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The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich



[On October 28 ^th, 1821, Catherine Emmerich described in these words what she was at that moment seeing in a waking vision:] The child Mary will, I think, soon be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. Already some days ago I saw the three-year-old child Mary standing before Anna in a room in her house and being instructed in her prayers, as the priests were soon to come to examine the child in preparation for her reception in the Temple. Today a feast in preparation for this event is taking place in Anna's house, and guests are gathering there--relations, men, women, and children. There are also three priests, one from Sephoris (a nephew of Anna's father), one from Nazareth, and a third from a place on a mountain some four hours from Nazareth. The name of this place begins with the syllable Ma. [59] These priests have come partly to examine the child Mary to see whether she is fitted for dedication to the Temple, and partly to give directions about her clothing, which has to comply with a prescribed ecclesiastical pattern. There were three sets of garments, each consisting of a kind of petticoat, a bodice, and a robe of different colors. There were also two wreaths of silk and wool, and an arched crown. One of the priests himself cut out some pieces of these garments and arranged everything as it should be.

[A few days later (on November 2 ^nd) Catherine Emmerich continued:] Today I saw great festivities in the house of Mary's parents. (I am not sure whether this actually happened then or whether it was a repetition of an earlier vision, for I had seen something like it before during the last three days, but because of much suffering and many interruptions it escaped my mind.) The three priests were still there, and besides them there were several relations of the family with their little daughters; for instance, Mary Heli and her seven-year-old child Mary Cleophas, who is much stouter and sturdier than the child Mary. Mary is very delicately formed, and has reddish-fair hair, smooth, but curly at the ends. She can already read, and all are astonished at the wise answers she gives. Maraha, Anna's sister from Sephoris, is also there with a little daughter, and so are other relations with their little girls.

The garments, which had been partly cut out by the priests, had now been finished by the women. During the ceremony the child was dressed in them several times and asked various questions. It was all very solemn and serious, and though the old priests sometimes smiled gently during the proceedings, they were greatly impressed by Mary's wise answers and by her parents' tears of joy. The ceremony took place in a square room near the eating room. It was lit by an opening in the roof covered with gauze. A red carpet was spread on the floor, and on this stood an altar table with a red cloth and a white one over it. Above this table was a picture in some sort of embroidery or needlework which hung like a curtain in front of a kind of little cupboard containing scrolls of writings and prayers. (It was a picture of a man, I think of Moses. He was dressed in a flowing praying-mantle like the one he wore when he went up the mountain to ask something of God. In the picture he was not holding the Tables of the Law in his hand; they were hanging at his side or on his arm. Moses was very tall and broad-shouldered. He had red hair. His head was very long and pointed, like a sugarloaf, and he had a big hooked nose. On his broad forehead he had two protuberances like horns, turned inwards towards each other. They were not hard like animals' horns, but had soft skin, as it were ribbed or streaked, and only projected slightly from the forehead like two small lumps, brownish and wrinkled. He already had them as a child, but then they were little warts. This gave him a very strange appearance, which I never liked because it reminded me involuntarily of pictures of Satan. I have several times seen protuberances like these on the foreheads of old prophets and of some old hermits. Some of these had only one, in the middle of the forehead.) On the altar lay Mary's three sets of ceremonial garments as well as many other stuffs presented by her relations on the occasion of the child's entry into the Temple. There was a sort of little throne raised on steps in front of the altar. Joachim and Anna and the other relations were gathered round, the women standing at the back and the little girls beside Mary. The priests entered barefooted. There were five of them, but only three took part in the ceremony in their vestments. One of the priests took the garments from the altar, explained their significance, and handed them to Anna's sister from Sephoris, who dressed the child in them. First of all she put on her a little yellow knitted dress, and over it a colored scapulary or bodice decorated at the breast with cords. It was put over her head and tied round her. Over this she wore a brownish robe with armholes, over which hung pieces of the stuff. This robe was open at the neck, but closed from the breast downwards. Mary wore brown sandals with thick green soles. Her reddish-fair hair, curling at the ends, had been combed smooth, and she wore a wreath of white wool or silk ornamented at intervals with striped feathers, of a finger's breadth and curving inwards. I know the bird in that country from which these feathers come. A big square cloth, ash-gray in color, was then thrown over the child's head like a cloak. It could be drawn together under the arms, which rested in its folds as in slings. It seemed to be a penitential or praying garment or a traveling cloak.

As Mary stood there in this dress, the priests put to her all manner of questions which had to do with the way of life of the virgins of the Temple. Among other things they said to her: When your parents dedicated you to the Temple, they made a vow on your behalf that you should never taste wine, vinegar, grapes, or figs; what will you yourself now add to this? You may reflect on this during the meal. Now the Jews, and especially the Jewish girls, were very fond of drinking vinegar, and so was Mary. After more of such questions, the first set of garments was removed and the second put on. First a sky-blue dress, then a bodice more ornamented than the first one, a bluish-white robe, and a white veil shimmering like silk, with folds at the back of the neck like a nun's headdress and fastened round the head by a wreath of silk flower buds with little green leaves. Then the priests put a white veil over her face, drawn together above so as to cover her head like a hood. It was held by three clasps which enabled the veil to be thrown back to uncover either a third, a half, or the whole of the face. She was instructed in the use of this veil: how it was to be lifted and then dropped at meals, and when she had to give answers to questions, and so forth. She was also instructed in many other rules of behavior during the meal of which the whole party partook in the next room. Mary's place at table was between two priests, with another facing her. The women and little girls were at one end of the table, separate from the men. During the meal the child was examined several times by question and answer in the use of the veil. They also said to her: You are still allowed to eat any kind of food', and handed her various dishes in order to test her power of self-denial. But Mary partook of only few dishes and but little of each, and filled her hearers with great amazement by the childlike wisdom of her answers. I saw that during the meal and during the whole examination there were angels beside her, helping and guiding her.

