On St Joseph's Feast- a meditation on his spouse, “Maria – Sitz der Weisheit” "Seat of Wisdom" from the Abbey Basilica of St Matthias in Trier, Germany.
A Sunday school teacher asked her class, "What was Jesus' mother's name?"
One child answered, "Mary."
The teacher then asked, "Who knows what Jesus' father's name was?"
A little kid said, "The Verge."
Confused, the teacher asked, "Where did you get that?"
The kid said, "Well, you know they are always talking about
The Verge 'n' Mary."
On the Feast of St Joseph, the foster father of Jesus (the “Verge”), here is a little something special about one his family members.
Before Christmas last year, a reader inquired about the origin of a certain picture of the Virgin Mary that she owned. When sorting through her grandmother’s belongings she happened upon this image (left) buried in a box. Her grandmother was from Hungary and probably acquired it in the early half of the 20th century. It is a modest, framed copy probably printed on some kind of cardboard which was in popular use at one time. I was guessing that it might be a Madonna because of the marking MP and unusual cruciform halo (usually it is reserved for Christ). The black dress would indicate mourning, so it was possibly a Sorrowful Mother prototype but the veiling over top of her folded hands suggested more. Take a moment to look at it and try to figure out when in was painted. Nineteenth century maybe? What about later? Does it look medieval, renaissance or baroque? It looked more recent to me in comparison to others. Does the Madonna have an ethnic resemblance to any other that you've seen? What about the background?
I was guessing that it depicted the Blessed Mother because of the marking MP and the unusual cruciform halo (usually it is reserved for Christ). The black dress would indicate mourning, so it was possibly a Sorrowful Mother prototype, but the veiling over top of her folded hands suggested more. Take a moment to look at it and try to figure out when in was painted. Nineteenth century maybe? What about later? Does it look Medieval, Renaissance or Baroque? It looked more recent to me in comparison to others. Does the Madonna have an ethnic resemblance to any other that you've seen? What about the background?
Further, since this is larger print version, the image most likely had a following. But to deliberately search for this specific Marian picture online is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Marian imagery is the subject of endless varieties compounded by the exclusion or inclusion of secondary symbols. The good news is that I did very surprisingly stumble upon it while researching other Marian icons online.
About the icon, Mother of Mercy, Mary Seat of Wisdom
This icon is called “Maria – Sitz der Weisheit” and it is located in the “GNADENKAPELLE IN DER BASILIKA ST. MATTHIAS, TRIER. An online translator is necessary to read about this icon online so I will provide an edited version below and offer the links at the bottom of this page.
Translation with edits:
On November 11, 2009 the Abbey Church of St Matthews in Trier Germany re-consecrated their Marian chapel and centrally located this image within it.
The sermon from the Abbot Ignatius Maas, OSB:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, on the first day of Advent, the redesigned Gnadenkapelle [Chapel of Mercy] is here again determined to be active in the northeast tower of St Matthew’s Church. The Mattheiser miraculous image is now in a glowing and radiant room.
This image was inspired by St. Luke’s Gospel. Luke writes that Maria hears what the angel tells her. You, Maria, are the fulfillment of the promise and will become the Mother of our Lord and for us a sister in faith. We know that this image is an interpretation of the pregnant Mary, who protects the expectant life of Jesus. Gingerly, we see “a hint” that new life has come into the world. [She is with child] with Jesus, the Son of the Highest, as He is called in the Gospel, the life of God comes into the world and God's love flows in the world.
The mandorla, which now surrounds the image, is vivid. The mandorla, the almond-shaped halo, usually surrounds icons only representing Christ. Here it surrounds the image of Mary. And rightly so. The eyes do not see Jesus, the Son of the Highest, but we know He is present as the promise to Mary in the world. The cherishing love of God for us, comes into the world, just as the rays of the mandorla flow in the Chapel room through him. What has been lacking in the chapel was the Angel of the Annunciation. Now the angel is there. Not as an angel as usually portrayed. But if you look in the chapel to the top, you can see the heavens opened, and in star shape radiates the promise of Gabriel in the room: You are full of grace. The Lord is with you!
We do not see the angelic messenger. We do not hear the words of Gabriel. But we can sense it, we can allow it to flow into soak into [our souls]. In the Advent season, take the time to put yourself in the chapel or some other place and allow the words to flow on… soak up the words that came to Mary and to us all of us who have been baptized, the words:You are full of grace. For God is with you.
In the current of space [time and eternity] meditate on this influx of grace:
God turns His love towards me.
