Painting by Rogier Van der Weyden (1399-1464),
Painted between between 1435 and 1440,
Oil on panel,
© Maximilian Speck von Sternburg Stiftung, Leipzig
When Elizabeth saw Mary, the child leapt in her womb
Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
Reflection on the Painting
We stay in Flanders with today's painting by Rogier Van der Weyden …. Shortly after the Annunciation which we discussed yesterday, Mary visits her cousin Elisabeth, who despite her advanced age, miraculously became pregnant, carrying the future John the Baptist for six months. The picture is a vivid depiction of this meeting between Our Lady and Elisabeth, both holding hands on each other’s wombs. The landscape behind Mary has lots of little winding roads, showing that she has traveled a long way to visit her cousin. Behind Elisabeth we see the door to her house still open, showing she must have rushed out in a hurry; her husband Zacharias is seen outside playing with a dog. Dogs symbolise guidance, protection, loyalty, fidelity, faithfulness and alertness. Each of the two figures acknowledges each others’ miracle of pregnancy, but it is Elisabeth’s outstretched arm and pale hand set against the cobalt blue dress of Mary, which is the focus point… The gestures of their hands, at once tender, composed and gentle, tell as much as their facial expressions.
Imagine Mary going on this journey, carrying this big mystery in her womb. She is the womb of God. She must have been so relieved to arrive at Elisabeth and Zahcharias' house. No wonder they rejoiced when they saw each other, as depicted in our painting. Luke describes it so beautifully 'as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb’. As Christmas draws near, may we too experience God’s love leaping up in us and in those with whom we come in contact…
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