The dramatic marriage between Mary and Joseph was a ground-breaking moment in history, writes Colm Fitzpatrick
When we think of an image of Mary and Joseph together, the first picture that usually comes to mind is the nativity scene in the stable or perhaps the flight to Egypt from King Herod, but often forgotten is the profound story of the couple’s betrothal.
Offering a remedy to the gap in our knowledge about this momentous scene, Kerry-born author Paraic Maher has recounted the dramatic story of the parents of Jesus’ marriage. In a new book entitled Betrothed: Glimpses of the Betrothal of Mary and Joseph, the reader is offered an insight into the background of Mary, her singular origins, her life in the Temple, and the supernatural choosing of a spouse for her, a carpenter from Nazareth and a descendant of Kind David.
Speaking about the inspiration behind the book, Paraic said he wanted to write about marriage, but also something to “specifically honour Our Lady and St Joseph’s betrothal”. Despite the subject being “esoteric”, Paraic believes our understanding of the betrothal can enrich our appreciation of the Faith.
While the details of the betrothal are historically ambiguous, apocryphal and mystical accounts of the story afford great significance to how God guided two individuals into a seemingly impossible marriage.
Mary had already completely dedicated herself to the Lord, and according to some accounts, so too had Joseph, leaving the prospect of marriage an unlikely one. Yet, after learning about Mary’s vow of virginity it is written that Joseph pledged to support her in it, even through their marriage.
“We have here two people brought together in the most extraordinary of circumstances whose real end is still hidden from them both. They respond with utter faith and trust in God, and by both of them saying ‘yes’ they laid the groundwork for next the stage of salvation history – the angel coming to the betrothed Mary to ask if she would consent to bearing the messiah, the divine Son of God himself,” Paraic writes.
The book then goes on a journey around Ireland and abroad in search of the art that offers stunning visual glimpses of the moment of their exchange of marital vows that cannot but provoke wonder and awe. This photographic essay features the astonishing work of some of Ireland’s finest artists and craftsmen, including scenes from 24 churches in Ireland and more afar.
“First and foremost, it would be for anyone who is religiously inclined, who has just a curiosity about betrothal itself, but really it opens up to anybody who would find the artwork appealing. It’s gorgeous and beautiful. That really could be anyone at all,” Paraic explains.
“…I think it’s showing the beauty of the artwork. I suppose, as a kind of secondary thing, it clarifies that the betrothal really was a marriage. Then you kind of see as well that there’s a greater drama in the artwork because it’s not just people getting engaged, you’re looking at two people who are literally binding themselves to each other for the rest of their lives.”
The featured betrothal scenes are principally in stained glass, but also appear in marble panels, mosaics, statues and paintings, and include the works of Harry Clarke, Richard King and Earley Studios.
Working with the most elemental materials and media, employing fire, glass, lead and light, these pioneers advanced their craft to such a height of excellence that their works became masterpieces of visual art in their own right capable of capturing even the most exquisite and subtle beauty portrayed in the betrothal depictions. This art is featured in the beautiful photography that adorns the book from cover to cover providing a delightful visual display to accompany the intriguing story.
While the betrothal of Mary of Joseph was a well-known story of Christian past as is evident from its many depictions up and down the country, Paraic believes that our knowledge of it, including its message and significance, has been lost. It is through this book that he hopes to revive a thought-provoking story that opens the doors to the birth of our Faith.
“What I would really like is that it would prompt people to think deeply about and mediate on is the original reality of the betrothal, so beyond the art, beyond the apocryphal and mystical accounts, to think of what is actually happening in the beginning. Think about Mary, she is conceived without original sin, has the perfect capacity for knowledge and love,” he says.
“She has totally dedicated herself to God from a young age and she did live at least some time in the Temple. And yet here she is binding herself in marriage to Joseph in what must have been an utterly unique arrangement. So, I just think it’s an incredible thing to think about so I would love if the book could prompt people to think more about that and mediate on it.”
Betrothed: Glimpses of the Betrothal of Mary and Joseph can be purchased online at intriguingstories.ie or for more information ring (089) 2017 300.