Life of Jesus Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich
Vol 1

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 not by any means be forced to work from Saturday noon till early on Monday morning.1

24. The Holy Family Reach Heliopolis

I saw the Holy Family on their way to Heliopolis. From their last night lodgings they were accompa­nied thither by a good man who, I think, was one of the workmen on that canal over which they had been ferried. They now crossed a long and very high bridge over a wide river (the Nile), which appeared to have several branches, and came to a place before the city gate which was surrounded by a kind of promenade. Here on a tapering pedestal, stood a great idol with the head of an ox, and in its arms something like the figure of a swathed child. The idol was encom­passed by a circle of benches, or tables of stone upon which the worshippers laid their sacrifices. Not far off was a very large tree, under which the Holy Fam­ily sat down to rest.

They had scarcely seated themselves when the earth began to quake, the idol tottered, and tilted over. A hue and cry instantly arose from the people, and many of the workmen on the canal in the neigh­borhood came rushing up. But the good man who had accompanied the Holy Family started with them for the city. They were already at the opposite side of the idol place when the terrified crowd, with men­acing and abusive words, angrily surrounded them. Suddenly the earth heaved, the huge tree fell, its roots breaking up out of the ground, and there arose a lake of muddy water into which the idol splashed. It sank so deep that one could scarcely see its horns, and some of the most wicked of the bystanders sank with it. The Holy Family now entered the city un­molested, and put up near an idolatrous temple, a large stone building containing many rooms. Some

1. Compare Catholic Missions, an account of the Balsam Garden, by an eyewitness. 1883, p. 234, etc.


Life of Jesus Christ

 of the idols in the temples of the city were likewise overturned.

Heliopolis is also called On. Aseneth, wife of the Egyptian Joseph, resided here with the pagan priest Putiphar, and here also Dionysius the Areopagite studied. The city extends to a great distance around the many-branched river. One sees it from afar lying high above the general level. The river flows through it under the arches that support some of the build­ings. Great logs lie in some parts of the river branches, placed there to enable the inhabitants to cross. I saw the ruins of enormous buildings, huge masses of heavy masonry, towers half standing, and even temples almost entire. I saw, too, pillars like towers, around the outside of which one could mount to the top.

The Holy Family dwelt under a low colonnade, in which there were other dwellings besides their own. The supporting pillars were rather low, some round, some square, and above ran a highway for the accom­modation of vehicles and pedestrians. Opposite this colonnade was a pagan temple with two courts. Joseph put up before their little abode a screen of light woodwork. There was room for the ass, also. The screen, or light wall that Joseph put up, was of the same kind as he was accustomed to make. I remarked behind a similar screen and set up against the wall, an altar consisting of a small table covered with red and over that a white, transparent cloth; on it stood a lamp.

I saw St. Joseph working at home, and often also abroad. He made long rods with round knobs at the ends, little three-legged stools with a handle by which to grasp them, and a certain kind of basket. He made, also, a great many light, wicker partitions, and lit­tle, light towers, some hexagonal, others octagonal. They were formed of long, thin boards, tapering toward the top and ending in a knob. They had an entrance, and were large enough to allow a man to sit inside as in a sentry box; they had steps outside,



 up which one could mount. I saw little towers like these standing here and there before the pagan tem­ples, also on the flat roofs of the houses. People used to sit in them; perhaps they were watch houses, or maybe they were intended as screens from the sun.

I saw the Blessed Virgin weaving tapestry and doing another kind of work. For the latter she used a staff on the top of which a knot was fastened. I cannot say whether she was spinning or not. I often saw people visiting her and the little Infant Jesus. The Child lay on the ground by Mary's side, in a kind of cradle like a little boat. Sometimes I saw it raised on a frame like a sawing-jack. There were not many Jews in Heliopolis, and I saw them going about with a downcast look as if they had no right to live there.

North of Heliopolis, between it and the Nile, which there divides into several branches, lay the little ter­ritory of Goshen, and in it a little place cut up by canals, among which dwelt numbers of Jews whose religious ideas were very much confused. Several of them became acquainted with the Holy Family, and Mary did all kinds of feminine work for them, receiv­ing as payment bread and other provisions. The Jews in the Land of Goshen had a temple, which they com­pared with the Temple of Solomon; but it was very different.

