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

25. TRAIN TO MATAREA. AN IDOL FALLS AT THE FAMILY'S PASSING




After staying in Heliopolis for a year and a half, until Jesus was about two years old, the Holy Family left the city because of lack of work and various persecutions. They moved southwards in the direction of Memphis. When they passed through a small town not far from Heliopolis and sat down to rest in the open porch of a heathen temple, the idol fell down and broke in pieces. (It had the head of an ox with three horns, and there were holes in its body in which sacrifices were placed to be burnt.) This caused an uproar amongst the heathen priests, who seized and threatened the Holy Family. As the priests were consulting together, one of them said that for his part he thought it wise to commend themselves to the God of these people, reminding them of the plagues that had befallen their ancestors when they persecuted the Israelites, and how in the night before their exodus the firstborn had died in every Egyptian house. They followed his advice and dismissed the Holy Family unmolested.

They made their way to Troja, a place on the east bank of the Nile, opposite Memphis. It was a big town, but filthy. They thought of staying here, but were not taken in; indeed, they could not even obtain the drink of water or the few dates for which they asked. Memphis was on the west bank of the Nile, which was here very broad, with islands. Part of the city was on the east bank, and here in the time of Pharaoh was a great palace with gardens and a high tower, to the top of which Pharaoh's daughter used often to ascend to survey the country round. I saw the place where the child Moses was found among the tall rushes. Memphis was composed as it were of three different towns, one on each side of the Nile, and another called Babylon which seemed to belong to it. This was farther downstream on the east bank. Indeed, in Pharaoh's time the whole region round the Nile between Heliopolis, Babylon, and Memphis was so covered with canals, buildings, and stone embankments that it all seemed to form one uninterrupted city. Now, at the time of the Holy Family's visit, it had all become separated with great waste spaces between. From Troja they went northwards down-stream towards Babylon, which was ill-built, dirty, and desolate. They skirted this city between it and the Nile, and retraced their steps for some distance. They went down-stream, following an embankment along which Jesus traveled later, when He journeyed through Arabia to Egypt after the raising of Lazarus before meeting His disciples again at Jacob's Well at Sychar. They traveled down-stream for some two hours; there were ruined buildings at intervals all along their path. They had to cross a small arm of the river or canal, and came to a place whose name as it was at that time I cannot remember; afterwards it was called Matarea, and was near Heliopolis. [169] This place, which lay on a promontory surrounded by water on two sides, was very desolate. Its scattered buildings were mostly very badly made of palm wood and thick mud, roofed with reeds. Joseph found much work here in strengthening the houses with wattles and building galleries onto them.

In this town the Holy Family lived in a dark vaulted room in a lonely quarter at the landward side of the town, not far from the gate by which they had entered. As before, Joseph built a room in front of the vaulted one. Here, too, when they arrived, an idol fell down in a small temple, and afterwards all the idols fell. Here, too, a priest pacified the people by reminding them of the plagues of Egypt. Later, when a little congregation of Jews and converted heathen had gathered round the Holy Family, the priests handed over to them the little temple where the idol had fallen, and Joseph arranged it as a synagogue. He became, as it were, the father of the congregation, and introduced the proper singing of the psalms, for their previous services had been very disorderly. There were only a few very poor Jews living here in wretched holes and ditches, though in the Jewish town between On and the Nile there were many Jews and they had a regular temple there. They had, however, fallen into dreadful idolatry; they had a golden calf, a figure with an ox's head surrounded by little figures of animals like pole-cats or ferrets with little canopies over them. These were animals which protected people against crocodiles. They also had an imitation Ark of the Covenant, with horrible things in it. They carried on a revolting idolatrous worship, which consisted of immoral practices performed in a subterranean passage and supposed to bring about the coming of the Messiah. They were very obstinate and refused to amend their lives. Afterwards many of them left this place and came to where the Holy Family lived, not more than two hours' journey away. Owing to the many dykes and canals, they could not travel direct but had to make a detour round On.

The Jews in the land of Gessen had already become acquainted with the Holy Family in the city of On, and Mary had done much work for them knitting, weaving, and sewing. She would never work at things which were superfluous or mere luxuries, only at what was necessary and at praying garments. I saw women bringing her work to do which they wanted, from vanity, to be made in a fashionable style; and I saw Mary giving back the work, however much she needed the money. I saw, too, that the women insulted her vilely.











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