|The Purification of Mary /
Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
The event pictured at left is referred to sometimes as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin and sometimes as the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It is Mary's "purification" because Leviticus 12:2-8 (cached) requires the mother of a boy to "touch no holy thing" for 40 days after the birth and then go to the Temple and make an offering and "the priest shall pray for her, and so she shall be cleansed." The event is also Jesus' Presentation because Numbers 18:15-16 (cached) and Exodus 13:2,12 (cached) require that a firstborn son must be presented as an offering to the Lord and then redeemed by the parents for five shekels.
The account of the event in Luke 2:22-38 (cached) conflates the two requirements and speaks of a single offering of a pair of doves (commonly shown in a basket, as at left). In a further conflation, the child is taken in arms not by a priest but by a man named Simeon who had been promised that he would see the Messiah before his death. Simeon calls the child "a light to the revelation of the Gentiles" and tells Mary, "thy own soul a sword shall pierce."
These two remarks of Simeon's have a lasting impact on liturgy and iconography in the West. The comment about the sword leads to a subset of the Sorrowful Mother type in which Mary's breast is pierced by a sword (example).
The comment about light to the Gentiles led to the celebration of the feast of Candlemas. On February 2, 40 days after Christmas, the faithful bring candles to the church to be blessed and lighted. Medieval and later images of the Purification / Presentation normally include candles to refer to the feast and to the belief that Christ is indeed the light to the Gentiles.
In Latin countries, La Candelaria is the name both for Candlemas and for a santo of the Virgin and Child that is processed on that day.
In the image above left, Simeon's hands are covered by a cloth. This detail traces back to the third- or fourth-century Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which says when Simeon saw the child he "took him up into his cloak and kissed his feet." In most Orthodox images, and in Western ones before the 14th century, his hands are covered by his cloak. During the 14th century in the West, we see more and more images where they are covered instead by a separate cloth. This was the period when other literary sources were losing ground to the Golden Legend, which does not mention the cloak.
During this same period it becomes more common to place the child on an altar-like table such as the one above left (another example). This development is comparable to the introduction at this same time of iconographical elements in Nativity images that associate the birth of Christ with the eucharistic liturgy.
Luke says Simeon greeted the child after going "into the Temple." Western medieval images follow suit by putting the figures within a room-like area defined by columns. But earlier works have the action outdoors, as if in the Temple precinct, with the Temple Veil in the background, tied back to columns framing the entrance (example).
The number of persons in Presentation images can be as few as just the Holy Family and Simeon (and maybe Anna) or can include the priest and a whole throng of bystanders (example)
Feast day: February 2
A 13th century mosaic
14th century Armenian illumination
A 16th century fresco
Marble sculpture, 14th century