Not far from his dwelling, Joseph built an oratory where the resident Jews, who possessed no such place of their own, used to assemble with the Holy Fam­ily for prayer. It was surmounted by a light cupola which could be thrown open, thus enabling the wor­shippers to stand under the open sky. In the center of the hall stood an altar, or table of sacrifice, cov­ered, as usual, with red and white; on it lay rolls of parchment. The priest, or teacher, was a very old man. The men and women were not so separated from one another at prayer as in Palestine; the men stood on one side, the women on the other.


Life of Jesus Christ

The Holy Family dwelt a little more than a year at Heliopolis. They had much to suffer from the Egyp­tians who hated and persecuted them, on account of their overturned idols; and as the houses were all solidly built, Joseph could not find work at his trade. They left Heliopolis, therefore, but not before they had learned from an angel of the slaughter of the Bethlehemite babes. Both Mary and Joseph were deeply grieved, and the Child Jesus, who was now able to walk, being a year-and-a-half old, shed tears the whole day.

25. The Murder of The Innocent Children

I saw the mothers with their boys, from infants in the arms up to the age of two years, going to Jerusalem. They were from those different places around the Holy City, in which Herod had placed garrisons and in which, by means of officials, he had issued a proclamation to that effect; viz. from Beth­lehem, Gilgal, and Hebron. I saw many women even from the Arabian frontiers taking their children to Jerusalem, and these had more than a day's journey to make. The mothers went in bands, some with two children and riding on asses. On their arrival in the city, they were all conducted to a large building, and the husbands who accompanied some of them dis­missed. The mandate was joyously obeyed, for the poor people imagined they were going to receive a reward.

The building into which the mothers and their children were ushered, was not far from the house occupied by Pilate at a later period. It stood alone, and so encompassed by walls that no one outside could hear anything going on within. A gateway through double walls led into a large court enclosed on all sides by buildings. Those to the right and left were of one story; that in the middle, which looked

The Murder of the Innocents


 like an old, deserted synagogue, was two stories in height. From all three, doors opened into the court. The middle building was a hall of justice, for I saw in the court before it a stone block, pillars with chains, and such trees as could be bound together by their branches and then suddenly snapped asunder, in order to tear people to pieces.

The mothers were led through the court and into the two side buildings, where they were shut up. It looked to me at first as if they were in a sort of hos­pital, or lazar house. When they saw themselves thus unexpectedly deprived of liberty, they began to fear, to cry, and to lament.

The lower story of the court of justice was a great hall like a prison, or guardroom; the upper one was also a large hall from which windows opened upon the court. The officers of justice were assembled in the latter, rolls of writing lying before them on tables. Herod himself was there. He wore his crown and a purple mantle bordered with black and lined with white fur. He stood at the windows with many oth­ers, looking down upon the slaughter of the Inno­cents.

The mothers, one by one, with their boys, were summoned from the side buildings into the great hall under the judgment hall. On their entrance, the children were taken from them by the soldiers and carried out into the court where about twenty oth­ers were actively at work with swords and lances, piercing the little creatures through throat and heart. Some of the children were still in swaddling clothes, infants in the mother's arms; while others, able to run around, wore little woven dresses. The soldiers did not remove the children's clothing but, having pierced them through the heart and throat, they grasped them by one arm or leg and slung them together in a heap. It was a terrible sight!

The mothers were, one after another, pushed back into the large hall by the soldiers. When the fate of


Life of Jesus Christ

 their little ones dawned upon them, they raised a frightful cry, tore their hair, and clung to one another. There were so many of them and, toward the last, they were so crowded together that they could scarcely stir. I think the slaughter lasted till near evening. The bodies of the murdered children were buried together in a great pit in the court. I saw the moth­ers that night fettered, and taken back to their homes by the soldiers. Similar scenes were enacted in other places, for the massacre was carried on during sev­eral days.

The number of the Holy Innocents was indicated to me by another number which sounded like ducen, and which I had to repeat until, I think, the whole amounted to seven hundred and seven, or seven hun­dred and seventeen.

The place of the children's massacre in Jerusalem was the subsequent hall of justice, and not far from that of Pilate; but it was at his time very greatly changed. At Christ's death, I saw the pit in which the murdered children were buried, fall in. Their souls appeared and left the place.

