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

Marriage of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St Joseph the JustThe Blessed Virgin lived with other virgins in the Temple under the care of pious matrons. The maidens employed themselves with embroidery and other forms of decoration of carpets and vestments, and also with the cleaning of these vestments and of the vessels used in the Temple. They had little cells, from which they could see into the Temple, and here they prayed and meditated. When these maidens were grown-up, they were given in marriage. Their parents in dedicating them to the Temple had offered them entirely to God, and the devout and more spiritual Israelites had for a long time had a secret presentiment that the marriage of one of these virgins would one day contribute to the coming of the promised Messiah. [75]

When the Blessed Virgin had reached the age of fourteen and was to be dismissed from the Temple with seven other maidens to be married, I saw that her mother Anna had come to visit her there. Joachim was no longer alive and Anna had by God’s command married again. When the Blessed Virgin was told that she must now leave the Temple and be married, I saw her explaining to the priests in great distress of heart that it was her desire never to leave the Temple, that she had betrothed herself to God alone and did not wish to be married. She was, however, told that it must be so.’

Hereupon I saw the Blessed Virgin supplicating God with great fervor in her praying cell. I also remember that I saw Mary, who was parched with thirst as she prayed, going down with a little jug to draw water from a fountain or cistern, and that she there heard a voice (unaccompanied by any visible appearance) and received a revelation which comforted her and gave her strength to consent to her marriage. This was not the Annunciation, for I saw that happen later in Nazareth. I must, however, once have thought that I saw the appearance of an angel here too, for in my youth I often confused this vision with the Annunciation and thought that I saw the latter happening in the Temple. [76]

Marriage of the Virgin Mary and St Joseph, Erasmus II Quellinus, ca. 17th Century, BelgiumI saw, too, that a very aged priest, who could no longer walk (it was doubtless the high priest), was carried on a chair by others before the Holy of Holies, and that while the incense-offering was being kindled, he read prayers from a parchment scroll lying on a stand in front of him. I saw that he was in a spiritual ecstasy and saw a vision, and that the forefinger of his hand was laid upon the passage of Isaiah in the scroll: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse; and a flower shall rise up out of his root.” [ Is. 11.1.]

When the old priest came to himself again, he read this passage and apprehended something from it.

Then I saw that messengers were sent throughout the land and all unmarried men of the line of David summoned to the Temple. When these were assembled in large numbers at the Temple in festal garments, the Blessed Virgin was presented to them. Among them I saw a very devout youth from the region of Bethlehem; he had always prayed with great fervor for the fulfillment of the Promise, and I discerned in his heart an ardent longing to become Mary’s husband. She, however, withdrew again into her cell in tears, unable to bear the thought that she should not remain a virgin.

I now saw that the high priest, in accordance with the inner instruction he had received, handed a branch to each of the men present, and commanded each to inscribe his branch with his name and to hold it in his hands during the prayer and sacrifice.

After they had done this, their branches were collected and laid upon an altar before the Holy of Holies, and they were told that the one among them whose branch blossomed was destined by the Lord to be married to the maiden Mary of Nazareth. While the branches lay before the Holy of Holies the sacrifice and prayer were continued, and meanwhile I saw that youth, whose name will perhaps come back to me, [77] in a hall of the Temple crying passionately to God with outstretched arms. I saw him burst into tears when after the appointed interval their branches were given back to them with the announcement that none had blossomed, and therefore none of them was the bridegroom destined by God for this maiden. The men were now sent home, but that youth betook himself to Mount Carmel, to the sons of the prophets who had lived there as hermits ever since the time of Elijah. From then on he spent his time in continual prayer for the fulfillment of the Promise.

holy matrimonyI then saw the priests in the Temple making a fresh search in the ancestral tables to see whether there was any descendant of David’s who had been overlooked. As they found that of six brothers registered at Bethlehem one was missing and unknown, they made search for his dwelling-place, and found Joseph not far from Samaria in a place beside a little stream, where he lived alone by the water and worked for another master. On the command of the high priest, Joseph now came, dressed in his best, to the Temple at Jerusalem. He, too, had to hold a branch in his hand during the prayer and sacrifice, and as he was about to lay this on the altar before the Holy of Holies, a white flower like a lily blossomed out of the top of it, and I saw over him an appearance of light like the Holy Ghost. [78] Joseph was now recognized as appointed by God to be the bridegroom of the Blessed Virgin, and was presented to her by the priests in the presence of her mother. Mary, submissive to the Will of God, accepted him meekly as her bridegroom, for she knew that all things were possible with God, who had accepted her vow to belong to Him alone, body and soul.


