sold the portion of goods which he had left to him in Galilee, and bought property in Jerusalem. He also said of himself that he^ was known to the high-priest. 2 He it was who received the saintly Mary in his dwelling at Zion until the day of her Assumption. After her Assumption he preached the word at Ephesus in Asia, and it was there that God took him from the world." 3

Besides, we are at liberty to explain otherwise and more simply the connection of Saint John with Jerusalem. It is at least quite as probable to suppose that, even during the lifetime of Zebedee, they went to the capital to sell the fish caught in the lake, that they had a house there which served as a shop, and that the Galilean merchants were not unknown in the pontifical palace. But beyond all these hypotheses, it is certain that after the final injunction of the Master, Mary lived with Saint John; and according to a quite probable tradition which is supported by the Gospel text itself, 4 the house in which they dwelt together belonged to Saint John or to his family. This house was, in all likelihood, reserved for their use, when the first faithful renounced their private possessions, and had all their goods in common.

Local tradition is not quite clear as to the exact site of the house. Some ancient evidences speak of Mary's sojourn in the valley of Jehoshaphat, that is to say, near the place which is now shown as her tomb. Others say that it was at the south-west of the town, on the hill of Zion, and in the immediate neighbourhood of the Upper Room. This is the piece of land which the Emperor William II acquired in 1898, and gave to the German catholics. Since then there has been much discussion as to the authenticity of the associations which have gathered round it. Upon this probable site of Mary's dwelling, the church of the " Dormition " has been built.

According to the best founded opinion, Our Lady, so long as she lived, hardly ever went away from Jerusalem. 5 It may be that at times she went with Saint John to revisit Galilee, or yet again, she may have accompanied him in his journeys to Samaria, or upon the borders of Palestine. We may suppose still further that John, departing on some short mission at a little distance away, left her sometimes in the care of other faithful disciples. But these two seem to have habitually resided in the holy city, and the missions of the son of Zebedee, so long as Mary lived, do not appear to have taken him very far from the land of Israel.

Holy Scripture says nothing of the life led by the mother of Jesus in that retreat, nor of the influence which she exercised on those around her. God seems to have willed that we should only be able to guess at much concerning the great mystery which encompassed Mary. Scripture gives a few indications which are at the same time reserved and enlightening, and the rest it has left to the reflection and love of the faithful. During the life of Jesus, Mary is revealed to us on occasions of special importance, and almost always at periods of the manifestation of grace. And in the same way, at the beginning of the Acts, she is there in the midst of the Church, the bond of unity and love, the centre of the apostles and with the faithful grouped around her. After having that first scene recalled to us, we are left to suppose that Mary remained the centre of the Church, and was upon earth the soul of the new-born community. But we can only conjecture exactly what she did, or how her influence was manifested; and this mysterious half-light well becomes Mary's modesty. It harmonises also with her part in life as woman and mother, she who is of so much importance in the family, but is often apparently kept in the background; a sweet and far reaching influence of love, which can understand so well the hearts of her children. And it is in this way, by the aid of the principles of faith, added to what is otherwise known of Mary, that Christian meditation has learned to comprehend the life of Our Lady during her last years.

She is the very sweet and holy bond which has united Jesus to humanity. It was necessary that she should be here before Him to receive and give Him to the world; it was necessary that she should remain after He had' gone, that she might teach men to look to Him, to live in Him, and to apply to themselves the fruits of His redemption. It was her heavenly mission to minister to the body of Christ. But the body of Christ is not only that divine flesh, formerly nourished by her, afterwards suffering, and finally glorified; it is the Church also. Since the grace of the children of God by adoption is so great, it creates such a close bond of union between Christ and those who are His own, that the faithful are members of the same body with Him, their Head. The person of Jesus and the Church form together the whole body of Christ. It was of the whole Christ that Mary was the mother; and therefore as she had aided Jesus at Bethlehem and Nazareth, so must she also assist the new-born Church, and lead it towards the adult state of Christian life and spirit.

