Betrothal to Joseph, Earliest Images of

– Answered by Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Q: What is the first representation of Mary's betrothal to Joseph?

A: The earliest extant representations of Mary's betrothal with Joseph both in East and West are dated around the fifth century. In the Western Church the oldest extant sample can be seen in the museum of Le Puy, France (4/5c). We are dealing here with the relief of a sarcophagus. It represents the veiled Mary putting her left hand in Joseph's right hand. Behind the figures of Mary and Joseph there is the figure of an angel with halo and scroll, a reference probably to Juno Pronuba (Roman goddess of marriage and childbirth; defender of Roman women) appearing in similar representations of classical antiquity to assist the couple and validate their union. The oldest extant example in the Eastern tradition (5c) is to be found in Venice (columns of the tabernacle in San Marco).

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