The brief references to the family of the Virgin Mary and Christ in the Bible inspired the development of extra-biblical traditions that were popular in the Middle Ages. In his account of the birth of the Virgin Mary in The Golden Legend, the Dominican Jacobus de Voragine described the Virginâs immediate family in some detail, in relationships that have come to be known as the Holy Kinship.
One of the most intriguing and rare depictions of these connections occurs in the extensive prefatory material to the Queen Mary Psalter (Royal MS 2 B VII). In a recent study, only four other Gothic manuscript images of the Kinship were identified (Stanton 1996). This lavish manuscript was made probably in London in the first quarter of the 14th century, and illustrated by one very talented artist.
According to Voragineâs account, the Virgin Maryâs mother, St Anne, had three husbands, Joachim, Cleophas and Salome, and had a daughter with each of them, all called Mary. In the Psalter, Anne with each of her husbands appears in the lowest register of the image.
Directly above are the daughters of each marriage together with their husbands, in this case identified with their names written in the bar below that separates the two registers. Here St Joseph and the Virgin Mary are on the left, Alphaeus and the second daughter Mary (known as Mary Cleophas) in the centre, and Zebedee and the third Mary (known as Mary Salome) are the right.
The figures in the top two registers are the sons of these unions. In the second, the Virgin is shown again, holding the Christ Child on her lap. Next to them is St James the Less, one of the four sons of Mary Cleophas, and next to him St James the Great, the son of Mary Salome.
In the top register Christ appears on his own to the left, here in Majesty, holding a globe of the world. Next to him are Sts Simon and Jude, two further sons of Mary Cleophas who became apostles, and St John the Evangelist, the other son of Mary Salome.
The caption written in Anglo-Norman French below confirms the relationships:
Seint anne fu mariez a iii mariz a Joachim a Cleophe a Salomee. E ele enfaunta les iii maries. Joseph out la p[ri]mĂ¨re. Alpheus la ii Zebedeus la iii. La p[ri]mĂ¨re marie aporta ih[esu] c[ri]st. La secu[n]de porta seint Jake alphei e sent symo[n]. e seint Jude la iii porta seint Jake de galice Zebedeie seint Johan evvangeliste.
Saint Anne was married to three husbands: to Joachim, to Cleophas and to Salome. And she bore children, the three Marys. Joseph married the first [Mary], Alpheus the second, Zebedee the third. The first Mary carried Jesus Christ. The second carried St James the son of Alphaeus [the Less] and St Simon and St Jude. The third carried St James of Galicia [the Great] by Zebedee and St John the Evangelist.
(Transcription and translation by Chantry Westwell)
This French summary is similar to a Latin poem given in the Golden Legend:
Anna solet dici tres concepisse Marias,
Quas genuere viri Joachim, Cleophas, Salomeque.
Has duxere viri Joseph, Alpheus, Zebedeus.
Prima parit Christum, Jacobum secunda minorem,
Et Joseph justum peperit cum Simone Judam,
Tertia majorem Jacobum volucremque Johannem.
Anna is usually said to have conceived three Marys,
Whom her husbands Joachim, Cleophas, and Salome begot.
These [Marys] the men Joseph, Alpheus, and Zebedee took in marriage.
The first bore Christ; the second bore James the Less,
Joseph the Just, with Simon [and] Jude;
The third, James the Greater and the winged John.
(Translation by Ryan 1993, II, chapter 131, p. 150)
This diagrammatic presentation emphasises the importance of the Virgin and Christ by picturing each twice. Perhaps this also relates to the image on the facing page, which is a large Tree of Jesse. The four registers of the Holy Kinship correspond with the levels of the Tree. At the bottom the recumbent Jesse, the ancestor of David, is at the same level as Anne, the ancestor of the Virgin. Unlike most representations of the Tree of Jesse, this one doesnât feature the Virgin or Christ who appear instead in the Kinship diagram.
