Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Outside of the Christmas and Easter Holy Days, the Annunciation is my absolute favorite feast. I’m sure seeing in person the great Annunciation fresco painting by Blessed Fra Angelico, in Florence’s San Marco Monastery back in 1993, had a lot to do with helping me discover this feast.
Its beauty, simplicity, sincerity and quite mystery had me immediately captivated. They had just opened up, after some renovations in the monastery museum, a very grand looking staircase with red carpet that led right up to the fresco painted in a simple hallway. With the new view from the stairs, you get the sense of ascending to a glorious mystery that gets bigger and more beautiful as you get closer. I remember my heart skipped a beat when I first saw it and then forgetting everyone else around me, I was quietly drawn in to its beauty and reverence.
This has to be the best painting of the Annunciation out there in my opinion. It reveals a humble, uncomplicated Mary in a very uncluttered and contemplative environment. (Deliberately, it is very similar to that of the Dominican monastery it was painted in, she is even clothed in a cloak to resemble their habit). It has the main traditional elements, of an enclosed garden with untrampled flowers, symbolizing her virginity and purity heart, and the Angel Gabriel appearing before her. This version seems to capture the moment of when Mary proclaims, “I am the handmaid of the lord. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” [Luke 1: 38] Her hand gesture is in the position of humility and submission and the angel appears to be genuflecting, as though before a tabernacle, in acknowledgment that the Lord is now present within her.
What amazes me about this moment, both depicted in the painting and the historical event, is just how simple and quiet this most extraordinary of all events must have occurred. The eternal, omnipotent God became flesh and was hidden in a woman’s womb. The angels in Heaven must have been exploding with joy, but on Earth, no one but Mary really knew about it. What spiritual tension on that veil between Heaven and Earth, between God and Man, all embodied in the young Blessed Virgin Mary! It just blows me away.
There’s so much that can be written about this image and this mystery. For this post I just wanted to share my joy and wonder at how something so grand and mysterious is presented so simply and accepted so humbly by Mary. We all have our moments each day when God asks us to cooperate with His will and grace, but are our hearts as open and uncluttered as Mary’s heart to hear the voice of the Lord?
“I was sleeping, but my heart kept vigil;
I heard my lover knocking:
“Open to me, my sister, my beloved,
my dove, my perfect one!”” Song of Songs 5:2