Mar­riage of art his­tory and scrip­ture en­thralls

Kerry man pub­lishes book ex­am­in­ing a key Bi­ble event in Ir­ish stained-glass art

The Kerryman (Tralee Edition) - - NEWS - By DÓNAL NOLAN

THE story of Mary’s ‘be­trothal’ to Joseph, as told in the mag­nif­i­cent stained-glass art of the na­tion is the fo­cus of an en­thralling new book by a Kerry man.

As much of the iconog­ra­phy of Chris­tian­ity ap­pears on the brink of los­ing its mean­ing in this in­creas­ingly sec­u­lar age, Paraic Ma­her’s new work Betrothed, does a re­mark­able job of re­viv­ing a key episode of the New Tes­ta­ment.

It is, af­ter all, the most sig­nif­i­cant pre­lude to the ar­rival of the Mes­siah – as Mary and Joseph are for­mally brought to­gether as a cou­ple in Jerusalem in a be­trothal cer­e­mony led by the high­est priest in Ju­daism (as de­picted right – from the cover to Paraic’s work – in a de­tail from St Teresa’s Church in Claren­don St, Dublin).

Now, in Betrothed, Paraic brings to­gether his own per­sonal and ex­pertly-in­formed take on the story with its de­pic­tion in some of Ire­land’s most ex­quis­ite stained-glass art.

It hits book­shops soon hav­ing been un­veiled at the Pas­toral Congress of the World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies last month.

For the Lis­towel na­tive, the Be­trothal has long been a fas­ci­nat­ing sub­ject; it is some­thing of a mys­tery; it was the sub­ject of a num­ber of mis­guided rep­re­sen­ta­tions over the cen­turies; but at its heart is a deeply hu­man story of a vul­ner­a­ble young girl en­ter­ing into a daunt­ing con­tract at the be­hest of the el­ders of her re­li­gion.

“Al­most every­body has heard of the be­trothal, but few know what it is and part of the prob­lem is that it was mis­rep­re­sented or mis­trans­lated in some trans­la­tions of the Bi­ble as an ‘en­gage­ment’. It was not an en­gage­ment as we would un­der­stand it,” Paraic told The Ker­ry­man.

Betrothed bears the ap­po­site sub­ti­tle ‘Glimpses of the Be­trothal of Mary and Joseph’, as that is all that is tan­ta­lis­ingly pre­sented of the story in the Gospels.

Based on re­search of the historic record, of the ‘apocryphal’ Gospels and of the the­ol­ogy sur­round­ing it, Paraic presents what he feels is a more com­plete pic­ture of the whole story.

“In my in­tro­duc­tory es­say to the book I clar­ify what be­trothal meant; it ac­tu­ally was a for­mal ex­change of mar­riage vows un­der Ju­daic law and not an ‘en­gage­ment’ as it has some­times been trans­lated. As with the Ju­daic cus­tom, Mary and Joseph would have then waited a year be­fore mov­ing into a single home to­gether as man and wife,” Paraic ex­plained.

It was, of course, to prove the most joy­ous union of West­ern tra­di­tion but ini­tially pre­sented Mary with the great­est chal­lenge of her young life. For she was but a teenager, so de­voted to her God she lived in the Tem­ple in Jerusalem up un­til cus­tom de­creed she take a hus­band.

“We cel­e­brate the Feast of the Pre­sen­ta­tion of Mary in the Tem­ple each year, from which the Pre­sen­ta­tion Or­der took its name, which cel­e­brates Mary’s ar­rival in the Tem­ple where she would live. We know there was a tra­di­tion of young girls liv­ing in the Tem­ple so she would not have been alone in this.

“How­ever, as women could not leave the Tem­ple single, she had to find a hus­band and this pre­sented a huge prob­lem as Mary had de­voted her life to God.

“The Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion refers to Mary’s Con­cep­tion as she was born with­out orig­i­nal sin; it’s a dif­fi­cult con­cept that can be un­der­stood as that which messes with our moral, spir­i­tual com­pass, in terms of be­ing able to dis­tin­guish and live that which is true. Mary’s com­pass bear­ing was ex­act, how­ever.”

As Paraic’s in­tro­duc­tion has it: “Her hu­man ca­pac­i­ties for knowl­edge and love were in per­fect align­ment, so she had no in­te­rior im­ped­i­ments to pur­su­ing truth and beauty. In ef­fect, she grew in wis­dom and ten­der­ness be­yond her years.”

And how the story was brought to life on the stained glass of Ir­ish churches - in­clud­ing Ca­her­siveen’s Daniel O’Con­nell Memo­rial Church (right).

What fol­lows is a stun­ning pre­sen­ta­tion of the very best in­clud­ing Harry Clarke - in a fas­ci­nat­ing guide un­der­lin­ing just how di­verse the stained­glass art of the na­tion is.

FAR LEFT: The two-page spread on the be­trothal as it ap­pears in Ca­her­siveen’s Daniel O’Con­nell Memo­rial Church of the Holy Cross.

LEFT: Lis­towel na­tive Paraic Ma­her with his newly-pub­lished ex­am­i­na­tion of the mar­riage of Mary and Joseph; and its many de­pic­tions in Ir­ish stained­glass art.

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