Thursday, June 11, 2009

An Old Tradition

Virgin of the Rocks, Leonardo da Vinci 1483

Matthew 2:13 And after they were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.

There is an ancient tradition that during the Holy Family's flight into Egypt, they paused to rest in a cave belonging to a thief and his family. The thief and his wife had an infant son the same age as Jesus. This baby was covered in leprosy. Mary was very grateful for the cave lodgings and food the family had provided, and she took pity on their baby. The Blessed Virgin told the mother to place her son in the water she had used to bathe Jesus. As soon as the thief's baby was placed in the water, his leprosy was healed. His skin was completely clean, with no sign of the previous affliction.

Many years passed, with Jesus growing in age, wisdom and grace, but the son of the thief took the trade of his father. When Jesus met him again, he was hanging on the cross on the right side of Jesus, having been sentenced to death for his crimes. He is known to us as the good thief, the one who said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:42-43) The Church recognizes him as Saint Dismus. His mother's kind deed of taking in the Holy Family so long ago had won for him the grace of final repentance.

This story was well known during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance when Leonardo da Vinci painted the image of the Virgin of the Rocks. Notice how the angel is pointing at the thief's baby, drawing the viewer's attention to him. The Blessed Virgin is covering him with her mantle, and the baby's posture looks like he is genuflecting and folding his little hands in prayer as Christ, who is beside the angel, blesses him. The baby appears to be about to dive into the pool of water in the foreground; the bath water that healed him of his leprosy.


Harried Potter said...

very nice post. Hope to see more informative posts related to art.

paramedicgirl said...

Thanks Harried. Religious art is a huge part of my blog, and I do intend to keep it my main focus.