The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a feast celebrated by both the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. It is the celebration of a presumed event of which there is no strict historical record – namely, that Mary, as a child, was presented to God by her parents. There is no mention of this event anywhere in the New Testament.

But it appears, for instance, in an apocryphal work called the Infancy Narrative of James. According to this story, Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne, who had been without children, received a heavenly message that they would bear a child. When a girl was born, the parents went in thanksgiving to the Temple in Jerusalem to consecrate her to God. The story then says that Mary remained in the Temple until she reached puberty and then she was entrusted to Joseph who was to be her guardian.

Other versions of the story from works such as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary say that Mary was brought to the Temple about the age of 3 in fulfilment of a vow by her parents. And she was to remain there to be prepared for her future role as the Mother of God.

The celebration of the feast began with the dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary the New, which was constructed in 543 near where the Temple had been in Jerusalem. This basilica was later destroyed, but the feast had now spread all through the Eastern church. In the West, it was first adopted in 1373 by the papal chapel in Avignon (the city in the south of France where the papacy spent several years in exile). However, it was removed as a Church feast by Pope Pius V from the revised Roman Calendar in 1568. But it was then again restored as a feast in 1585 by Pope Sixtus VI.

Western art usually focuses on the figure of the little girl Mary climbing the steps of the Temple, having left her parents at the bottom, and approaching the Chief Priest and other Temple figures at the top of the steps. The Presentation was one of the traditional scenes illustrating the Life of the Virgin.

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