The Dream of St. Joseph


This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

The Dream of St. Joseph, Philippe de Champaigne

The Dream of St. Joseph, Philippe de Champaigne, 1642-3, National Gallery, London



From the Getty Museum:

At nineteen, Philippe de Champaigne began working with Nicolas Poussin on the decoration of the Luxembourg Palace. Seven years later, after commissions from Cardinal Richelieu, King Louis XIII, and the queen mother Marie de Médicis, Champaigne was appointed royal painter to the queen mother. He received numerous commissions for royal portraits, religious paintings for Parisian churches and for individual devotion, and decorative projects for royal residences. His prominence put him among the founding members of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, where he became a professor in 1653. A brilliant color sense, monumental conception of the figure, and sober use of composition characterized Champaigne’s religious works and his memorable psychological portraits. Peter Paul Rubens and Simon Vouet influenced his use of strong colors, but the ascetic Champaigne scorned these artists’ decorative qualities. Both his contemporaries and modern scholars have attributed the severe plainness of his portraits to his Jansenist beliefs. His religious convictions also affected his choice of subjects: during the last decade of his career, he chose to paint only his family and friends and religious themes.



Our Lady of Guadalupe

There is perhaps no more familiar and beloved image of the Virgin Mary than Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast day we celebrate today. Known as the Patroness of the Americas, and given the additional titles Empress of the Americas and Protectress of Unborn Children by Pope John Paul II in 1999, her origins are shrouded in layers of uncertain claims and disputed evidence. Despite these doubts, however, the story of the miraculous origin of the image has remained enshrined in popular belief and Catholic tradition.

On December 9, 1531, the indigenous peasant Juan Diego encountered a young woman on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City, who spoke to him in his native tongue telling him that she was the Virgin Mary and that he should ask the bishop to build her a church at that spot. When he dutifully relayed this message to Archbishop Zumárraga, he was told to go back and ask the lady for a sign. When Juan Diego told her that he needed a miraculous sign, she told him to pick some of the roses growing there on the normally barren hill. She arranged the flowers for him in his cloak, or tilma, and when he released the roses onto the ground before the bishop, the image of the Virgin was revealed on the tilma.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, (1531?) painted fabric, Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City

Our Lady of Guadalupe, (1531?) painted fabric, Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City

The image today, with painted additions, is framed and hung in the place of honor on the wall behind the altar in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. We see a dark-haired, olive-skinned young woman, dressed in a tunic and mantle, surrounded by a mandorla and standing on a crescent moon held aloft by an angel among the clouds. She gazes downward and clasps her hands in prayer.


Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Tepeyac Hill, Mexico City.

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Tepeyac Hill, Mexico City.

The basilica that houses the tilma is the second church constructed here, next to the same hill where Juan Diego received his vision.  The site of this Marian shrine, the hill at Tepeyac, was once devoted to several indigenous goddesses known as Tonantzin, a generic term which means “our revered mother.” Spanish missionaries placed Christian shrines over many native religious sites. The first basilica here was completed in 1709, but its foundations later began to sink into the ground, a reminder that Mexico City was built upon the drained bed of Lake Texcoco, former site of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. The curved modern basilica, finished in 1976, can hold 50,000 people and receives several million visitors each year, making it one of the most visited sacred sites in the world. Visitors to the church who want to see the image of the Virgin must form a line and progress in single file on a people mover located behind and below the altar area, unseen by those attending mass. The icon is then seen above you in its ornate frame as you glide by it.

Our Lady of Guadalupe seen from the people mover below, Mexico City.

Our Lady of Guadalupe seen from the people mover below, Mexico City.

Despite the distance from the image, it is quite an experience. Even before you enter the church, as you make your way across the plaza to reach the basilica, faithful pilgrims can sometimes be seen moving forward on their knees and with hands clasped in prayer, making their way piously through the sacred space in order to gain the blessing of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

Pilgrims to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Pilgrims to the Virgin of Guadalupe.


Plaza Mariana with new and old Basilicas of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City.

Plaza Mariana with new and old Basilicas of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City.


Artists have painted many reproductions of the tilma image for use at other churches and for sale on the art market. One of the earliest of these, seen below, was painted by Manuel de Arellano in 1691.

Virgin of Guadalupe by Manuel de Arellano, after the original, 1691, oil on canvas 181.45 x 123.38 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Virgin of Guadalupe by Manuel de Arellano, after the original, 1691, oil on canvas 181.45 x 123.38 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In addition to his interpretation of the image of the tilma, Arellano has surrounded the figure with flowers and included vignettes at each corner that narrate the story of Juan Diego’s encounter with the Virgin. Also in the collection at LACMA is this curious version created with shells in a technique known as enconchado (concha means shell in Spanish).