To do this, like a mother, she taught at first by example. A mother prays, draws near to receive the sacraments, and in this way teaches her children to do as she does. And thus did Mary. She was a pattern for us all to follow in the matter of prayer, whether in the silence of home, or in the Temple. For they continued to gather together in the Temple. It was still for them a venerated place, and there was nothing to prevent the faithful from going with the Jews to sing the praises of the one God and Father, or to go up there for private prayer. The apostles also sometimes taught in the Temple as Jesus had done, and usually went by preference to Solomon's porch, where, not long before, the Master had spoken to the multitude. 6

There was, however, one ceremony that was not performed in the Temple at Jerusalem, for it belonged essentially to the religion founded by Jesus. It was in groups and in houses that they celebrated the religious rite, mysteriously designated by the name of " breaking of bread." 7 According to the Acts, and in some passages of the Epistles, it appears that the apostles, literally faithful to the command to do in memory of the Master that which He had Himself done, repeated what they had witnessed at the Last Supper. As on the evening of Holy Thursday, a meal appears to have been associated with the prayers, hymns, and consecration which formed the Eucharistic rite. If this was so, we can conceive of nothing more holy, excepting the feast in which Jesus gave Himself to His disciples, than the moment when, at those commemorations at which Mary was present and took part, the mystery was renewed by the hands of Saint John.

But the knowledge of to-day recognises that we are very ignorant concerning the primitive liturgy. It may have been that the sacramental feast was celebrated apart from the ordinary meal. But the important points remain undisputed : from the first days of the Church the Eucharist was the centre and spirit of these intimate gatherings; they met in prayer and thanksgiving to celebrate it; the apostle who presided, in repeating the words of Jesus and transforming the bread into His body and the wine into His blood, thus reproduced in a sacramental manner, the sacrifice of Calvary ; he then presented to the faithful, the sacrificed flesh of Christ and His cup of salvation. It was thus, for Mary, the daily visit of her Son. With what extraordinary fervour she must have taken part in the prayers then used ; and how, to all those around, she must have given the example of receiving the sacred elements with outward reverence and inward devotion ! In those times, each one uttered freely the holy thoughts which were communicated to him by the Spirit of God; and perhaps she, too, without departing from the reserve prescribed for women, may have allowed something of the transport of her soul to appear to others, carrying with her the faithful in her worship, her requests, and her thanksgivings. And perhaps on other days and at other times, she set them the lesson of her silence, of her modestly retiring attitude, or of her profound contemplation. Then also, without doubt, when the meeting was dispersed, she continued alone her communings with Him who was the life of her soul. She was the first among women who worshipped Jesus in His sacrament; she taught the Church with what respect, purity, and love, it is necessary to approach this mystery; and the multitudes which for nineteen centuries have knelt before the hidden God, cannot please Him better than by following the inclinations manifested in the heart of His mother in those far-off days.

Mary's sweet influence must certainly have been felt by those who visited her, and in the conversations which she held with many faithful souls. She was surrounded not only by the circle of women named in the Gospels, but that circle widened each day. The ordinary companions of Mary brought to her others who were won to the faith, from Jerusalem, from Samaria, and from Galilee. Mary's conversation enlightened and transformed their hearts, even more than the regular catechising which prepared them for baptism. She filled them with joy, for she helped them to comprehend better what inestimable blessings Jesus Christ had brought into the world. She taught them thanksgiving for the unspeakable gift of God; the spirit of prayer by which comes perseverance and purity of life ; a scorn of the riches of this world, for the heart of the Christian should be in heaven with Jesus ; charity, which cleaves to God, and which through God loves all creation; love, which casts itself upon the Person of Jesus, and which, seeing in Him both God and man, through Him loves both God and, in God, man also. This is the whole spirit of the Gospel, and it is this spirit which the mother inspires in her children.

The Christian life was not only in individual souls, it became the social life of the Church. The community was organised and formed into groups and classes upon which Mary's influence could not but have made itself felt. Virginity began to be recognised as a Christian virtue. Already the Church honoured, as a virgin, Martha the sister of Lazarus. And must not contact with the one Virgin above all others have purified and elevated that soul, as well as many others of whose names we are ignorant ? And as, at that remote epoch, virgins were included in the Christian society, so also widows formed a distinct group. From the earliest days there had been poor widows, who were assisted daily from the resources of the Christian community; and later, perhaps also earlier, there were richer widows, who exercised a kind of diaconate, consecrated to the practice of good works. 8 The Virgin Mary, who was also the example for widows, being the widow of Joseph, and yet more the widow upon earth of her Son and of her God, inspired some of these with a love of poverty, others with love for the poor, and all with detachment from the world and joy in piety.

