The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary
From the Vision of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich
The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
[On November 8th, 1821, Catherine Emmerich related:] Today Joachim went first to the Temple with Zechariah and the other men. Afterwards Mary was taken there by her mother Anna in a festal procession. First came Anna and her elder daughter Mary Heli, with the latter’s little daughter Mary Cleophas; then the holy child Mary followed in her sky-blue dress and robe, with wreaths round her arms and neck; in her hand she held a candle or torch entwined with flowers. Decorated candles like this were also carried by three maidens who walked on each side of her, wearing white dresses embroidered with gold. They, too, wore pale-blue robes; they were wreathed round with garlands of flowers, and wore little wreaths round their necks and arms as well. Next came the other maidens and little girls, all in festal dress but each different. They all wore little robes. The other women came at the end of the procession. They could not go direct from the inn to the Temple, but had to make a detour through several streets. The beautiful procession gave pleasure to all who saw it, and at several houses honor was paid to it as it passed. There was something indescribably moving in the holiness apparent in the child. As the procession approached the Temple, I saw many of the Temple servants struggling with great efforts to open an immensely large and heavy door, shining like gold and ornamented with a multitude of sculptured heads, bunches of grapes, and sheaves of corn. This was the Golden Gate. The procession passed under this gate, to which fifteen steps led up, but whether in a single flight I cannot remember. Mary would not take the hands held out to her; to the admiration of all she ran eagerly and joyfully up the steps without stumbling. She was received in the gateway by Zechariah, Joachim, and several priests, and led under the gate (which was a long archway) to the right into some large halls or high rooms, in one of which a meal was being prepared. Here the procession dispersed. Several of the women and children went to the women’s praying-place in the Temple, while Joachim and Zechariah proceeded to the sacrifice. In one of the halls the priest again examined the child Mary by putting questions to her. They were astonished at the wisdom of her answers, and left her to be dressed by Anna in the third and most magnificent violet-blue ceremonial garment, with the robe, veil, and crown which I have already described at the ceremony in Anna’s house.
In the meantime Joachim had gone with the priests to the sacrifice. He was given fire from the appointed place, and then stood between two priests at the altar. I am at present too ill and upset to describe all the circumstances of the sacrifice, but will tell what is still present to my mind.
The altar could be approached from three sides only. The meat prepared for the sacrifice was not put all together, but was divided into separate portions placed round the altar. Flat shelves could be drawn out of the three sides of the altar, and on these the offerings were laid to be pushed to the center of it; for the altar was too large for the officiating priest to be able to reach the center with his arm. At the four corners of the altar there stood little hollow columns of metal, crowned with chimneys or something similar—wide funnels made of thin copper, ending in pipes curving outwards like horns, which carried away the smoke above the heads of the officiating priests. When Joachim’s sacrifice started to burn, Anna went, with the child Mary in her ceremonial dress and with her companions, into the outer court of the women, which is the place in the Temple set apart for women. This court was separated from the court of the altar of sacrifice by a wall surmounted by a grille; there was, however, a door in the center of this dividing wall. The women’s court slants upwards from the wall, so that a view of the altar of sacrifice cannot be had by all, but only by those standing at the back. When, however, the door in the dividing wall was opened, a number of the women were able to see the altar through it. Mary and the other little girls stood in front of Anna, and the other women of the family remained near the door. In a separate place there were a number of Temple boys dressed in white and playing flutes and harps. After the sacrifice, there was set up in the doorway leading from the court of sacrifice to the women’s court a portable decorated altar (This altar-table was set up in this doorway because women were not permitted to go farther. When the meeting of Joachim and Anna took place, Joachim had gone through this door into the subterranean passage, while Anna had come from the opposite direction.[CB]) or sacrificial table, with several steps leading up to it.
Zechariah and Joachim came out of the court of sacrifice and went up to this altar with a priest, in front of whom stood another priest and two Levites with scrolls and writing materials. Anna led the child Mary up to them; the maidens who had accompanied Mary stood a little behind. Mary knelt on the steps, and Joachim and Anna laid their hands on her head. The priest cut off a few of her hairs and burnt them in a brazier. Her parents also said a few words, offering up their child; these were written down by two Levites. Meanwhile the maidens sang the 44 th Psalm (Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum) and the priests the 49 th Psalm ( Deus, deorum Dominus, locutus est ) accompanied by the boys with their instruments.
