‘The Visitation’ is the formal name for the visit of the Virgin Mary to her elderly relative, St Elizabeth. The episode is described only in St Luke’s gospel. It took place straight after the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was pregnant.
Mary’s first thought on receiving this news was for her elderly relative Elizabeth, who was also expecting a baby. So she immediately went “with haste” from Nazareth, all the way to Elizabeth’s house in the hill country near Jerusalem. After two or three day’s journey, she arrived at Elizabeth’s door and called out a greeting to her.
At the sound of her voice, two extraordinary things happened. Firstly, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb “leaped for joy” and secondly, Elizabeth was inspired by the Holy Spirit to praise Mary out loud. She cried out: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” In reply to Elizabeth, the Virgin Mary gave a poetic speech known as the Magnificat.
St Elizabeth’s words later became part of the Hail Mary prayer. The episode of the two women sharing their excitement about their important pregnancies was also later included in the devotion of the Rosary, as the second ‘Joyful Mystery.’ As a result, the Visitation became a popular subject for artists.
Preaching on the Visitation, Pope Benedict XVI said: “This event is not merely a courteous gesture but portrays in great simplicity the encounter of the Old Testament with the New. Indeed the two women, both of them pregnant, embody expectation and the Expected One. The elderly Elizabeth symbolizes Israel which is awaiting the Messiah, whereas the young Mary bears within her the fulfillment of this expectation for the benefit of the whole of humanity.”
He added: “The scene of the Visitation also expresses the beauty of the greeting. Wherever there is reciprocal acceptance, listening, making room for another, God is there, as well as the joy that comes from him.”
This stained glass window of the story is by the Arts and Crafts artist, Paul Woodroffe. It dates to 1923 and is found within St Tarcisius, Camberley. Woodroffe created the scene as a memorial to his mother and sister, which is reflected in the portrayal of the two women (his mother’s name was Elizabeth).
This visit of the Virgin (left) to St Elizabeth (right) is pictured here with touches of the natural world – notice the flowers, the fruit and the bird. This possibly reflects the original summer timing of the Feast of the Visitation. As the two move to embrace each other, their exchange of words from Luke 1:42-46 is reflected in the Latin text surrounding them.
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Where to find this work of art
St Tarcisius, Camberley
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