Journeying with the Holy Family
In the difficult journeys of human life, we must hope for a way to find consolation amid hardships. That means something different than a weekend away from the workplace or a summer vacation at the beach. The true rest we seek is that which is provided only from a source that transcends nature and suspends time and space, even if for a brief moment. That source is the supernatural grace of God.
In the earthly journey of Jesus, a particularly harsh event took place very early in life, which challenged Mary his mother and St. Joseph.
In 1597, Michelangelo da Merisi da Caravaggio, or simply Caravaggio, painted The Rest on the Flight to Egypt. Images that show events on the journey are non-canonical; the Scriptures do not recount specifics of the travels of the Holy Family prompted by Herod’s massacre of the Holy Innocents, the killing of those male children born near in time to the birth of Jesus. Matthew 2:14 simply recounts that they “..departed for Egypt.” In the Early Renaissance, apocryphal accounts appeared that told of an imagined setting with a variety of additional elements, like Joseph knocking down chestnuts, Mary breastfeeding Jesus, or date palms bending low to provide food for the travelers. Following the tradition for this type of image, we might expect some examples of something to eat in Caravaggio’s painting, but we see no nuts or fruit. Behind Mary, some shadowy brambles and thorns are a reminder of the harshness of the wilderness. However, in appreciation of God’s providence in nature, the artist has added something nutritious: the oak tree behind Mary contains a blooming array of mushrooms; but the subject of this image goes beyond food. Caravaggio took the story in a completely supernatural dimension by adding unique elements unlike any of his predecessors.