We do not see the angelic messenger. We do not hear the words of Gabriel. But we can sense it, we can allow it to flow into soak into [our souls]. In the Advent season, take the time to put yourself in the chapel or some other place and allow the words to flow on… soak up the words that came to Mary and to us all of us who have been baptized, the words: You are full of grace. For God is with you.
In the current of space [time and eternity] meditate on this influx of grace:
God turns His love towards me.
Following text from newsletter of the Diocese of Trier:
The Lady Chapel of St. Matthias in Trier after restoration and remodeling has been re-consecrated on [the first] Sunday of Advent. The well-known "Mattheiser miraculous image" has returned to its rightful place. "[The presence of the] Chapel instructs us to the fact that we are looking for a personal response to what God says to us," said the Abbot of St. Matthias, Ignatius Maas, at the chapel inauguration. The icon shows the mystery of the Incarnation- in the wisdom of God, Maria was created.
"Maria - Seat of Wisdom" is the official title of this Marian icon. In the vernacular, the oil painting is just called "Mattheiser picture of Grace or Mercy." It was probably created around 1700 by a painter from the Trier area and since that time visited by many people as a place of meditation and prayer. The new Chapel is the work of the artist Damaris Wurmdobler, who also manufactures, among other things, modern glass windows and contemporary interior paintings. She lives with her husband, the restorer Vitus Wurmdobler. She currently restored the crypt of St. Matthias, located in the castle in heritage-Büdesheim on the Rhine. She has spent many weeks last summer and autumn in St. Matthias restoring this chapel.
Further Research on The Mattheiser icon
If you google this image (we’ll refer to it as the Mattheiser icon), you will find several postcards, holy cards and photographs listed. Also there are later, painted copies of this image but they don’t compare to the original.
I found one intriguing copy of the Mattheiser icon Madonna face from the eighteenth century. The Latin inscription indicates (as best as I am able to translate online) that this icon is associated with St Luke's joyful depiction of Mary and the famous Madonna Salus Populi Romani located in the Church of Mary Major in Rome. But Salus Populi Romani doesn’t resemble the Mattheiser icon in anyway except as a rich source for reflection on the title “Seat of Wisdom.” So let's look there.
The Salus Populi Romani is more of a close-up “view” of the royal Mother and Child. These kinds of Marian icon prototypes are referred to as “Hodigitria” which means "one who leads". Mary is the one who shows the way to Jesus. A characteristic of this prototype is the way Mary supports the Child who extends a blessing with one hand and points to her with the other. In other Hodigitria copies, Jesus might hold a scroll or book or globe, for example, and Mary is also subject to new innovations. As noted earlier, there are many icon types that claim to have originated from one original prototype. St. Luke is attributed with painting the very first portraits of Mary and Jesus but these have been lost. Others copied his work, they say, and all has branched out in stages from that starting point.
The Solus Populi Romani doesn’t "feature" certain details as in a traditional “KYRIOTISSA” or “Enthroned Mother of God” icon prototype. In these, most often, the solemn and majestic Mother of God is depicted with Jesus seated on her lap, facing forward and she, in turn, is seated on a throne with other accessories and angels or individuals present.
The Sedes Sapientiae or The Seat of Wisdom icon type is based on the Enthroned Mother of God or Queen prototype. It expresses that “Mary is the person who through her most intimate relationship is totally receptive to the Wisdom of God so that the Litany of Loreto can call her rightfully Seat of Wisdom.” UD
In this icon prototype, Jesus is understood to be “Wisdom Personified”, who is seated on His mother’s lap. Mary is visually shown as the actual Seat of Wisdom (Jesus) and she, in turn, is placed on the Throne of Wisdom as she is the biblical Lady Wisdom.
Lastly and even MORE intimately, the Mattheiser icon depicts Mary contemplating True Wisdom (Jesus) who is physically present within her very womb. All of the above significant honors apply to this one as well.
Image: Madonna as Seat of Wisdom, 1199, inscribed as by Presbyter Martinus, from the Camaldolese abbey in Borgo San Sepolcro near Arezzo, Italy
Why are Mary’s hands covered with a veil?
The Mattheiser icon most closely resembles the Orans or Virgin of the Sign icon prototype. This is the image of “Mary at prayer with Christ shown in her womb... and has been considered for centuries to be an image of the Church, in which each person is called to 'give birth' to Christ…..Sometimes in this image the Virgin Mary will hold a shawl over her hands which is symbolic of her protective veil over the Church.” AAM Traditional icons of the Orans type most often depict the Christ Child within an orb. Since the advent of this protoype, a "countless" number of variations have occurred. link
An inquiry into the symbolic use of the veil carries us into pre-Christian customs which I will not discuss here in detail except to say that women who were dedicated to temple service were spoken of a "veiled ones". Likewise, when an altar is dedicated, it is covered in clothes and veils. From the earliest days of church hands which touch holy things have been veiled.
