Shrine of the Virgin,
A German carved gilt wood and polychrome painted sculpture, Rhine Valley,
Executed circa 1300,
Oak, linen covering, polychromy, gilding, gesso
© Metropolitan Museum, New York
The Birthday of the Blessed Virgin
This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’
Reflection on the sculpture
We cannot be sure when Mary was born, but today is the day that the church has traditionally celebrated the birthday of Mary. Generally, when we celebrate the feast of saints, their feast coincides with the date of their death. There are only three exceptions to this, when we celebrate the birth, rather than their death: Jesus on 25th of December, the birth of John the Baptist on 24th of June and the birth of Mary on 8th September.
Our sculpture doesn’t show the birth of the Virgin, but it illustrates the incarnation in a beautiful way. We celebrate the birth of the Blessed Virgin, precisely so she could accept her mission and give birth to Christ her son. This German rare devotional carved gilt wood and polychrome painted shrine from circa 1300, illustrates beautifully our belief in the miracle of the Incarnation, by which God sent us his only son, Jesus, into our world.
Closed, it is a statuette of the enthroned Virgin Mary nursing the infant Jesus. When opened, we see Christ the King holding the cross. The sides are painted with scenes of Christ’s life. These ‘interactive sculptures' were a very novel invention in the early Middle Ages, where only on special days these sculptures would be opened to reveal the inside.
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