The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich
27. ELIZABETH TAKES THE BOY JOHN AGAIN TO THE WILDERNESS.
During the sojourn of the Holy Family in Egypt the child John must have
again stayed in secret with his parents at Juttah, for I saw him at the
age of four or five being once more taken into the wilderness by
Elizabeth. When they left the house, Zechariah was not there; I think
he had gone away beforehand so as not to see the departure, for he
loved John beyond measure. He had, however, given him his blessing, for
each time he went away he used to bless Elizabeth and John.
Little John had a sheepskin hanging over his left shoulder round his
breast and back, fastened together under his right arm. Afterwards in
the desert I saw him wearing this sheepskin sometimes over both
shoulders, sometimes across his breast, sometimes round his waist--just
as it suited him. This sheepskin was all that the boy wore. He had
brownish hair darker than Jesus', and he still carried in his hand the
little white staff which he had brought from home before. I always saw
him with it in the wilderness.
I now saw him hurrying along hand in hand with his mother Elizabeth, a
tall woman with a small face and delicate features. She was much
wrapped up and walked quickly. The child often ran on ahead; he was
quite natural and childlike, but not thoughtless. At first their way
led them northwards for some time, and they had water on their right
hand; then I saw them crossing a little stream. There was no bridge,
and they crossed on logs lying in the water, which Elizabeth, who was a
very resolute woman, ferried across with a branch. After crossing the
stream they turned more eastwards and entered a rocky ravine, the upper
part of which was waste and stony, though the lower slopes were thick
with bushes and fruits, among them many strawberries, of which the boy
ate one here and there.
After they had gone some way into this ravine, Elizabeth said good-bye
to the boy. She blessed him, pressed him to her heart, kissed him on
his forehead and on both cheeks, and started on her journey home. She
turned round several times on her way, and wept as she looked back
towards John. The boy himself was quite untroubled and wandered on
farther into the ravine with sure steps.
As during these visions I was very ill, God granted me the favor of
feeling as if I were myself a child in presence of all that happened.
It seemed to me that I was a child of John's own age, accompanying him
on his way; and I was afraid that he would go too far from his mother
and would never find his way borne again. Soon, however, I was
reassured by a voice which said: Do not be troubled. The boy well knows
what he is about.' Then I thought that I went quite alone with him into
the wilderness as if he had been a familiar childhood's playmate of
mine, and I saw many of the things that happened to him. Yes, while we
were together, John himself told me much about his life in the
wilderness. For example, how he practiced self-denial in every way and
mortified his senses, how his vision grew ever brighter and clearer,
and how he had been taught in an indescribable way, by everything round
All this did not astonish me, for long ago as a child, when I was all
by myself watching our cows, I used to live in familiar fellowship with
John in the wilderness. I often longed to see him, and used then to
call into the bushes in my country dialect: Little John with his little
stick and his sheepskin on his shoulder is to come to me.' And often,
little John with his little stick and his sheepskin on his shoulder did
come to me, and we two children played together. He told me and taught
me all kinds of good things, and it never seemed to me strange that in
the wilderness he learnt so much from plants and beasts. For when I was
a child, whether in the woods, on the moors, in the fields, with the
cows, plucking ears of corn, pulling grass, or gathering herbs, I used
to look at every little leaf and every flower as at a book. Every bird,
every beast that ran past me, everything around me, taught me
something. Every shape and color that I saw, every little veined leaf,
filled my mind with many deep thoughts. But if I spoke of these, people
either listened with surprise or else, more often, laughed at me, so
that at last I accustomed myself to keeping silence about such things.
I used to think (and sometimes think still) that it must be so with
everyone, and that nowhere could one learn better, because here God
Himself had written our alphabet for us.
So now, when I followed again in my visions the boy John into the
wilderness, I saw, as before, all that he was about. I saw him playing
with flowers and beasts. The birds especially were at home with him.
They flew onto his head as he walked or as he knelt in prayer. I often
saw him lay his staff across the branches; then at his call flocks of
bright-colored birds came flying to perch on it in a row. He gazed at
them and spoke familiarly with them as if they were his schoolchildren.
I saw him, too, following wild animals into their lairs, feeding them
and watching them attentively.