Thursday, June 5, 2008

Let's start with the Holy Family....

Where would we Catholics be without the Holy Family? If there were no Mary and Joseph there would be no home for baby Jesus, no nativity story, no Christmas presents...anyway, you get the idea. So I thought I'd begin my blog with a unique Holy Family medal I discovered.

This medal has the Virgin Mary on one side and Joseph holding baby Jesus on the other. The Mary side has a beautiful detailed depiction of the Blessed Mother as she appears on the Miraculous Medal (a medal that Mary requested to be struck with this image on the front...more about that in another post.) She's shown standing on the globe with her foot crushing the head of a serpent to symbolize her triumph over satan. Rays of light are flowing from her hands and she's surrounded by the inscription in French "O MARIE CONCUE SANS PECHE PRIEZ POUR NOUS QUI AVONS RECOURSE A VOUS" (O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to you). I just love the turn of Mary's head and the way the artist portrayed the drapery of her robe in this depiction.

Here's the Saint Joseph side. I think this is just about the best looking Saint Joseph I've ever seen on a medal. He looks like the type of man who would take the job of protecting Mary and Jesus pretty seriously and build a few houses on the side to support them all! He's shown as a young man with thick curly hair holding the baby Jesus in his arms. The inscription is in Latin "STE JOSEPH ORA PRO NOBIS" (St Joseph Pray for Us).
And what a cute baby Jesus! All chubby and cute, like I'm sure he was, and actually looking somewhat "baby-ish" as opposed the "mini-adult" which is the way he looks in so many other baby depictions.
Jesus is holding a lilly in his hand to represent St Joseph. The lilly is Joseph's symbol in art for a couple of reasons: one is that the lilly represents purity and Joseph was thought to be very pure since, according to Catholic tradition, Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life. You'll sometimes see him referred to as "Model of Purity" or Mary's "most chaste spouse".
The second reason for the lilly is because of a legend associated with St Joseph. Since Mary was a consecrated virgin, meaning she had taken a religious vow to remain a virgin throughout her life, there were not too many guys pounding down the door to ask for her hand when it was time for her to be married. The available men all put their staffs together and asked for a sign from God to let them know who should be Mary's "most chaste spouse", and Joseph's staff grew a lilly from the tip! A sign from God if ever there was one! So next time you see a depiction of St Joseph holding his staff, take a close look. Frequently you'll see a lilly sprouting from the end of it.
I would guess that this medal dates to the middle of the 19th century. It's detailed, but the depiction is not as detailed as the later 19th century medals of the art nouveau movement. The medal is quite thick and heavy and appears to be solid brass.

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