The stained-glass panel depicting the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, originally created for the Carmelite Church of Boppard-am-Rhein, Germany, in 1444, is part of a larger window that features scenes from the life of the Virgin and of Christ.
In this scene, Mary has made the long trek, most likely on foot, to visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth. On the hilltops in the background we see buildings representing their respective towns. Mary’s passage could not have been easy for, as the Gospel indicates, she came from Nazareth to the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah in the “hill country” of Judah, a journey of about ninety miles. The Blessed Virgin would have had to travel up and down many hills, from an elevation of over 1,100 feet, down to something at or below sea level—depending on the route—and back up again to Ein Karem at over 2,100 feet. She certainly did not set out after breakfast and arrive before lunch!
The author of The Gospel of Luke and countless Christian artists alike seem never to think of the implications of such a journey for a first-century woman. Our stained-glass Mary, for example, greets Elizabeth with a smile, as if she has just been dropped off at the doorstep by a first-century taxi driver. Elizabeth, for her part, appears to be the tired one, though at six months pregnant, this is understandable. In the Gospel telling—and in images across the ages—this travel story appears undemanding. Let us take a moment, however, to contemplate the love, growing ever stronger within the Blessed Mother, that impelled her on such a grueling expedition—the same Love that now urges us all to similar acts of selflessness and charity.
Ælred Senna, OSB, is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and associate editor of Give Us This Day.
Visitation, stained-glass panel, German, 1444. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Francis L. Leland Fund, 1913. www.metmuseum.org. Image courtesy of Open Access at The Met.