1. We see various kinds of veiling in Christian liturgical tradition. To begin, there’s the Tabernacle, Ciborium, Chalice, Humeral, Vimpa, Chancel and Lenten veil. With the Humeral Veil, for example, the priest covers his hands at benediction to signify that it is truly Jesus who blesses the people and not the priest. A veiled Ciborium signifies that it contains the consecrated Eucharist.
2. Holy relics: Chartres Cathedral, France keeps the ancient relic,
Sancta Camisia, which is said to be the holy veil or tunic that the Virgin Mary wore at Christ’s birth.
3. Apparitions: According to a 10th century tradition, in an apparition shown to St. Andrew the Blessed Fool-for-Christ, “the Virgin Mary knelt and prayed with tears for all faithful Christians in the world. She asked Her Son, Jesus Christ, to accept the prayers of all the people entreating Him and looking for Her protection. Once her prayer was completed, She walked to the altar and continued to pray. Afterwards, She spread Her veil over all the people in the church as a protection.” wiki
The artist who rendered the veiled hands in the Mattheiser icon must have drawn from these rich traditions. One could suggest that Mary covers her hands to signify that Jesus is truly present. That the veil is an ancient symbol identified with Mary and Christ’s birth, like the key is for St. Peter or the palm of a martyr. It also represents Mary’s maternal concern for the Church and all people. The veiling could additionally symbolize the two lives, Mary and Jesus (God), and their solemn dedication to each other- Nubli ei means “she veils herself for Him.” MHJ
Black is the negation of color. Traditionally, it is associated with mourning or, for religious, it symbolizes the dying to self as well as simplicity or poverty. According one source, ‘Black is an ancient symbol of death and mourning; it is routinely used to symbolize the devil, the underworld, witches, and mourning- except when paired with white, the color of purity, whereby it becomes a symbol of humility.”
A curious article titled “Mary as Fashion Icon” serves as a good point of reference for the elaborate costumes associated with Virgin and Child statues and images. In turn, this article was referring to a featured article on an exhibit offered at the Lyon Fabric Museum.
The decoration on Mattheiser icon most resembles the elaborate costumes made for Our Lady of Solitude and Sorrow statues and images. The impulse for these decorated images most likely originated in Spain and was introduced to South America by missionaries. One source provides excellent photos of these from around the world (1 & 2) and another site explains how the Our Lady of Solitude came to Oaxaca, Mexico.
Pearl jewelry and beading have a long symbolic significance.
Pearls were the jewels of kings and queens and royalty absolutely draped themselves in these precious little beads so why not the heavenly family?
The pearl, as the 'most precious jewel,' is used as a symbol of salvation, which is worth more than all the treasures of earth. 'The Kingdom of Heaven,' said Christ, according to Matthew 13:45, 'is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls; who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.' Elsewhere in Matthew the pearl represents the word of God: 'Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet . . .' [Matthew 7:6]. CT
St. Cyril wrote of Mary, “To thee also be praise, Holy Mother of God, for though art the precious pearl of the world….”
Often you will see teardrop pearls associated with the Virgin Mary. A prayer excerpt directed toward the Holy Face of Jesus equally applies to Mary and summarizes the pearls significance: “The tears which well up so abundantly in Thy sacred eyes appear to me as so many precious pearls that I love to gather up, in order to purchase the souls of poor sinners by means of their infinite value.”
The Nimbus or Halo of Mary
Mrs. Henry Jenner interestingly notes in her book, Christian Symbolism, about the nimbus that “no doubt luminosity was its origin” and later artists deferred to precise liturgical prescriptions or conventions for it use. The cruciform rays were to indicate Jesus Christ. “After the twelfth century the nimbus degenerated into almost an ornamental head-dress, with scalloped edges and elaborated patterns, and sometimes it was studded with jewels." This conventional treatment presently continues… "After the thirteenth century the nimbus is often represented by a golden or luminous line around the head, sometimes set slantingly in perspective, and with the Renaissance the original idea of the really luminous comes in again.” MJB 90.
The nimbus of the Mattheiser icon is an artistic innovation that was acceptable in that time period and in that particular region.
In the background, gold always represents the uncreated light of God and heaven. Sometimes we see the red background in copies which could symbolize the blood of Christ and suffering aspect but whether that was the artist’s intention (left) is unclear.
the color depicted for her mantle or shawl. The artist slipped this color in so quietly. "'The older, classic and more representative color is dark blue,'" according to the Rev. Johann Roten, S.M, director of the Marian Library-International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton. 'Mary's dark blue mantle, from about 500 A.D., is of Byzantine origin and is the color of an empress.'"
