Mary’s Espousals, by Father B Rohner, OSB

detail from a stained glass window of the wedding of Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary; by Martial Mailhot, 1895; bottom panel of a window, apsidal chapel, church of Saint-Austremonius of Issoire, Auvergne, France; photographed in 2006 by Jastrow; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsAs early as the fifteenth century the festival of the Espousals of the Blessed Virgin was solemnized in the Church. At that period, that is to say, about four hundred years ago, there lived at Chartres, a town not far from Paris, in France, a holy priest who entertained the most ardent and tender veneration for our blessed Lady and her chaste spouse, Saint Joseph. This pious man made in his last will and testament a provision that every year, at the solemn celebration of the feast of the Espousals, in his parish church, a special devotion for the benefit of his soul should be made to Saint Joseph. The clergy connected with the church consulted with Gerson, the chancellor of the Paris University, a man renowned for sanctity and learning, on the best way of carrying out the requirements of this bequest and of fulfilling the wishes of the deceased priest. The Pope’s permission having been obtained, Gerson composed the prayers appropriate to the circumstances and which were ever afterwards recited regularly on this feast, throughout the diocese of Chartres.

But other places and congregations were anxious to participate in this devotion. Accordingly Pope Paul III gave permission to the Franciscans to introduce the festival into their Order, and Pope Benedict XIII finally extended the privilege to the universal Church.

In most places the festival was solemnized with a quiet and unostentatious piety, but in Perugia, a town in central Italy, it was celebrated with great external pomp as well as with deep devotion. In the cathedral of Perugia there is a beautiful chapel dedicated to the mystery of Mary’s espousals, and above the altar, built in the wall, there is a strong iron reliquary which contains a most precious relic, the bridal ring used at the wedding of Saint Joseph and the Blessed Lady. Only once a year is this ring exhibited to the veneration of the crowds of faithful who flock to the church on the festival. It is not made of gold or silver, but from a kind of stone called onyx, and it hangs by a silken cord in a golden relic-ostensory. Antiquarians assure us that such bridal rings, wrought from rare stone, were in frequent use among the Jews.

Ancient traditions tell us that at the time of her death, Mary entrusted the ring to Saint John, who subsequently brought it to Rome for the Christian congregation which existed there. So great was the veneration shown by the Christians for this ring that the prayers and other modes of this veneration induced the pagans to believe that there must be some mysterious power concealed within the ring – so they stole it and brought it to the emperor. But a member of the emperor’s family, one who had become a Catholic, fled with the jewel to Clusium, a town in the States of the Church. Here she was apprehended and underwent a martyr’s glorious death, and Marcus, the priest of the congregation, buried the ring with her body in order to keep it from falling into the hands of her pagan persecutors. For more than three hundred years nothing was known of the whereabouts of this precious ring, till about the year 800, when the grave was discovered and in it a stone tablet which bore the inscription, “Here lies, in peace, the body of Mustiola with the bridal ring of Mary.” Naturally the ring was carried amid the rejoicing of the people, and with deep reverence, to the church, where it was publicly exposed to the great veneration of the multitude. This precious relic remained in Clusium till the year 1473 when it was secretly and unlawfully taken by a Franciscan Brother who carried it to the church of his Order in Perugia, in which city it has remained to the present day, an object of love and veneration.

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898