I then saw Mary being led by the hand by two priests up many steps to a raised place in the wall dividing the outer court of the Holy Place from the other court. They placed the child in a sort of niche in the middle of this wall, so that she could see into the Temple, where there were many men standing in ranks; they seemed to me to be also dedicated to the Temple. Two priests stood beside her, and still others on the steps below, singing and reading aloud from their scrolls. On the other side of the dividing wall there was an old high priest standing at an altar of incense, so high up that one could see half of his figure. I saw him offering incense and the smoke from it enveloping the child Mary.
During these ceremonies I saw a symbolic vision round the Blessed Virgin which eventually filled and dimmed the whole Temple. I saw a glory of light under Mary’s heart, and understood that this glory encompassed the Promise, the most holy blessing of God. I saw this glory appear as if surrounded by the Ark of Noah, so that the Blessed Virgin’s head projected above it. Then I saw the shape of the Ark about the glory change into the shape of the Ark of the Covenant, which in its turn changed into the shape of the Temple. Then I saw these shapes disappear, and out of the glory there rose before the Blessed Virgin’s breast a shape like the Chalice of the Last Supper, and above this, before her mouth, a bread marked with a cross. On each side of her there streamed out manifold rays of light at the ends of which appeared in pictures many mysteries and symbols of the Blessed Virgin, as for example all the titles in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. Behind her shoulders two branches of olive and cypress or cedar and cypress stretched crosswise above a slender palm tree, which I saw appear just behind her with a little leafy shrub. In the spaces between this arrangement of green branches I saw all the instruments of Jesus’ Passion. The Holy Ghost hovered over the picture in human rather than dove-like form, winged with rays of light: and above I saw the heavens open and disclose, floating in the air above the Blessed Virgin, the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God, with all its palaces and gardens and the mansions of future saints. All were filled with angels, and the whole glory, which now surrounded the Blessed Virgin, was filled with angels’ faces.
How can this be expressed? Its variations, its unfoldings, and its transformations were so innumerable that I have forgotten a very great deal. The whole significance of the Blessed Virgin in the Covenant of the Old and New Testaments and to all eternity was set forth therein. I can compare this vision with the smaller one which I had a short time ago of the holy Rosary in all its glory. (Seemingly clever people who speak slightingly of the Rosary are much less sensible than poor unimportant folk who pray with it in all simplicity, for these adorn it with the beauty of obedience and humble devotion, trusting in the Church’s recommendation of it to the faithful.)
With this vision before me, all the splendor and magnificence of the Temple and the beautifully decorated wall behind the Blessed Virgin seemed quite dim and dingy, even the Temple itself seemed to be no longer there, so full was everything of Mary and her glory. As the whole significance of the Blessed Virgin unfolded itself before my eyes in these visions I saw her no longer as the child Mary, but as the Blessed Virgin, hovering tall above me. I saw the priests and the smoke of the offering and everything through the picture; it was as if the priests behind her were uttering prophecies and admonishing the people to thank God and to pray that this child should be magnified. All those who were present in the Temple were hushed and filled with solemn awe, though they did not see the picture that I saw. It disappeared again little by little just as I had seen it come. At last I saw nothing but the glory under Mary’s heart, with the Blessing of the Promise shining within it. Then this disappeared, too, and I saw the holy dedicated child in her ceremonial dress standing alone once more between the priests. The priests took the wreaths from off the child’s arms and the torch from her hand and gave them to her companions. They placed a brown veil or hood on her head, and led her down the steps through a door into another hall, where she was met by six other (but older) Temple virgins who strewed flowers before her. Behind her stood her teachers: Noemi, the sister of Lazarus’ mother, the Prophetess Anna, and still a third woman; the priests gave the child Mary over to them and withdrew. Her parents and near relations now approached; the singing was over, and Mary said farewell. Joachim’s emotion was particularly deep; he lifted Mary up, pressed her to his heart, and said to her with tears, ‘Remember my soul before God!’ Thereupon Mary with her teachers and several maidens went into the women’s dwelling on the north side of the Temple itself. They lived in rooms built in the thickness of the Temple walls. Passages and winding stairs led up to little praying cells near the Holy Place and Holy of Holies.