These women were not the only ones who had intercourse with her. Those who were converted were doubtless presented to her, especially the most notable. She extended her care even to the members of the hierarchy. It has always been thought that the apostles went to her for enlightenment; for, as we see by more than one episode in the Acts, the grace of Pentecost did not enlighten them all at once as to what should be done on each occasion of difficulty. And at that time, when it was a question of applying to the things of daily life the religious transformation which the Messiah had wrought in their souls, of detaching themselves by degrees from ancient ceremonies, of uniting in one Church Jews and baptised heathens, of placing upon an immovable basis a religion destined to endure as long as the world, difficult and delicate questions must have daily presented themselves. In addition to the promised and unfailing help of the Holy Spirit, Jesus had left to His apostles His mother, the throne of wisdom and the treasury of good counsel. To govern was not her mission; decision and authority remained in the hands of the appointed heads; but it was a useful and sweet privilege for these to come to seek light and consolation in her presence.

It appears that Mary must have been acquainted with each of the four Evangelists. It is certain that she was with Saint Matthew, for he was one of the twelve. Saint Mark could not have been unknown to her, for his mother, one of the holy women who bore the name of Mary, was among the most well-known Christians in Jerusalem, and owned one of the houses in which the faithful gathered in great numbers.


1 St Mark i. 20.

2 St John xviii. 15.

3 Hippolytus of Thebes, fragment I, n. v. (ed. Diekamp, Munster, 1898, p. 6-7). In the second part of this edition, pp. 88-113, M. Diekamp indicates the various traditions and the important ancient texts which relate to the last years of the Virgin Mary.

4 St John xix. 27.

5 I consider it therefore most probable, not only that Mary did not die at Ephesus or in its neighbourhood, but that she never even went to Asia Minor. The letter of the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus (Mansi: Consilia, t. iv., col. 1241), often quoted, does not appear to say that Mary ever came to that town. Some years ago there was a fresh discussion on the question on account of the following fact : Anne Catherine Emmerich, in her visions, edited by Clement Brentano, said that the Holy Virgin died near Ephesus, in a house which she described minutely; then, in 1891, the French missionaries established at Smyrna, priests of the Congregation of the Mission, went to explore Bulbul-Dagh, a mountain near the ruins of Ephesus, and there found, in the place called Panaghia-Capouli (the door of the All Holy) an ancient house or chapel, which appeared to them, as to other travellers since, to agree with the indications given by the seer ; and that discovery was, it appears, confirmed by a local tradition of the inhabitants of Kirkindjeh, descendants of the Ephesians. Evidently, when it is proved that the description of the house near Ephesus and other details relative to the death of Mary, contained in the visions of Catherine Emmerich, proceed from a divine revelation, it will only be necessary to adjust and to correct, in accordance with that which God has made known to his servant, some of the ideas which at present seemed to be a part of the true history of the apostolic era. I am ready to make these corrections, if ever the divine origin of Anna Catherine's story comes to be recognised ; but it appears to me that that day has not yet arrived. I do not think that the possibility of a natural explanation of the description, and of the coincidence (which moreover does not seem to have struck everyone) between the description and the discovery of 1891, has been exhausted. The errors, and especially the numerous and indisputably fantastical features, which are contained in the "revelations" published by Clement Brentano, necessitate a discreet reserve as to the weight to be attached to this work and to the teachings which it implies. And besides, there are very good reasons for maintaining the tradition of Jerusalem against the claims of Ephesus. The principal of these are : 1st. The direct assertions in favour of Jerusalem, which are quite as strong as the local tradition of the Kirkindjotes in favour of Ephesus; 2nd. What is still more important, a careful study of the Acts and of the history of the apostles seems to bring out very clearly the following conclusions : that Saint John did not go to Ephesus before Saint Paul; that Saint Paul founded the church of Ephesus about the year 55, most probably after the death of Mary ; and finally, that Saint John came there only after the year 60, or possibly after the death of Saint Paul (67), or even (Fouard : Saint Jean) after the destruction of Jerusalem (70).

6 St Luke xxiv. 53 ; Acts ii. 46 ; v. 12, 42.

7 Acts ii. 42, 46.

8 See Acts vi. I. ; I Timothy v. 9-10, 16.