Happy Birthday, Mother Mary!

Oy! I missed Our Blessed Mother Mary’s birthday, which is traditionally celebrated on September 8! What can I say? Teething children needed to be loved and household chores needed to be done!

Still, while I was dealing with children, I wondered… was there any art that had Mary depicted as a child? After all, most of the art of her is of her as a mother, and deservedly so! But, surely she was depicted as a child too! After all, we have a high place of honor for her in the Church — and rightly so!

So, I looked around and found this gem! This is a massive artwork (yes, those are full-sized doors that are set in the art!) which depicts the Presentation of Mary at the Temple, when Mary was a mere three years old.

The Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple of Jerusalem, by Titian, c. 1534-38. Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice, Italy. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
The Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple of Jerusalem, by Titian, c. 1534-38. Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy.

The story behind this artwork? Well, it’s in the book, The Protoevangelium of James. That book, while definitely not considered sacred scripture because the writing cannot be considered to be inerrant, is considered to hold a variety of ancient traditions of the early church. In fact, on November 21, the Catholic Church celebrates the Presentation of Mary as a feast day! So it’s worth reading for that reason, though take it with a healthy portion of salt! In the book, the following is written about this scene:

And the child [Mary] was three years old, and Joachim [her father] said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.

Anyway, I love this picture. My oldest little girl is three, and she actually bears a likeness to Mary, depicted in the picture! When I look at the left hand of the artwork, I can sense a kind of tension. Will she go up? You never know whether kids at that age will do as they are told, after all!

But, Mary goes up, her body posture hinting at wonder and curiosity and a willingness to explore. And the priests look more than happy to greet her and accept her into the temple. After all, they sense a deep holiness in the girl — and they are absolutely right to sense it too!

Of course! That temple which she was brought into was nothing compared to the temple that she became — the Theotokos, or God Bearer! The Ark of the New Covenant! The Mother of God Himself.

Yet, we celebrate her all the time, even as a child, because she is the Immaculate Conception, the New Eve. The second chance of redemption of which original sin may not permanently grip a hold on us and cause us to die, but allow us to live with Christ. And that is worth celebrating!

So, Happy Birthday, Mother Mary!

Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.


Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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