Mary’s parents and relations went back to the hall by the Golden Gate where they had first waited, and partook of a meal there with the priests. The women ate in a separate hall. I have forgotten much of what I saw and heard, amongst other things the exact reason why the ceremony was so rich and solemn; but I do recollect that it was so as a result of a revelation of the Divine Will.
(Mary’s parents were really well off; it was only as mortification and for almsgiving that they lived so poorly. I forget for how long Anna ate nothing but cold food; but their servants were well fed and provided for.) I saw many people praying in the Temple, and many had followed the procession to its gates. Some of those present must have had some idea of the destiny of the Blessed Virgin, for I remember Anna speaking with enthusiastic joy to various women and saying to them, ‘Now the Ark of the Covenant, the Vessel of the Promise, is entering the Temple’. Mary’s parents and other relations reached Bethoron the same day on their journey home.
I now saw a festival among the Temple virgins. Mary had to ask the teachers and each of the young girls whether they would suffer her to be among them. This was the custom. Then they had a meal, and afterwards they danced amongst themselves. They stood opposite each other in pairs, and danced in various figures and crossings. There was no hopping. It was like a minuet. Sometimes there was a swaying, circular motion of the body, like the movements of the Jews when they pray. Some of the young girls accompanied the dancing with flutes, triangles, and bells. There was another instrument which sounded particularly strange and delightful. It was played by plucking the strings stretched on the steeply sloping sides of a sort of little box. In the middle of the box were bellows which when pressed up and down sent the air through several pipes, some straight and some crooked, and so made an accompaniment to the strings. The instrument was held on the player’s knees.
In the evening I saw the teacher Noemi lead the Blessed Virgin to her little room, which looked into the Temple. It was not quite square, and the walls were inlaid with triangular shapes in different colors. There was a stool in it and a little table, and in the corners were stands with shelves for putting things on. Before this room was a sleeping place and a room for dresses, as well as Noemi’s room. Mary spoke to her again about rising often to pray in the night, but Noemi did not yet allow this.
The Temple women wore long, full, white robes with girdles and very wide sleeves, which they rolled up when working. They were veiled.
I never remember seeing that Herod entirely rebuilt the Temple: I only saw various alterations being made in it during his reign. Now, when Mary came to the Temple, eleven years before Christ’s birth, nothing was being built in the Temple itself, but (as always) in the outer portions of it: here the work never stopped.
[On November 21 st Catherine Emmerich said:] Today I had a view of Mary’s dwelling in the Temple. On the northern side of the Temple hall, towards the Holy Place, there were several rooms high up which were connected with the women’s dwellings. Mary’s room was one of the outermost of these towards the Holy of Holies. From the passage one passed through a curtain into a sort of antechamber, which was divided off from the room itself by a partition, semicircular or forming an angle. In the corners to the right and left were shelves for keeping clothes and other things. Opposite the door in this partition steps led to an opening high up in the wall which looked down into the Temple. This opening had a carpet hanging before it and was curtained with gauze. Against the wall in the left-hand side of the room there was a rolled-up carpet, which, when spread out, made the bed on which Mary slept. A bracket-lamp was fixed in a niche in the wall, and today I saw the child standing on a stool and praying by its light from a parchment roll with red knobs. It was a very touching sight. The child was wearing a little blue-and-white striped dress woven with yellow flowers. There was a low round table in the room. I saw Anna come in and place on the table a dish with fruits of the size of beans and a little jug. Mary was skilful beyond her years: I saw her already working at little white cloths for the service of the Temple.
[Catherine Emmerich generally communicated the above visions about the time of the feast of the Presentation of Mary. Besides these, however, she related at different times the following accounts of Mary’s eleven-year sojourn in the Temple.]