Elizabeth had fled with John into the desert. After a long search, she found a cave, and there she remained with him for forty days. After that, I saw that an Essenian belonging to the community on Mount Horeb and a relative of Anna the Prophetess, brought food to John, at first every eight, afterward every fourteen days, and otherwise provided for him. Before Herod's persecution, John could have been hidden in the neighborhood of his parents' house; but he had made his escape into the desert impelled by divine inspiration. He was destined to grow up in solitude, apart from intercourse with his fellow beings, and destitute of the customary nourishment of man. I saw that that wilderness produced certain fruits, berries, and herbs.



26. The Holy Family Go to Matarea

The Holy Family left Heliopolis on account of the persecution they there endured and because Joseph could not obtain work. They took byroads and went still further into the country, journeying southward toward Memphis. Passing through a little town not far from Heliopolis, they halted in the forecourt of an open, pagan temple, and sat down to rest; when, all on a sudden, down tumbled the idol and fell to pieces. It had the head of an ox with triple horns, and several cavities in the body to receive the sac­rifices that were to be consumed. At once arose a tumult among the pagan priests; they seized the Holy Family and threatened them with punishment. But one of them represented to his companions, as they were consulting what measures to take, that the best thing for them to do would be to commend themselves to the God of these strangers; for he remembered, he said, what plagues had come upon their forefathers when they had persecuted those people, and that upon the night of their departure from Egypt the firstborn in every house had died. These words were effectual, and the Holy Family was left in peace. The pagan priest who had spoken for them went soon after to Matarea with several of his people, and there joined the Holy Family and the Jewish community.

Mary and Joseph next went to Troja, a place on the eastern side of the Nile, opposite Memphis. It was large and very dirty. They had some idea of remaining there, but they were not well received; indeed, they could get not even a drink of water, much less a few dates for which they begged. Mem­phis lay west of the Nile, which was at that point very broad and contained some islands. A part of the city lay also on this side of the river and, in Pharao's time, a large palace with gardens and high towers, from which Pharao's daughter often looked


Life of Jesus Christ

 out on the country around. I saw the spot upon which, among the tall bulrushes, the child Moses was found. Memphis was like three cities in one, for it was built on both sides of the Nile, and appeared also to be connected with Babylon, a city lying east­ward of the river and nearer to its mouth. In Pharao's time, the country in general around the Nile between Heliopolis, Babylon, and Memphis, was so covered with high stone dams and buildings, and so linked together by canals, that those three cities presented the appearance of one large city. But at the time of the Holy Family, all were separate, immense wastes intervening between them.

The holy travelers proceeded northward from Troja along the river toward Babylon, a dirty, low lying city. Between the Nile and Babylon, they took the route by which they had come and returned a distance of about two hours. Buildings in ruins were scattered here and there along the whole road. After crossing a small branch of the river, or a canal, they reached Matarea, which was built upon a tongue of land jutting out into the Nile. The river bathed the city on two sides. It was, in general, a wretched enough place, built only of date-wood and solid mud covered with rushes. Joseph found plenty of work here. He built more substantial houses of wicker­work with galleries around them, to which the oc­cupants could go for air and recreation.

Here the Holy Family dwelt in a dark, vaulted cave that lay in a retired spot on the land side, not far from the gate by which they had entered. Joseph, as at Heliopolis, built a light screen before it. One of the idols in a little temple fell at their arrival and later all the others did the same. The people were in consternation, but one of the priests qui­eted them by recalling to their remembrance the plagues of Egypt. After some time, as a little com­munity of Jews and converted pagans gathered around the Holy Family, the priests gave over to



 them the little temple whose idol had fallen at their coming, and Joseph turned it into a synagogue. Joseph was like the patriarch of the community. He taught them how to sing the Psalms correctly, for Judaism in those parts had greatly deteriorated.

Only the poorest Jews dwelt here in Babylon, and that in the most wretched dens and caves. But in the Jewish settlement between On and the Nile, they were numerous and better off. They had a reg­ular temple, for they had lapsed into frightful idol­atry. They had a golden calf, a figure with an ox's head, around which were ranged other representa­tions of animals like polecats, or ferrets. These last mentioned animals defend people against the croc­odile. (Ichneumon). They had, too, an imitation of the Ark of the Covenant and horrible things in it. The idolatry they practiced was of the most shame­ful kind and, in a subterranean hall, they carried on the most infamous wickedness, deluded by the hope that from it their messiah should come forth. They were exceedingly stiff-necked, and would not be converted. Later on, however, many of them left that settlement and went to Babylon, about two hours distant. In doing so, they could not, on account of the numerous dykes and canals, travel by a straight road; they had to make a detour around On.