When the meal was over, all went once more into the other room and stood before the altar, where the child was again undressed and then clothed in ceremonial garments. [Please refer to Figure 5.] This time she wore a violet-blue dress woven with a pattern of yellow flowers; over this was a bodice or corset embroidered in different colors ending in a point and fastening under the arms, where it gathered and held the fullness of the dress. Above this was a violet-blue robe, fuller and grander than the other ones, and ending in a short, rounded train. Down each side of the front of this robe were embroidered three silver stripes with what seemed to be little gold rosebuds strewn between them; the robe was fastened across the breast by a band which ran through and was held by a clasp on the bodice. The robe was open down to the lower edge of the bodice, and formed two pockets at the sides in which the arms rested. Below the bodice the robe was fastened with buttons or hooks, but showed five stripes of the silver embroidery running down to the hem. The hem itself was also embroidered. The back of this robe fell in ample folds, projecting beyond the arms on either side. Over this was thrown a great gleaming veil shot with colors, white and violet-blue. The crown which was now put on her head was a broad band of thin metal, wider above than below, its upper edge surmounted by points with knobs. Over the top of the crown five metal bands met in a central knob. These bands were covered with strands of silk, and the outside of the broad metal band was ornamented with little silk roses and five pearls or precious stones. The inside of the band shone like gold. Mary, dressed in these ceremonial garments, the significance of each of which had been explained to her by the priest, was led up the steps and placed before the altar. The little girls stood beside her. She then declared what she would bind herself to give up when in the Temple. She said that she would eat neither meat nor fish and would drink no milk, but only a drink made out of the pith of a reed and water, such as poor people drink in the Promised Land, like rice-water or barley-water with us; sometimes she would put a little terebinth juice into the water. This is like a white treacly oil, very refreshing but not so delicate as balsam. She gave up all spices, and said that she would eat no fruit except a kind of yellow berry that grows in clusters. I know it well; in that country it is eaten only by children and poor people. She said that she would sleep on the bare earth and would rise three times in the night to pray. The other temple maidens rose only once.

Figure 5. Mary in ceremonial garments.

Mary's parents were deeply moved by her words. Joachim, taking the child in his arms, said, weeping: O, my dear child, that is too hard, your old father will never see you again if you mean to live so austerely.' It was very touching to hear. The priests, however, told her that she was to rise only once in the night, like the others, and they made the other conditions milder. For example, on great feast days she was to eat fish. (There was a great fish market in Jerusalem in the lower part of the town supplied with water from the pool of Bethesda. Once when it dried up, Herod wanted to make an aqueduct and fountain, [60] and to meet the expense by selling sacred vessels and vestments from the Temple. This caused a real uproar. The Essenes came from all parts of the country to Jerusalem to resist it, for, as I have just remembered, it was the Essenes who had charge of the priestly vestments.)

The priests also said to the child Mary: Many of those virgins who are accepted by the Temple without payment or outfit are obliged, with the consent of their parents, to wash, as soon as they are strong enough, the bloodstained garments of the priests and other rough woolen cloths. This is hard work and often means bloody hands. But this you need not do, seeing that your parents are paying for your sojourn in the Temple.' Mary declared at once without hesitation that she would gladly undertake this work if she were considered worthy. While these questions and answers were being made, the clothing ceremony came to an end. During these holy proceedings I often saw Mary appear so tall among the priests that she stood high above them, whereby I was given a picture of her wisdom and grace. The priests were filled with joyful astonishment. At the end of the ceremony I saw Mary being blessed by the first among the priests. She stood on a little elevated throne between two priests, and the one who blessed her stood facing her, with others behind him. The priests prayed from scrolls, answering each other, and the first one held his hands over her as he blessed her. At this moment I was granted a wonderful insight into the inner being of the holy child Mary. I saw her as if transfused with light by the priest's blessing, and under her heart in an indescribable glory of light I saw the same appearance as I had seen in contemplating the Holy of Holies in the Ark of the Covenant. In a shining space shaped like Melchizedek's chalice I saw indescribable figures of the blessing in the form of light. It was as though corn and wine, flesh and blood, were striving to unite with each other. I saw at one and the same time how, above this appearance, her heart opened like a temple door; and how this mystery, surrounded by a kind of canopy of symbolic jewels, passed into her opened heart. It was as though I saw the Ark of the Covenant entering the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Thenceforth, the highest good then on earth was enshrined in her heart. Then I saw only the holy child Mary filled with a glow of burning devotion. I saw her as though transfigured and hovering above the ground. During this vision I perceived that one of the priests (I think it was Zechariah) had been inspired with an inner conviction that Mary was the chosen vessel of the mystery of salvation; for I saw him receive, a ray from the blessing which in my vision had entered into her.

The priests now led the child, blessed and arrayed in her finest ceremonial garments, up to her parents, who were much moved. Anna lifted Mary up to her breast and gave her an affectionate but solemn kiss. Joachim, with deep emotion, gave her his hand seriously and reverently. Mary's elder sister embraced the blessed child in her beautiful dress in a much more lively manner than Anna, who did everything with reflection and moderation. Mary Cleophas, Mary's niece, threw her arms joyfully round her neck like any child. After Mary had been saluted by all present, her ceremonial garments were taken off, and she appeared once more in her ordinary ones. Towards evening several of the guests, including some of the priests, went away to their homes. I saw them standing up to take a light meal; there were fruits and rolls of bread in bowls and dishes on a low table. They all drank out of one goblet. The women ate separately.


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