The text of the Golden Legend as it relates to the Holy Kinship is derived from earlier commentaries. The earliest known account in Old English is included in a 12th-century copy, now Cotton MS Vespasian D XIV:
Anna 7 Emeria wĂŚron gesustre. Of Emeria wĂŚs geboren Elisabeth, Johannes moder ĂžĂŚs fulhteres. Of Anna wĂŚs geboren Maria Cr[is]tes moder. 7 Ăža Ăža hire were Joachim wĂŚs forĂ°faren, Ăža genam Anna ĂŚfter Moyses ĂŚ oĂ°erne were, Ăže wĂŚs genĂŚmd Cleophas. Of Ăžan heo hĂŚfde an oĂ°re dohter, seo wĂŚs eac genĂŚmd Maria ĂŚfter ĂžĂŚre ĂŚrre dohter, Ăžas man cleopeĂ° Maria Cleophe for heo wĂŚs his dohter. Ăa beweddede Cleophas Iosephe his broĂ°re Marian ĂžĂŚs hĂŚlendes moder Ăže wĂŚs his steopdohter. 7 his age ne dohter MariĂŚn he geaf Alpheon, of ĂžĂŚre wĂŚs geboren Jacob se lĂŚsse, 7 se oĂ°er Joseph. Ăes Jacob wĂŚs geclypod Jacobus Alphei for he wĂŚs Alphees sune. Ăaget ĂŚfter Cleophas deaĂ°e Anna ĂŚft[er] ĂžĂŚre lage genam Ăžone Ăžridde were, Ăžan wĂŚs to name Salomas, of him heo hĂŚfde Ăža Ăžridde dohter, 7 Ăža heo genĂŚmden eac Marien, for ĂžĂŚre deorewurĂ°nysse of ĂžĂŚre forme dohter, 7 forĂžan Ăže se ĂŚngel brohte Ăžone name. Seo wĂŚs bewedded Zebedeo, of ĂžĂŚre wĂŚron geborene Jacob se mycele, 7 Joh[ann]es se godspellere. Maria wĂŚs lĂŚsse Jacobes moder, 7 Maria wĂŚs mare Jacobes moder 7 Joh[ann]es ĂžĂŚs gospelleres, 7 Maria seo Magdalenissce sohton urne Drihten mid smerigeles inne his Ăžruge Ăža Ăža he bebyriged wĂŚs.
Anna and Emeria were sisters. Of Emeria was born Elisabeth, mother of John the Baptist. Of Anna was born Mary, mother of Christ. And when her husband Joachim had passed on, then Anna according to the law of Moses, took another husband, who was named Cleophas. From him she had another daughter, who was also named Mary after the older daughter, whom her husband called Mary Cleophas because she was his daughter. Then Cleophas married Mary, mother of the Saviour, who was his step-daughter, to his brother Joseph. And he gave his own daughter Mary to Alpheus, from whom was born James the Less, and another Joseph. This James was called James Alpheus, because he was Alpheusâ son. After the death of Cleophas, Anne following the law took a third husband, who was named Salome, from whom she had a third daughter, and she was also named Mary, because of the preciousness of her first daughter, and because an angel brought her the name. She was married to Zebedee, from whom were born James the Great and John the Evangelist. Mary was the mother of James the Less, and Mary was the mother of James the Greater and John the Evangelist, and Mary Magdalene sought our Lord with ointment inside his tomb when he had been buried.
(Transcription and translation by Calum Cockburn)
The earliest English depiction of the Kinship has been identified by Park and Naydenova-Slade as marginal drawings in a 12th-century commentary from Kirkham Priory in Yorkshire, now Arundel MS 36. This manuscript was digitised as part of the Polonsky Foundation England and France 800-1200 project, available on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site, and on the BibliothĂ¨que nationale de France project website.
Here the images are limited to busts of three couples, each labelled with their names below: at the top, Joachim and St Anne, in the centre, St Joseph and the Virgin with the dove of the Holy Spirit, and at the bottom, Alpheus and Mary Cleophas. The images appear in the margins of a prologue to the following text entitled De Nativitate Sanctae Mariae. This letter or prologue does not describe the Holy Kinship. Instead, Park and Naydenova-Slade suggest that its inclusion is a visual commentary on a passage in the Nativitate on the children of St Joseph.
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Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, trans. by William Granger Ryan, 2 vols (Princeton: University Press, 1993), II, chapter 131.
Anne Rudloff Stanton, 'La Genealogye Comence: Kinship and Difference in the Queen Mary Psalter', Studies in Iconography, 17 (1996), 177-214.
David Park and Mellie Naydenova-Slade, âThe earliest Holy Kinship image, the Salomite controversy, and a little-known centre of Learning in northern England in the twelfth centuryâ, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 71 (2008), 95-119.
Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project