Monday, September 14, 2015

Josephology Sidebar: The Holy Kinship

(Jan Baegert)
“Who is as the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high: who maketh a barren woman to dwell in a house, the joyful mother of children.” (Ps. 112)
The “Holy Kinship” is a strange example of a short-lived iconographic theme. The earliest examples in art seem to have sprung up in the late 1400s, only to peter out in the 1600s. However, the idea itself comes from the Golden Legend of the mid-1200s, which theorizes on the extended family (and “brethren”) of Our Lord in the entry about the Nativity of the Virgin. The West having long rejected the earlier marriage of Joseph, thanks to Jerome, Jacobus de Voragine theorizes that St. Anne was actually married three times, bore three daughters named Mary, and was the grandmother of many personages in the Gospels:
Joachim spoused Anne, which had a sister named Hismeria, and Hismeria had two daughters, named Elizabeth, and Elind. Elizabeth was mother to John Baptist, and Eliud engendered Eminen. And of Eminen came Saint Servatius, whose body lieth in Maastricht, upon the river of the Meuse, in the bishopric of Liège. 
(Jean Fouquet) 
And Anne had three husbands, Joachim, Cleophas, and Salome; and of the first she had a daughter named Mary, the Mother of God, the which was given to Joseph in marriage, and she childed our Lord Jesu Christ. 
And when Joachim was dead, she took Cleophas, the brother of Joseph, and had by him another daughter named Mary also, and she was married to Alpheus. And Alpheus her husband had by her four sons, that was James the Less, Joseph the Just, otherwise named Barsabee, Simon, and Jude. 
Then the second husband being dead, Anne married the third named Salome, and had by him another daughter which yet also was called Mary, and she was married to Zebedee. And this Mary had of Zebedee two sons, that is to wit, James the More, and John the Evangelist. (source)
Anne and her sister bore quite a clan, it seems! The Holy Kinship theme was apparently most popular in the Germanic countries, but wasn’t unknown even in Spain, where it was ruthlessly expunged by the Counter Reformation in favor of the Holy Family. When Anne was deemed fit to exist as a real historical personage, it was deemed unfit that the mother of Our Lady would be so tied to the flesh as to marry three times.

Molanus and his disciples could have criticized the Holy Kinship on the basis of it contradicting the oldest traditions of the “Brethren of the Lord,” but that would have admitted too much concerning the supposed invalidity of apocryphal writings. He wished to be rid of de Voragine’s work entirely, but even that work had discarded earlier stories.

(from the Nuremberg Chronicles)
I don’t know when the Holy Kinship was first illustrated, and can only assume that some artist was perusing his copy of the Golden Legend one day and decided that this small section would make for an interesting picture. Apparently it was very popular for a brief while before it was overtaken by the Holy Family devotion. The drastic change from a large clan to a small “nuclear” family must have caused a dissonant shift in the popular Catholic idea of families.

(Derick Baegert)
Of course, the genealogies of the major and minor personages of the Gospels have been the cause of debate ever since the patristic era. Are the genealogies of Christ in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels both of Joseph, both of Mary, or one of each? Are the “Brethren of the Lord” just cousins or the children of Joseph? How many Jameses were there? How many Judes? What relation do they all share, if any? The Evangelists did not see fit to be precise, either assuming that their readers would know perfectly well who they were talking about, or thinking these matters to be the subject of undue curiosity.

Either way, the Holy Kinship was an interesting attempt at sorting out these matters, and it generated a good deal of lovely art before it expired. If the Holy Family devotion hadn’t been propagated with such intensity, the Kinship might have survived to this day.

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