My mother thanked me for a postcard sent from Birmingham Art Gallery. I visited the city on Assumption Day and set foot in the gallery: I loved the Pre-Raphaelites there when I was growing up. And so did my mother during the 1930’s when money was tight, yet she would take the tram into Town to linger among the pictures.
I was glad I sought out The Star of Bethlehem by Burne Jones. It had made an impression all those years ago, but now I could sympathise with Mary, tired out of her mind, holding a fractious infant, wanting the Kings to get their business done and go, not knowing how to get her baby to be sociable.
My mind returned to the summer when I heard Assumption sermons in two French cathedrals. In Notre Dame de Paris there was a careful exposition of doctrine; in Embrun, dedicated to Our Lady of the Kings, the priest pointed to the mosaic of the Epiphany: that is Mary, he said, making her son Jesus known.
Burne Jones’s Mary is doing so to the best of her ability. This Jesus is a real human baby looking at the visitors askance. A baby who needs his mother to carry him through the next stage of life. As that French priest said, Mary was Heaven indeed when she carried him; it makes sense for her to be in Heaven still.