Other tour guides continue to say the most amazing things…
One of our guides was in church one day, when a group of tourists arrived and gathered around this painting nearby. It was impossible not to overhear every word that this guide told the people in the group.
“We see here an exceptionally fine work of Barocci, who was known as an excellent colorist! Just look at the expressive features on the faces of everyone present, and the submission of the Blessed Virgin Mary! What a wonderful demonstration of her virtue, and look at how beautiful she is!”
Continuing along these lines, the guide became more and more animated and breathless, finally ending with, “The Virgin Mary always wore pink!”
Sigh. Rest assured that nobody alive today has the slightest idea what color(s) the Virgin Mary used to wear… but since pink wasn’t a standard color for women’s clothing in the Middle East 2000 years ago, it’s a fairly safe bet that this is nonsense.
Ironically, the guide never bothered to tell her group what exactly this painting depicts! Is it obvious to you? We didn’t think so.
This is the “Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple,” an event which is not mentioned anywhere in the Gospels, but is described in an early Christian apocryphal text. Tradition tells us that at the age of about four, Mary was brought by her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, to the Temple in Jerusalem, and was left there to be educated. There was a sort of boarding-school for young Jewish girls in the Temple at the time; they learned the details of their faith and studied the Scriptural texts. The girls were also taught how to sew and embroider, and the elaborate vestments and altar linens used in the Temple by the Jewish priests were usually their handiwork.
According to the same tradition, Mary only left the Temple at her marriage to St. Joseph. This means that her parents essentially missed her entire childhood, except for an occasional visit. They were motivated by God’s grace to make this tremendous sacrifice, as Mary had been a special gift to them from God after the couple had spent many childless years together.
Now the painting makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it? You honestly have to feel bad for visitors to Rome who pay for tours with guides who don’t let the verifiable truth get in their way. In contrast, we’ll stick to objective, known facts as much as humanly possible, and leave the Virgin Mary’s wardrobe choices in the unknown–where they belong.