These Jews of the Land of Goshen had already made the acquaintance of the Holy Family, while the latter abode in On. Mary while there had done various kinds of work for them, such as knitting and embroidering covers and bands. She would never undertake works for vanity or extravagance, but only useful things and religious vestments. I saw women bringing work to her, which they wanted done in accordance with the requirements of vanity and fash­ion, and Mary returning it although so much in need of the pay she would have received for it. The women mocked and scornfully derided her.

The Holy Family at first suffered greatly from


Life of Jesus Christ

 want. Good water could not be had and wood failed; the inhabitants used only dried grass and reeds for their cooking. The Holy Family generally ate cold food. Joseph had plenty to do. He improved the poor huts for the people; but they treated him almost like a slave, giving him for his labor only what they themselves thought proper. Sometimes he brought home something as a remuneration for his work, and sometimes he brought nothing. The people were very unskillful in building their huts. They had no wood, excepting here and there a log or two; and even if they had had wood, they had no tools to shape it, for they had only knives of bone or stone. Joseph had brought the most necessary tools with him.

The Holy Family were soon settled somewhat comfortably. They had little stools and tables, wicker screens, and a well-ordered fireplace also. The Egyp­tians ate sitting flat on the ground. In the wall of Mary's sleeping place I saw a recess that Joseph had hollowed out, and in it was Jesus' little bed. Mary's couch was beside it, and I have often seen her by night kneeling in prayer to God before that little bed. Joseph slept in another enclosed corner.

The oratory of the Holy Family was in a passage outside. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin had sepa­rate places in it and Jesus, too, had His little cor­ner, where He prayed sitting, standing, or kneeling. There was a kind of little altar before the Blessed Virgin's place, a small table covered with red and white. This table was like a leaf on hinges that could be let down from or put up against the wall. When let down, it disclosed a shelf in the wall itself and on the shelf were various objects, among them some­thing that was held as sacred. I saw little bushes in pots formed like chalices; a withered, though still whole branch, on top of which was the lily that had blossomed in Joseph's hand when he had been cho­sen by lot in the Temple for Mary's spouse; and

Mary Finds Water


 something like fine, thin, white sticks that were placed crosswise in the rounded part of the recess. The blossoming lily branch was the top of Joseph's staff; it was stuck in a box about one-and-a-half inches in diameter. The little sticks that were arranged crosswise, were also in a box, a transpar­ent one. There were about five of those little white sticks of the thickness of a coarse straw. They were crossed and bound in the middle to a kind of little sheaf. But one pays very little attention to such things when in vision; one's thoughts are chiefly intent upon the holy personages there presented.

I saw that the Holy Family had to subsist on fruits and bad water. They had been so long with­out good water that Joseph resolved to saddle the ass, take his leathern bottle, and start for the bal­sam spring in the desert in order to get some. But the Blessed Virgin was told in prayer by an angelic apparition that she should seek and find a spring at the back of their present abode. I saw her going over the hill in which they dwelt, to a deep vacant lot that lay at some distance between ruined walls. A large, old tree stood on that ground. Mary had in her hand a rod provided with a little scoop, such as the people of that country commonly carryon jour­neys. She stuck it into the ground near the tree, and a beautiful, clear stream of water instantly gushed forth. She hurried back joyfully to call Joseph, who soon removed the upper crust of earth and disclosed a well which had long ago been dug out and lined with masonry, but which for some time had been choked up and dry. He soon restored it and paved it around very beautifully with stones. At the side of the well toward which Mary had approached, lay a great stone almost like an altar. I think it was used for that purpose in former times.

The Blessed Virgin after that often washed Jesus' clothes and bands here, and dried them in the sun. The well remained unknown and was used only by


Life of Jesus Christ

 the Holy Family until Jesus had grown large enough to go on little errands and even to bring water for His Mother. Once I saw Him taking other children to the well and giving them a drink of the water which He scooped up in a hollow, crooked leaf. The little ones told this to their parents, and so the well became known. Others now began to go to it, though it remained principally in the use of the Jews. Even in the time of the Holy Family, it possessed healing properties for the leprous. Later, when a little chapel had been built over the dwelling of the Holy Fam­ily, there was near the high altar a flight of steps leading down to their first abode. There I saw the spring. It was surrounded by dwellings, and its waters used for the cure of leprosy and similar dis­eases. Even the Turks kept a light burning in the little chapel, and dreaded being overtaken by some misfortune if they neglected it. But the last I saw of the spring, it was lying solitary, surrounded only by trees.

