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 heard Mary’s greeting, 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
Immediately following on from yesterday’s reading, we hear how Mary, after the Annunciation, set out to a town in the hill country of Judah to visit Zechariah and Elizabeth. After the Gospel telling us two days ago about the annunciation to Zechariah and then yesterday about the annunciation to Mary, today’s reading now places Mary, Zechariah and Elizabeth altogether.
In today's painting we see Rogier Van der Weyden’s 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. They journey had been long. Behind Elizabeth we see the door to her house still open, showing she must have rushed out in a hurry; her husband Zechariah is seen outside playing with a dog. Dogs symbolise guidance, protection, loyalty, fidelity, faithfulness and alertness. Each of the two main figures acknowledges each others’ miracle of pregnancy, but it is Elizabeth’s outstretched arm and pale hand set against the cobalt blue dress of Mary, which is the focal point. The gestures of their hands, at once tender, composed and gentle, tell as much as their facial expressions.
Luke describes so beautifully that '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 may we be God’s instruments especially during this time of Christmas, where He uses us to help leap up some joy in the people we meet… not just family and friends but also the homeless, poor, lonely and needy people out there…
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