"Blue has stayed in vogue, but red has also become a prominent color for Mary as represented by artists since the 10th century. Blue calls to mind the color of the skies (which is not only limited to light blue), and red is the color of kings, Roten says. 'However, there are a great variety of blues and other colors for Mary,' he says. " link scroll down,
Blue is "the color of heaven or divinity, red the color of earth or flesh, so we may say that the blue mantle of divine grace surrounds Mary’s body, or overlies the 'earthiness' of the bed, preserving its integrity....A red robe over a blue robe (seen in some portrayals of Mary) symbolizes the Incarnation: Mary’s body surrounded the body of her divine Son, just as Jesus’ body 'covered' His Godhead." link
This is the extent of my finds. Please feel free to suggest more. It has been a challenge and pleasure researching this beautiful Icon of Mercy. Susi, might I add that this icon is a wonderful heirloom for your family and I hope they all receive a fresh copy and you take special care of your precious older icon copy!
And here’s a reminder to everyone- if you have something of value, and would like future generations to appreciate it, then please take time to mark it in some way. Without this identification, the artwork (or whatever may be) can become a bit of mystery and more often than not, the information is lost- possibly forever. Anyone who has ever attended an estate sale or has watched “Antique Road show” on PBS understands this.
Feast of St Joseph 2014
copyright Christi Marie Jentz
Abbey Church of Trier link
Meditiation on a copy from Neuottakring
Translation with edits: On the planned renovation of the Lady Chapel in Neuottakring, Germany. “The Lady Chapel is always open during the day. Often you can see some lighted candles that illuminate a picture of Mary. Christians rely on the Mother of God. They believe that their prayers are answered through Mary, because she is "God-bearing", gave birth to God, "Gottbittende" and "God's grace giver". The Legion of Mary at our parish bears the name "Mary - Steps to Christ". Yes, the Blessed Mother is always "Waiting" and the "grace giver" and through her we come to Jesus. Using Jesus to get to [God the] Father I often go and return to sit, in silence, in silence, in prayer there. I look into the face of the saints, and contemplate exactly her “look”, her obedience, her salvation and the preaching of God. Yes, through God "hear" and "salvation of God draws us" but it comes not only by the "Word of God" in the Gospel and not just by "singing and join in the celebrations" of the Mass. We perceive that the “kingdom of God” proclaimed, is possible through a special picture. In consideration of this image, the message opens.
Icons are sometimes called the "Window to Eternity" . They have their roots in the piety that wants to reveal what we loves and what is holy to us. The word icon is derived from the Greek "eikon" or image. At the time of early Christianity, it meant any religious image - mosaic, fresco and panel painting - a "Eikon". Today, with the term icon we understand the religious cultural image of the Eastern Church [Both Eastern and Western rites] they originate with the Greco-Hellenistic thinking, and [with the advent of Christianity offer a new characteristics]. The ways transcendental which are beyond this world are the absolute way to see an icon and to pray in front of and to light a candle before. But don’t fly to Greece in order to do this because we have our own Lady Chapel here. This icon shows Mary in all her tenderness, her obedience to God, in her silent reflection on the Word of God. Through her patience and piety, silence and prayer, all virtues that we are often missing- she will help us. So we often find in the silent contemplation of this image replies and new strength for our lives, and strength in faith. Come, come and check in here, do not go [anywhere else]! Maybe you do not know, or have not noticed it yet, [you will experience this when you view the icon] "in Person" at St. Mary's Chapel. Maria! She is simultaneously disconcerting and presently caught, palpable to the senses and yet incomprehensible. A mystery, a recreation, a source of life!
Statement on the "Madonna in anticipation of" The miraculous image in Our Lady Chapel in 1940 was purchased in 1947 and attached permanently therein. It is a copy of the old miraculous image of "Our Lady of Expectation" from the Benedictine Abbey of St. Matthias in Trier. The decoration of the miraculous image in the Neuottakringer family church was designed by sculptor Franz Barwig the Younger (1903 - 1985) from a design by sculptor Ing Hans Petermair made. From architect Petermair who also wrote the draft of the wrought iron chandelier Rosenstock. The execution took over the art locksmith Karl Schönmann and Hans Knotz. link
Notes, Art, Photography CMJENTZ ©2013-2018
My website template has been updated. NOTES pages might have font and pictorial placement discrepancies.
All content ©LumenChristiArt.com,
Christine M. (CM) Jentz.
For comments or inquiries please
contact me. Commissions accepted.
“It is with the smallest brushes that the artist paints the most exquisitely beautiful pictures.” (St. André Bessette)