Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Legend of St Joachim in Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel

In the year 1303, a Paduan money-lender named Enrico Scrovegni commissioned the painter Giotto to cover the whole interior of his family’s chapel with frescoes. The program, which required two years of work to complete, contains almost forty scenes of the Lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary, plus a large Last Judgment on the back wall, a series of monochromes of the Virtues and Vices, and a blue vault with stars. The cycle also includes the traditional account of the Virgin’s conception as given in the Protoevangelium of St James, an apocryphal Gospel of the mid-2nd century which is the first source for the names of Her parents, Joachim, whose feast is kept today in the Extraordinary Form, and Anne, whose feast is on July 26th. I have abbreviated the text, which is taken from the first five chapters, and slightly modified the translation.

In the histories of the twelve tribes of Israel was Joachim, a man rich exceedingly; and he brought his offerings double, saying, “All the people shall have of my superabundance, and there shall be the offering to the Lord for forgiveness as a propitiation for me.” For the great day of the Lord was at hand, and the sons of Israel were bringing their offerings. And there stood over against him Rubim, saying, “It is not meet for you to bring your offerings first, because you have not made an offspring in Israel.” ...

The Expulsion of Joachim from the Temple
And Joachim was exceedingly grieved, and did not come into the presence of his wife; but he retired to the desert, and there pitched his tent, and fasted forty days and forty nights, saying to himself, “I will not go down either for food or for drink until the Lord my God shall look upon me, and prayer shall be my food and drink.”

Joachim Among the Shepherds in the Desert
And his wife Anna mourned in two mournings, and lamented in two lamentations, saying: I shall bewail my widowhood; I shall bewail my childlessness. ... And she saw a laurel, and sat under it, and prayed to the Lord, saying, “O God of our fathers, bless me and hear my prayer, as You blessed the womb of Sarah, and gave her a son Isaac.” ... And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying, “Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.” And Anna said, “As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life.”

The Annunciation to Anne
And, behold, two angels came, saying to her, “Behold, Joachim your husband is coming with his flocks.” For an angel of the Lord went down to him, saying, “Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Go down hence; for, behold, your wife Anna shall conceive.”

The Dream of Joachim. (The Protoevangelium does not explicitly state that it was in a dream that the Angel spoke to him, as recounted above.)
And Joachim went down and called his shepherds, saying, “Bring me hither ten she-lambs without spot or blemish, and they shall be for the Lord my God; and bring me twelve tender calves, and they shall be for the priests and the elders; and a hundred goats for all the people.” And, behold, Joachim came with his flocks; and Anna stood by the gate, and saw Joachim coming, and she ran and hung upon his neck, saying, “Now I know that the Lord God has blessed me exceedingly; for, behold the widow no longer a widow, and I the childless shall conceive.” And Joachim rested the first day in his house.

The Meeting of Ss Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate
And on the following day he brought his offerings, saying in himself, “If the Lord God has been rendered gracious to me, the plate on the priest’s forehead will make it manifest to me.” And Joachim brought his offerings, and observed attentively the priest’s plate when he went up to the altar of the Lord, and he saw no sin in himself. And Joachim said, “Now I know that the Lord has been gracious unto me, and has remitted all my sins.” And he went down from the temple of the Lord justified, and departed to his own house.

Joachim’s Offering
And her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna gave birth. And she said to the midwife, “What have I brought forth?” And she said, “A girl.” And Anna said, “My soul has been magnified this day.” ... And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary.

The Birth of the Virgin Mary

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