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The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

21. HELIOPOLIS, OR ON.




After refreshing themselves here they journeyed to a great city called Heliopolis or On. It had wonderful buildings, but much of it had been laid waste. When the children of Israel were in Egypt, the Egyptian priest Potiphera lived here, and had in his house Asenath (the daughter of Dinah of the Shechemites) whom Joseph married. [163] Here also Dionysius the Areopagite lived at the time of Christ's death. The city had been devastated by war, but numbers of people had made themselves homes in the ruined buildings.

The Holy Family crossed a very high bridge over a broad river which seemed to me to have several arms. They came to an open place in front of the city-gate, which was surrounded by a kind of promenade. Here there was a pedestal, thicker below than above, surmounted by a great idol with an ox's head bearing in its arms something like a child in swaddling-bands. The idol was surrounded by a circle of stones like benches or tables, and people came in crowds from the city to lay their offerings on them. Not far from this idol was a great tree under which the Holy Family sat down to rest. They had rested there for only a short time when there came an earthquake, and the idol swayed and fell to the ground. [164] There was an uproar among the people, and a crowd of canal-workers ran up from near at hand. A good man who had accompanied the Holy Family on their way here (I think he was a drain-digger) led them hurriedly into the town, and they were leaving the place where the idol had stood when the frightened crowd observed them and began assailing them with threats and abuse for having been the cause of the idol's collapse. They had not, however, time to carry out their threats, for another shock came which uprooted and engulfed the great tree till nothing but its roots showed above ground. The gaping space where the idol had stood became full of dark and dirty water, in which the whole idol disappeared except for its horns. Some of the most evil among the raging mob were swallowed up in this dark pool. Meanwhile the Holy Family went quietly into the city, and took up their abode near a great heathen temple in the thickness of a wall, where there were a great number of empty rooms.

[Catherine Emmerich also communicated the following fragments of visions of the subsequent life of the Holy Family in Heliopolis or On:]

Once at a later time I came over the sea to Egypt, and found the Holy Family still living in the great devastated city. It is very extensive, and is built beside a great river with many arms. The city can be seen from afar, standing high up. In many places the river flows underneath the buildings. The people cross the arms of the river on rafts which lie there in the water ready for use. I saw quite astonishingly huge buildings in ruins, great masses of solid masonry, halves of towers, and whole, or nearly whole, temples. I saw pillars as big as towers, with winding staircases outside. I saw high tapering pillars completely covered with strange figures, and also a number of big figures like reclining dogs with human heads.

The Holy Family lived in the galleries of a great stone building supported at one side by short thick pillars, some square, and some round. People had built themselves dwellings against and under these pillars; above the building ran a road with much traffic on it; it passed a great heathen temple with two courts. In this building was a space with a wall on one side of it and on the other a row of short thick pillars. In front of this Joseph had constructed a light wooden building, divided off by wooden partitions, for them to live in. I saw them there all together. The donkeys were there, too, but separated by screens such as Joseph always used to make. I noticed for the first time that they had a little altar against the wall, hidden behind one of these screens--a little table covered with a red cloth and a transparent white one over it. There was a lamp above it, and they used to pray there. Later I saw that Joseph had arranged a workshop in his home, and also that he often went out to work. He made long staffs with knobs at the end, and little low round three-legged stools with a handle at the back to carry them by. He also made baskets and light wicker screens. These were afterwards smeared with some substance which made them solid, and were then used to make huts and compartments against and in the massive masonry of the walls. He also made little light hexagonal or octagonal towers out of long thin planks, ending in a point crowned by a knob. These had an opening and could be used to sit in like sentry-boxes. They had steps leading up to them. I saw little towers like these here and there in front of the heathen temples, and also on the flat roofs. People sat inside them. They were perhaps sentry-boxes, or little summer-houses used to give shade.

I saw the Blessed Virgin weaving carpets. I also saw her with other work; she had a stick beside her with a lump fastened to the top of it, but I do not know what she was doing, whether spinning or something else. I often saw people visiting her and the Infant Jesus, who lay in a sort of cradle on the floor beside her. Sometimes I saw this cradle raised on a stand like a sawing-trestle. I saw the Child lying very contentedly in His cradle, sometimes with His arms hanging out on each side. Once I saw Him sitting up in it. Mary sat close by knitting, with a basket at her side. There were three women with her.

The people in this half-destroyed city were dressed just like those cotton-spinning people whom I saw when I went to meet the three kings, except that they wore aprons, like short skirts. There were not many Jews here, and they seemed to live here on sufferance. North of Heliopolis, between it and the Nile, which there divides into many arms, was the land of Gessen. Amongst its canals was a place where a large number of Jews lived. Their religion had become very degraded. Some of these Jews became acquainted with the Holy Family, and Mary made various things for them, in return for which they gave her bread and provisions. The Jews in the land of Gessen had a temple which they likened to Solomon's temple, but it was very different. [165]











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