The Nativity of Saint Mary the Virgin

Here followeth the Nativity of our Blessed Lady

The nativity of the blessed and glorious Virgin Mary, of the lineage of Judah and of the royal kindred of David took her original beginning. Matthew and Luke describe not the generation of Mary but of Joseph, which was far from the conception of Christ. But the custom of writing was of such ordinance that the generation of women is not showed but of the men. And verily the blessed Virgin descended of the lineage of David, and it is certain that Jesu Christ was born of this only Virgin. It is certain that he came of the lineage of David and of Nathan, for David had two sons, Nathan and Solomon among all his other sons. And as John Damascene witnesseth that of Nathan descended Levy, and Levy engendered Melchion and Panthar, Panthar engendered Barpanthar, Barpanthar engendered Joachim, Joachim engendered the Virgin Mary, which was of the lineage of Solomon. For Nathan had a wife, of whom he engendered Jacob, and when Nathan was dead Melchion, which was son of Levy and brother of Panthar, wedded the wife of Nathan, mother of Jacob, and on her he engendered Eli, and so Jacob and Eli were brethren of one mother but not of one father. For Jacob was of the line of Solomon and Eli of the line of Nathan, and then Eli of the line of Nathan died without children, and Jacob his brother, which was of the line of Solomon, took a wife and engendered and raised the seed of his brother and engendered Joseph.

Joseph then by nature is son of Jacob by descent of Solomon. That is to wit, Joseph is the son of Jacob, and after the law he is son of Eli which descended of Nathan. for the son that was born, was by nature his that engendered him, and by the law he was son of him that was dead, like as it is said in the History Scholastic. And Bede witnesseth in his chronicle that, when all the generations of the Hebrews and other strangers were kept in the most secret chests of the temple, Herod commanded them to be burnt, weening thereby to make himself noble among the others. If the proofs of the lineages were failed, he should make them believe that his lineage appertained to them of Israel. And there were some that were called dominics, for because they were so nigh to Jesu Christ and were of Nazareth, and they had learned the order of generation of our Lord, a part of their grandsires' fathers, and a part by some books that they had in their houses and taught them forth as much as they might. 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 S. Servatius, whose body lieth in Maestricht, upon the river of the Meuse, in the bishopric of Liège. 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. And hereof be made these verses:

Anna soles dici tres concepisse Marias,
Quas genuere viri Joachim, Cleophas Salomeque.
Has duxere viri Joseph, Alpheus, Zebedeus.
Prima parit Christum, Jacobum secunda minorem,
Et Joseph justum peperit cum Simone Judam,
Tertia majorem Jacobum volucremque Johannem.

But it is marvellous for to see how the blessed Virgin Mary might be cousin of Elizabeth as it is tofore said. It is certain that Elizabeth was Zachary's wife, which was of the lineage of Levi, and after the law each ought to wed a wife of his own lineage. And she was of the daughters of Aaron, as S. Luke witnesseth, and Anne was of Bethlehem, as S. Jerome saith, and was of the tribe of Judah. And then they of the line of Levi wedded wives of the line of Judah, so that the line royal and the line of the priests were always joined together by cousinage. So that as Bede saith: This cousinage might be made sith the first time, and thus to be nourished from lineage to lineage, and thus should it be certain that the blessed Virgin Mary descended of the Ioyal line, and had cousinage of the priests. And our blessed Lady was of both lineages, and so our Lord would that these two lineages should entresemble together for great mystery. For it appertaineth that he should be born and offered for us, very God, and very king, and very priest, and should govern his true christian men fighting in chivalry of this life, and to crown them after their victory, the which thing appeareth of the name of Christ, for Christ is as much to say as anointed. For in the old law there was none anointed but priests and kings, and we be said christian men of Christ, and be called the lineage chosen of kings and priests. But because it is said that the men took wives of their lineage only, that was because the distribution of the sorts should not be confounded. For the tribe of Levy had not his sort with the other, and therefore might they well marry them with the women of that tribe or where they would, like as S. Jerome rehearseth in his prologue. When he was a child he had a little book of the history of the nativity of the Virgin Mary, but as he remembered a long time after, he translated it by the prayer of some persons, and found that Joachim, which was of Galilee of the city of Nazareth, espoused S. Anne of Bethlehem, and they were both just and without reproach or reprehension in the commandments of our Lord, and divided all their substance in three parts: that one part was for the temple, that other they gave to the poor and pilgrims, and the third was for themselves and their meiny to live with, and thus lived twenty years in marriage without having any lineage. And then they avowed to our Lord that if he sent to them any lineage they should give it to him, for to serve him. For which thing they went every year into Jerusalem in three principal feasts, so that in the feast of Encenia, that was the dedication of the temple, then Joachim went unto Jerusalem with his kindred, and came to the altar with the others and would have offered his offering. And when the priest saw him, he put him apart by great despite, and reproved him because he came to the altar of God, and said to him that it was convenable that a man cursed in the faith should not offer to our Lord, ne he that was barren should be among them that had fruit, as he that had none to the increase of the people of God. And then Joachim, all confused for this thing, durst not go home for shame, because they of his lineage and his neighbours which had heard it should not reprove him. And then he went to his herdmen, and was there long, and then the angel appeared to him only, and comforted him with great clearness, and said to him that he should not doubt ne be afraid of his vision, and said: I am the angel of our Lord sent to thee for to denounce to thee that thy prayers have availed thee and been heard, and thy alms be mounted tofore our Lord. I have seen thy shame and heard the reproach. That thou art barren is to thee no reproach by right, and God is venger of sin and not of nature. And when he closeth the belly or womb, he worketh so that he openeth it after, more marvellously. And the fruit that shall be born shall not be seen to come forth by lechery, but that it be known that it is of the gift of God. The first mother of your people was Sara, and she was barren unto the ninetieth year, and had only Isaac, to whom the benediction of all people was promised. And was not Rachel long barren? And yet had she not after Joseph, that held all the seigniory of Egypt? which was more strong than Samson, and more holy than Samuel? And yet were their mothers barren. Thus mayst thou believe by reason and by ensample that the childings long abiden be wont to be more marvellous. And therefore Anne thy wife shall have a daughter, and thou shalt call her Mary, and she, as ye have avowed, shall be from her infancy sacred unto our Lord, and shall be full of the Holy Ghost sith the time that she shall depart from the womb of her mother, and she shall dwell in the temple of our Lord, and not without, among the other people, because that none evil thing shall be had in suspicion of her, and right as she shall be born of a barren mother, so shall be born of her marvellously the son of a right high Lord. Of whom the name shall be Jesus, and by him shall health be given to all the people. And I give to thee the sign, that when thou shalt come to the golden gate at Jerusalem, thou shalt meet there Anne thy wife, which is much amoved of thy long tarrying, and shall have joy of thy coming. And then the angel, when he had said this, he departed from him. And as when Anne wept bitterly and wist not whither her husband was gone, the same angel appeared to her, and said all that he had said to her husband, and gave to her for a sign that she should go into Jerusalem, to the golden gate, and there she should meet with her husband which was returned. And thus by the commandment of the angel they met, and were firm of the lineage promised, and glad for to see each other, and honoured our Lord and returned home, abiding joyously the promise divine. And Anne conceived and brought forth a daughter, and named her Mary.