Virgin of Guadalupe, Miguel González, c. 1698, oil and shell on canvas.

Virgin of Guadalupe, Miguel González, c. 1698, Oil on canvas on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (enconchado), 124.46 x 95.25 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


Several years ago my brother gave me the gift of this contemporary painting of Our Lady by an unknown artist, which I treasure.

My VoG


As the patron saint of Mexico, the beloved figure of the Virgin of Guadalupe has become ubiquitous in Latin American culture. Artists have copied and reinterpreted the image in a huge variety of media, from paintings and candles to wall murals, tattoos, and beach towels. Any medium you can think of likely has been used to recreate her image.



John and VoG towel


Our Lady of Guadalupe has countless churches and schools named for her. A multitude of scholarly articles discuss various aspects of her history and significance, and her image has been used by the liberation theology movement, the United Farm Workers, and at recent immigration rallies. She even has a Tumblr site and an Etsy page. She is truly a ubiquitous icon that is both sacred and secular. If you would like more information about the Virgin of Guadalupe, the article on Wikipedia is quite good to start with. And here is a prayer to her:

Our Lady of Guadalupe,
Mystical Rose,
make intercession for holy Church,
protect the sovereign Pontiff,
help all those who invoke you in their necessities,
and since you are the ever Virgin Mary
and Mother of the true God,
obtain for us from your most holy Son
the grace of keeping our faith,
of sweet hope in the midst of the bitterness of life
of burning charity, and the precious gift
of final perseverance.


Now I think I’ll go browse through that Etsy page!


The Hand of the Lord Has Done This


I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I will help you.”
Fear not, O worm Jacob,
O maggot Israel;
I will help you, says the LORD;
your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
I will make of you a threshing sledge,
sharp, new, and double-edged,
To thresh the mountains and crush them,
to make the hills like chaff.
When you winnow them, the wind shall carry them off
and the storm shall scatter them.
But you shall rejoice in the LORD,
and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain,
their tongues are parched with thirst.
I, the LORD, will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will open up rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the broad valleys;
I will turn the desert into a marshland,
and the dry ground into springs of water.
I will plant in the desert the cedar,
acacia, myrtle, and olive;
I will set in the wasteland the cypress,
together with the plane tree and the pine,
That all may see and know,
observe and understand,
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Isaiah 41:13-20


Today’s reading brought to mind the great 19th century landscapes of the American West. Thomas Moran is one of my favorites in this genre. This is one of his three monumental landscapes, both in theme and size, at 109″ x 90 3/4″ x 9 1/4″ (276.8 cm x 230.5 cm x 23.4 cm)! That’s 9ft. wide and 7 1/2ft. tall!! For more on Moran visit here.


Mountain of the Holy Cross, Thomas Moran, 1875, Autry Museum of Western Art

Mountain of the Holy Cross, Thomas Moran, 1875, Autry Museum of Western Art


From the Autry Museum:

“Painting by Thomas Moran, Mountain of the Holy Cross, 1875. Few sites embodied romantic mystery and western legend more than did Colorado’s Mountain of the Holy Cross. Prior to William Henry Jackson’s 1873 photo (created during a government expedition led by Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden), the mountain was known primarily through folklore that traced its first sightings to Spanish explorers. Popularly believed to have been emblazoned on the mountain by the hand of God, the cross came to be seen as a call for Americans to renew the Christian morality required to settle the West. Mountain of the Holy Cross was thus seen as a New-World embodiment of the Old Testament site where God was revealed to Moses, and was quickly deemed an “American Sinai.” The mountain’s role as an emblem of the religious call to Western settlement was enhanced by its position between the crucial 39th and 40th degrees of latitude, a location that Hayden had called public attention to in his annual report to Congress in 1873. Surrounded by mountains and linked with a river system, many saw Colorado Territory (which became a state within a year of Moran’s painting) as the spiritual heart of the budding American Empire. Upon seeing Jackson’s photo, Moran traveled to the area the following summer, where he decided to use the waterfall in the foreground to emphasize the monumentality of the scene and bring it more in line with popular conventions regarding the picturesque. With this characteristic use of artistic license, Moran completed the painting in April of 1874 from his Newark studio, and by early June arranged for the picture to go on display at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. Perhaps due to its overtly religious message, Mountain of the Holy Cross remained unsold for several years, until it was purchased in 1880 by Dr. William Bell, a founding member of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad consortium. Moran was market-savvy, and knew when he paintedMountain of the Holy Cross that the natural formation would be interpreted as divine favor for western expansion, a central tenet of European-American social and religious thought. Under his ownership, Bell took this symbolism one step further by selling tickets to see the painting to pilgrims visiting his home on their way to the mineral springs of the Rockies.”

Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin

December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which commemorates that Mary, out of all people ever born, was created by God to be “full of grace” and, thus, a fitting vessel to bear the Son of God. The Feast is often confused with the Virgin conception and birth of Jesus. Today’s reading is the Annunciation.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38

One of my favorite paintings of this scene (and there are soooo many!!) is from a delightful early Northern Renaissance altarpiece, now in the Met. Be sure to click on it to enlarge it so you can check out the tiny Jesus flying down on the ray of light toward Mary! I love this image of our Lord eagerly coming from heaven to be our Savior! As you contemplate this painting, consider what it means to you that Jesus, with full knowledge of the cup that would be given to him, still came for us, descending into the Blessed womb that was prepared for him.


The Merode Altarpiece, workshop of Robert Camping, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Merode Altarpiece, workshop of Robert Campin, 1427-32, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Having just entered the room, the angel Gabriel is about to tell the Virgin Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus. The golden rays pouring in through the left oculus carry a miniature figure with a cross. On the right wing, Joseph, who is betrothed to the Virgin, works in his carpenter’s shop, drilling holes in a board. The mousetraps on the bench and in the shop window opening onto the street are thought to allude to references in the writings of Saint Augustine identifying the cross as the devil’s mousetrap. On the left wing, the kneeling donor appears to witness the central scene through the open door. His wife kneels behind him, and a town messenger stands at the garden gate. The owners would have purchased the triptych to use in private prayer. An image of Christ’s conception in an interior not unlike the one in which they lived also may have reinforced their hope for their own children.
One of the most celebrated early Netherlandish paintings—particularly for its detailed observation, rich imagery, and superb condition—this triptych belongs to a group of paintings associated with the Tournai workshop of Robert Campin (ca. 1375–1444), sometimes called the Master of Flémalle. Documents indicate that he hired at least two assistants, the young Rogier van der Weyden (ca. 1400–1464) and Jacques Daret (ca. 1404–1468). Stylistic and technical evidence suggests that the altarpiece was executed in phases. The Annunciation, which follows a slightly earlier workshop composition, probably was not commissioned. Shortly thereafter, the male donor ordered the wings, which appear to have been painted by two artists. At a later point, in the 1430s, presumably following the donor’s marriage, the portraits of his wife and of the messenger were added. The windows of the central panel, originally covered with gold leaf, were painted with a blue sky, and the armorial shields were added afterward.



Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”

Matthew 10:2


Westfield With A Reaper, Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam


Vincent Van Gogh painted dozens of wheat fields and for him they held spiritual significance. He had a special affinity for laborers and peasants, seeing in them a nobility and a metaphor for the human struggle. Below are some of his wheatfield paintings with peasants along with quotes from the artist, who kept up a copious correspondence with his beloved brother Theo and others until his untimely death from suicide.


Peasant Woman Binding Sheaves

“Through the iron-barred window I see a square field of wheat in an enclosure, a perspective like Van Goyen, above which I see the morning sun rising in all its glory.”


“One does not expect to get from life what one has already learned it cannot give; rather, one begins to see more clearly that life is a kind of sowing time, and the harvest is not here.”


“The best way to know God is to love many things. Love a friend, a wife, something – whatever you like – (and) you will be on the way to knowing more about Him; this is what I say to myself. But one must love with a lofty and serious intimate sympathy, with strength, with intelligence.”


“One must undertake with confidence, with a certain assurance that one is doing a reasonable thing, like the farmer who drives his plow… (one who) drags the harrow behind himself. If one hasn’t a horse, one is one’s own horse.”


“the sower and the wheat sheaf stood for eternity, and the reaper and his scythe for irrevocable death.”


“What can a person do when he thinks of all the things he cannot understand, but look at the fields of wheat… We, who live by bread, are we not ourselves very much like wheat… to be reaped when we are ripe.”


Sower at Sunset by Vincent Van Gogh; June 1888, oil on canvas, 64 x 80.5cm; Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo

“What the germinating force is in a grain of wheat, love is in us.”

The Sower by Vincent Van Gogh, November 1888, Oil on canvas 64 x 80.5 cm, Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam.

“aren’t we, who live on bread, to a considerable extent like wheat, at least aren’t we forced to submit to growing like a plant without the power to move, by which I mean in whatever way our imagination impels us, and to being reaped when we are ripe, like the same wheat?”