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Legends of the Madonna - The Ministry of Christ

( Originally Published 1895 )



After the marriage at Cana in Galilee, which may be regarded as the commencement of the miraculous mission of our Lord, we do not hear anything of his Mother, the Virgin, till the time approached when he was to close his ministry by his death. She is not once referred to by name in the Gospels until the scene of the Crucifixion. We are indeed given to understand, that in the journeys of our Saviour, and particularly when he went up from Nazareth to Jerusalem, the women followed and ministered to him (Matt. xxvii. 55 ; Luke viii. 2) ; and those who have written the life of the Virgin for the edification of the people, and those who have translated it into the various forms of Art, have taken it for granted that SHE, his Mother, could not have been absent or indifferent where others attended with affection and zeal : but I do not remember any scene in which she is an actor, or even a conspicuous figure.

Among the carvings on the stalls at Amiens there is one which represents the passage (Matt. xii. 46) wherein our Saviour, preaching in Judea, is told that his mother and his brethren stand without. " But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother, and who are my brethren ? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren ! " The composition exhibits on one side Jesus standing and teaching his disciples; while on the other, through an open door, we perceive the Virgin and two or three others. This representation is very rare. The date of these stalls is the sixteenth century; and such a group in a series of the life of the Virgin could not, I think, have occurred in the fifteenth. It would have been quite in-consistent with all the religious tendencies of that time, to exhibit Christ as preaching within, while his " divine and most glorious " Mother was standing without.

The theologians of the middle ages insist on the close and mystical relation which they assure us existed between Christ and his Mother : however far separated, there was constant communion between them ; and wherever he might be—in whatever acts of love, or mercy, or benign wisdom occupied for the good of man — there was also his Mother, present with him in the spirit. I think we can trace the impress of this mysticism in some of the productions of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. For example, among the frescoes by Angelico da Fiesole in the cloisters of St. Mark, at Florence, there is one of the Transfiguration, where the Saviour stand glorified with arms outspread — a simple and sublime conception - and on each side half-figures of Moses and Elias : lower down appear the Virgin and St. Dominick. There is also in the same series a fresco of the Last Supper as the Eucharist, in which the Virgin is kneeling, glorified, on one side of the picture, and appears as a partaker of the rite. Such a version of either subject must be regarded as wholly mystical and exceptional, and I am not acquainted with any other instance.



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