And then when she had accomplished the time of three years, and had left sucking, they brough her to the temple with offerings. And there was about the temple, after the fifteen psalms of degrees, fifteen steps or grees to ascend up to the temple, because the temple was high set. And no body might go to the altar of sacrifices that was without, but by the degrees. And then our Lady was set on the lowest step, and mounted up without any help as she had been of perfect age, and when they had performed their offering, they left their daughter in the temple with the other virgins, and they returned into their place. And the Virgin Mary profited every day in all holiness, and was visited daily of angels, and had every day divine visions.

Jerome saith in an epistle to Chromatius and to Heliodorus that the blessed Virgin Mary had ordained this custom to herself that, from the morning unto the hour of tierce, she was in orison and prayer, and from tierce unto nones she entended to her work, and from nones she ceased not to pray, till that the angel came and gave to her meat. And in the fourteenth year of her age, the bishop commanded in common that the virgins that were instituted in the temple, and had accomplished the time of age, should return to their houses and should after the law be married. All the others obeyed his commandment, but Mary answered that she might not do so because her father and mother had given her all to the service of our Lord. And then the bishop was much angry because he durst not make her to break her avow against the scripture, that saith: Avow ye vows and yield them to God. And he durst not break the custom of the people. And then came a feast of the Jews, and he called all the ancient Jews to council, and showed to them this thing. And this was all their sentence: That in a thing so doubtable, that counsel shall be asked of our Lord. And then went they all to prayer, and the bishop, that was gone to ask counsel of our Lord. Anon came a voice out of the oracle and said that, all they that were of the house of David that were convenable to be married and had no wife, that each of them should bring a rod to the altar, and his rod that flourished, and, after the saying of Isaiah, the Holy Ghost sit in the form of a dove on it, he should be the man that should be desponsate and married to the Virgin Mary. And Joseph, of the house of David, was there among the others, and him seemed to be a thing unconvenable, a man of so old age as he was to have so tender a maid, and whereas others brought forth their rods he hid his. And when nothing appeared according to the voice of God, the bishop ordained for to ask counsel again of our Lord. And he answered that, he only that should espouse the virgin had not brought forth his rod. And then Joseph by the commandment of the bishop brought forth his rod, and anon it flowered, and a dove descended from heaven thereupon, so that it was clearly the advice of every man that he should have the virgin. And then he espoused the Virgin Mary, and returned into his city of Bethlehem for to ordain his meiny and his house, and for to fetch such things as were necessary. And the Virgin Mary returned unto the house of her father with seven virgins, her fellows of her age, which had seen the demonstrance of the miracle.

And in those days the angel of our Lord appeared to the Virgin praying, and showed to her how the Son of God should be born of her. And the day of the nativity was not known in long time of good christian men, and as master John Beleth saith that, it happed that a man of good contemplation every year in the sixth ides of September was in prayer, and he heard a company of angels that made great solemnity. And then he required devoutly that he might have knowledge wherefore every year only on that day he heard such solemnity and not on other days. And then he had a divine answer that, on that day the blessed Virgin Mary was born into this world, and that he should do it to be known to the men of holy church, so that they should be concordable to the heavenly court in hallowing this solemnity. And when he had told this to the sovereign bishop the pope, and to the others, and had been in fastings, in prayers, and sought in scriptures and witnesses of old writings, they established this day of the nativity of the glorious Virgin to be hallowed generally of all christian men, but the utas sometime was not hallowed ne kept. But Innocent the fourth, of the nation of Genoa, ordained and instituted the said utas to be observed.

Text taken from Medieval Sourcebook: The Golden Legend (Aurea Legenda) - Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, 1275 - Englished by William Caxton, 1483.