I saw the Boy Jesus bringing water from the well for His Mother for the first time. Mary was in prayer when the Boy slipped to the well with a bottle, and brought it back full of water. Mary was unspeak­ably affected when she saw Him coming back with the water. She knelt down and implored Him never to do that again, for He might fall into the well. But Jesus replied that He would take care, and that He wanted to render her that service whenever she needed it. If Joseph happened to be working at a little distance from home, and did he leave a tool lying behind him, I used to see the Boy Jesus running after it and bringing it to him. The Boy noticed everything. I think the joy that Mary and Joseph experienced on His account, must have outweighed all their sufferings. Though perfectly childlike, He was very wise, skilled in everything; He knew and understood everything. I often saw Mary and Joseph filled with unspeakable admiration.

The Return from Egypt


When the Boy Jesus took to their owners the cov­ers embroidered or woven by His Mother, who hoped to receive bread in return for her work, I often saw Him teased at first, and consequently sad. But after awhile, the Holy Family was very much loved by the people. I saw other children giving Jesus figs and dates, while many of their elders sought the Holy Family for help and consolation. All in trouble said, "Let us go to the Jewish Child." I saw the Boy going on all kinds of errands, even to a Jewish town a mile distant, to get bread in exchange for His Mother's work. The wild animals, numerous on His route, did Him no harm; on the contrary, they and even the serpents showed Him affection. Once I saw Him going with other children to the Jewish town; He was weeping bitterly over the degradation of the Jews.

When He went for the first time alone to that Jewish town, He wore, also for the first time, the brown robe woven by Mary. It was trimmed around the border with yellowish flowers. I saw Him kneel­ing and praying on the way. Two angels appeared to Him and spoke of Herod's death, but He said nothing of it to His parents.

27. The Return of the Holy Family from Egypt

I saw the Holy Family's departure from Egypt. Herod was long since dead, but danger still threat­ened and they could not return. I saw St. Joseph, who was always busy at his trade, very much trou­bled one evening. The people for whom he had been working had given him nothing; consequently, he had nothing to take home where there was so much need. He knelt down in the open air and prayed. He was greatly afflicted; his sojourn among these peo­ple was becoming intolerable. They practiced infa­mous idolatry, even sacrificing deformed children.


Life of Jesus Christ

 The parent that sacrificed a healthy, well-formed child, was thought to be very pious. They had, besides, still more shameful rites that they carried on in secret. Even the Jews in the Jewish towns were to Joseph objects of horror.

While in his trouble he prayed to God for help, I saw an angel appear to him. He bade him arise, and on the following morning depart from Egypt by the public high road. He told him also not to fear, for that he would accompany him. I saw Joseph has­tening with the news to the Blessed Virgin and Jesus, and all setting to work to get their few movables packed together on the ass.

Next morning their intention to depart having become known, crowds of sorrowing neighbors came to them, bringing with them all kinds of gifts in lit­tle vessels of bark. Several mothers brought their children. There was among them a noble lady with a little boy of several years. She called him Mary's son, because having long abandoned the hope of hav­ing a boy, this child had been vouchsafed to her at Mary's prayer. She gave to the Boy Jesus triangu­lar coins, yellow, white, and brown. Jesus first looked at them and then at His Mother. This lady's little son was later on admitted by Jesus into the num­ber of His disciples, and was named Deodatus. The mother's name was Mira.

The people of the place, of whom there were more pagans than Jews, were sincerely grieved at the Holy Family's departure, though a few were glad. These last looked upon them as sorcerers who obtained all they desired through the help of Lucifer, the prince of devils. The Jews could no longer be recognized as Jews, so deeply were they sunk in idolatry.

The Holy Family started, accompanied by all their friends. They took the direction between On and the Jewish town, turning away from On a little to the south, in order to reach the balsam garden. They

The Return from Egypt


 wanted to rest there awhile and replenish their water supply. The garden was already flourishing. The bal­sam trees were as tall as moderately large grapevines and in four rows surrounded the garden, which had an entrance. There were sycamores and all kinds of fruit trees, some like dates. The spring sent a stream around the whole garden. The friends that had accompanied them here took leave, but the Holy Family remained for some hours. Joseph had made some little vessels out of bark; they were covered with pitch, very smooth and nice. He snapped from the reddish balsam twigs the clover-like leaves, and hung the flasks underneath, in order to gather the balsam drops for the journey. When they stopped to rest, he often made, for their ordinary use, vessels and flasks of that kind out of bark. The Blessed Vir­gin washed and dried some things here. After hav­ing rested and refreshed themselves, they proceeded on their way by the common high road.

