Annunication – 25 March 2019

Like many depictions of the annunciation, this is picture of two halves. On the left there is Gabriel, separated from Mary on the right by a vase of lilies representing her purity, and the reading desk that holds her Psalter.

The image is so rich in theology it is best understood as a sermon. The angel Gabriel bends one knee, genuflecting before the Virgin Mary, and holds a banner revealing the words the angel is speaking to her ‘Ave Maria gratia plena Dominus tecum’. A dove, representing the Holy Spirit, has descended from heaven, and at Mary’s response ‘Let it be to me…’, will enter through her right ear.

The idea that it was through hearing that the Mary conceived the Son was current in the Eastern and Western churches from the fourth century. Early writings describe Mary conceiving ‘by the Word of God’, and the Syrian poet Ephraim likens the womb to the ear. St Augustine understood God to be speaking through the mouth of the angel so that the Virgin was impregnated through her ear (et virgo per aurem impregnabatur). So this is a picture that depicts this theological language, and illustrates the effect of hearing and receiving the Word of God.

This fifteenth century painting comes from Ubeda, Andalucia. It is painted by an unknown Valencian artist. (It is in the National Museum, Barcelona)


The angel Gabriel from Heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
“All hail,” said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

“For know a blessèd mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said,
“My soul shall laud and magnify His holy Name.”
Most highly favored lady, Gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say—
“Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

Medieval, Basque


We see so little, stayed on surfaces,
We calculate the outsides of all things,
Preoccupied with our own purposes
We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,
They coruscate around us in their joy
A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,
They guard the good we purpose to destroy,
A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.
But on this day a young girl stopped to see
With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;
The promise of His glory yet to be,
As time stood still for her to make a choice;
Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,
The Word himself was waiting on her word.

Malcolm Guite, Annunciation