[75] Although in general late Jewish writers contest the statement that women or virgins were engaged in the service of the Temple, we find confirmation that this was so partly on the authority of the Church (which celebrates the Feast of Our Lady’s Presentation on Nov. 21st) and partly in the Bible and in ancient writings. Already in the time of Moses (see Exod. 38.8), and again in the last days of the Judges (1 Sam 2.22), we find women or virgins employed in the service of the Temple; and in the description in Ps. 68 of the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant to Mount Sion, there is an allusion in verses 25-26 to young damsels playing on timbrels’. The statement that virgins were dedicated to the Temple and brought up there is confirmed by Evodius, a pupil of the Apostles and successor of St. Peter at Antioch (it is true that this is in a letter first appearing in Nicephor, II, c. 3), who expressly refers to Our Blessed Lady in this connection. Gregory of Nyssa and John Damascene, amongst others, also mention this, while Rabbi Asarja states in his work Imre Binah, c. 6o, that virgins devoted to God’s service lived in community in the Temple. We are thus able to quote a Jewish authority for the existence of these Temple maidens. (CB) Nicephor is the fourteenth-century Byzantine historian Nicephorus Callistus, who wrote Ecclesiasticae Historiae, libri XVIII. Rabbi Azarias ben Moses de’Rossi (1513/4-1578) was an Italian Jew. The treatise Imre Bina (words of understanding’) forms a part of his chief work, Meor Enayim (light of the eyes’), published at Mantua in 1574. Both are therefore very late authorities. (SB) In the Old Testament the state of virginity was, at least in general, not considered as meritorious. Among the countless forms of vows, which according to the Mishnah were usual amongst the Jews of old, we find no trace of any vow of chastity. As long as the coming of the Redeemer was in expectation only, a marriage rich in children was the height of blessedness and godliness on earth. See Ps. 126.3: The inheritance of the Lord are children; the reward, the fruit of the womb’: and, for one of God’s early blessings, see Deut. 7.14: Blessed shall you be among all people. No one shall be barren among you of either sex.’ This explains why the priests did not yield to Mary’s wish, even though instances of persons vowed to chastity, especially among the Essenes, were by no means unknown. (CB)

[76] It is remarkable that the apocryphal Protevangelium of James’, which the Church has pronounced not to be genuine, states among other things that Mary journeyed from the Temple to Nazareth accompanied by several maidens. These had been given by the Temple various threads to spin, of which the scarlet and purple ones had fallen to Mary’s lot. Taking a jug, she went out to draw water, and lo, a voice said to her, Hail, Mary’, etc. Mary looked to right and left, to discover whence this voice came, and went into the house in alarm. She put down the jug, took the purple thread and laid it on her chair to work, and lo, the angel of the Lord stood before her face and said, Fear not, Mary’, etc. Thus here, too, there is an allusion to a voice while Our Lady was fetching water, but all happens in Nazareth and is connected with the Annunciation. This event is similarly described in the apocryphal History of Joachim and Anna and of the birth of Mary the blessed Mother of God ever virgin and of the Childhood of the Redeemer,’ printed by Thilo from a Latin MS. in the Paris library; except that in this case an interval of three days elapses between the voice at the fountain and the appearance of the angel in salutation. (CB) CB’s note needs clarifying. AC distinguishes two angelic visits, the first here at the well, at Jerusalem, with no apparition and no recorded voice (not in the Gospel), and the second, later at Nazareth, after the wedding, the Annunciation proper ( Luke 5.26-38). Among the Apocryphal Gospels Nat. Mar. 9 simply follows St. Luke (one visit at Nazareth), while Ps-Matt. 9 gives the two visits, at the well and the Annunciation, at one day’s interval, but with no exact indication of place, and Protev. II (as given here by CB) combines the episode at the well and the Annunciation, and places it all at Nazareth. J. C. Thilo published a collection of apocryphal texts at Leipzig in 1832. (SB)

[77] He is by tradition called Agabus, and in Raphael’s representation of the Betrothal of Our Lady (generally called Sposalizio’) he is pictured as a youth breaking his staff over his knee. (CB)

[78] The miracle of Joseph’s rod (with the dove issuing from the rod) appears in Protev. 9, Ps-Matt. 8, and (with the dove alighting on the rod) in Nat. Mar. 8. The name Agabus for the unsuccessful suitor is not found elsewhere. (SB)