I had many visions of their journey, which was made without any special danger to them. Mary was often very much distressed, because walking through the hot sand was so painful for the Boy Jesus. Joseph had made for Him, out of bark, shoes that reached above the ankle where they were firmly fastened; still I saw the holy travelers frequently pausing while Mary shook the sand out of the Child's shoes. She herself wore only sandals. Jesus was dressed in His little brown robe, and they often had to seat Him on the ass. For protection against the scorch­ing rays of the sun, all three wore very broad hats made of bark and fastened under the chin with a string.

I saw them passing by many cities, but I now recall only the name Ramses. At last, I saw them in Gaza, where they stopped for three months. There were many pagans in that city. Joseph did not want to return to Nazareth, but to go to Bethlehem; still he was undecided, because he heard that Archelaus


Life of Jesus Christ

 was now reigning over Judea, and he, too, was very cruel. But an angel appeared and put an end to his doubts by telling him that he should return to Nazareth. Anne was still living. She and some of her relatives were the only ones that knew where the Holy Family were during all those years.

I had a glimpse of the Boy Jesus, now seven years old, as He walked between Mary and Joseph on their journey back to Judea from Egypt. I did not see the ass with them then, and they were carrying their bundles themselves. Joseph was about thirty years older than Mary. I saw them on a road in the desert, about two hours' distance from John's cave. The Boy Jesus, as He walked, gazed in that direction, and I saw that His soul was turning to John. At the same time, I saw John at prayer in his cave. An angel in the form of a boy appeared to him, telling him that the Saviour was passing by. John ran out of the cave and, with outstretched arms, flew toward the point that his Saviour was passing. He hopped about and danced with joy. This vision was most touching. John's cave lay deeply buried in a hill. It was not much wider than his own little bed, though it extended some distance in length. The entrance was only a little opening, through which he used to swing him­self out. In the top was an oblique aperture that admitted light. I saw in it a reed stand, upon which lay some honeycomb and dried locusts. The latter were yellow and speckled, as large, perhaps, as crabs. The desert in which Jesus fasted is four hours' dis­tance from here. John was clothed in his camel's skin. The angel that appeared to him was like a boy of his own age. I saw him at different periods, small at first and then larger, just as if he were growing up with John. He was not always with him; he used to appear and disappear.

John in the Desert


28. John as a Child Growing Up In the Desert

John had already been long in the desert before the Holy Family's return from Egypt. That he had retired there at so young an age was due princi­pally to divine inspiration and partly to his own inclinations, for he was of a meditative nature and loved solitude. He was never in a school; the Holy Ghost Himself taught him in the desert. He was much talked of even from his childhood, for the won­ders attendant on his birth were known and a light was often seen around the child. Herod soon laid snares for him, and even before the children's mas­sacre, Elizabeth was obliged to flee with him into the desert. He could walk and help himself at the time. He took refuge not far from the first cave of Magdalen, and Elizabeth visited him sometimes.

When in his sixth or seventh year, I saw him again led into the desert by his mother. When Eliz­abeth left the house with the boy, Zachary was not home. He loved John so much and his grief at los­ing him was so great that he was obliged to absent himself in order not to witness his departure. He had, however, given him his blessing; for he was in the habit of blessing both mother and child when­ever he left home. John wore a garment of skin. It passed from left to right over the shoulder and breast, was fastened under the right arm, and hung down behind. This was his only garment. His hair was brownish and darker than that of Jesus. He bore in his hand a white staff which he had brought with him from home, and which he always kept in the desert.

I saw him as just described hastening across the country by the hand of his mother. Elizabeth was a tall, active, old woman with a small, delicate face, and she was completely enveloped in a large man­tle. John often ran on before her, hopping and jump­ing,


Life of Jesus Christ

 perfectly unrestrained and childlike in action, though not distracted in soul. I saw them crossing a river. There was no bridge at that point, and so they crossed on a raft that was floating on the water. Elizabeth was a very resolute person, no difficulty daunted her; she herself rowed the raft across, using for that purpose the branch of a tree. They now turned eastward and entered a ravine, rocky and desolate above, but lower down covered with bushes and overgrown with strawberries. John now and then ate one. After going some distance into the ravine, Elizabeth took leave of John. She blessed him, pressed him to her heart, kissed him on the cheeks and forehead, and turned away, looking back at him as she retraced her steps, weeping. But the boy appeared wholly unconcerned, and quietly walked on deeper into the ravine. I followed the child with a feeling of uneasiness at his going so far from his mother, and fearing that he would not be able to find his way home again. But just then, a voice said to me, "Be not uneasy. The child knows well what he is about." I went with him and, in several visions, saw his whole after life in the desert. He often told me himself how he denied himself in every way and mortified his senses, his understanding becoming clearer and clearer, learning in an unexplainable way something from everything around him. I saw him when a child playing with flowers and animals. The birds were particularly familiar with him. They lighted upon his head when he was walking or pray­ing, and perched upon his staff when he laid it across the branches. There they sat in numbers, while he watched them and played with them. I saw him also going after other animals, following them into their dens, feeding them, playing with them, or earnestly watching them.

At the opposite extremity of this rocky ravine, the country was somewhat more open, and John pressed on until he reached a little lake with a low shore

John in the Desert


 covered with white sand. I saw him there wading far out into the water. The fish swam up and gath­ered around him; he seemed quite at home with them. He lived in this region a long time, and I saw that he wove for himself out of branches a sleeping hut among the bushes. It was very low and only large enough to allow him to lie in it.

Both here and afterward in other places, I often saw by him radiant figures, angels, with whom he treated fearlessly and confidently, though most rev­erently. They appeared to be teaching him, direct­ing his attention to different things. He had fastened a piece of wood to his staff, thus giving it the form of a cross, also a strip of broad grass, or bark, or leaves like a little flag. He often played with it, wav­ing it here and there. While he lived in this part of the desert, I saw his mother visiting him twice, but they did not meet at this spot. He must have known when she was coming, for he always went some dis­tance to meet her. Elizabeth brought him a tablet with a slender reed for writing.

After his father's death, John went secretly to Juttah, to console Elizabeth. He remained concealed with her for some time. She told him many things of Jesus and the Holy Family, some of which he noted down with strokes on his tablet. Elizabeth wanted him to go with her to Nazareth, but he would not. He returned again to the desert.

Once when Zachary had gone with a herd to the Temple, he was set upon by Herod's soldiers and rudely maltreated in a narrow pass on the side of Jerusalem nearest to Bethlehem, at a spot whence the city could not be seen. The soldiers dragged him into a prison on that side of Mount Zion by which, at a later period, the disciples used to ascend. Zachary was frightfully maltreated, tortured, and at last pierced with a sword, because he would not disclose John's retreat. Elizabeth was at the time in the desert with John. When she returned to Juttah, he


Life of Jesus Christ

 accompanied her part of the way, and then went back to the desert. On reaching Juttah, Elizabeth learned of the murder of her husband and great were her lamentations.

Zachary was buried by his friends in the vicinity of the Temple. He is not that Zachary who was slain between the altar and the Temple and whom I saw at the time of the Crucifixion with the other risen dead. He issued from that part of the wall in which the aged Simeon once had his cell for prayer, and walked about the Temple. The last Zachary was mur­dered in a struggle that had taken place among many at the Temple, concerning the genealogy of the Messiah and certain privileges and places of individual families.

Elizabeth's sorrow was so great that she could no longer bear to remain in Juttah, without John; conse­quently, she returned to him in the desert. She soon after died there and was buried by an Essenian, a relative of Anna the Prophetess. The house in Jut­tah, a very handsomely ordered one, was occupied by her sister's daughter. John secretly returned to it once after his mother's death, after which he buried himself still deeper in the desert and thenceforth was altogether alone. I saw him journeying to the south around the Dead Sea, then up the eastern side of the Jordan, from wilderness to wilderness toward Kedar and even toward Gessur. When he passed from one wilderness to another, I saw him running through broad fields by night. He went to that region where long after I saw John the Evan­gelist sitting and writing under the high trees. Under those trees grew bushes with berries, of which he sometimes ate. I saw him also eating a certain herb that bears a white flower and has five round leaves like clover. We have at home herbs like them, only smaller. They grow under the hedges, and the leaves have a sourish taste. When I was a child I used to love to chew them while minding the cattle off in

Life of Jesus Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich
Vol 1

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