Foundlings and orphans – 1 April 2019

Set in a medieval city, this scene depicts abandoned and destitute children being taken from the streets by men of a confraternity and then given to women who will become their adoptive mothers. There are so many potential adoptive mothers that they queue up to receive a child. Above the women, in the niche over a door, is a relief carving of the Virgin Mary, who will be the model for their mothering. There is a contrast between the reluctance of the children when first taken from the streets and the open-armed willingness to be embraced into a new home and family when the children see those waiting to receive them.

The fresco here is from the loggia of the Museo del Bigallo in Florence, a place where foundlings were left and orphaned children gathered. The premises were once occupied by the Compagnia della Misericordia, whose mission was to help the young and needy. This was, for its time, an advanced exercise in Christian care, finding homes for children who were abandoned and alone for various reasons.

Sunday 31 March was Mothering Sunday, an opportunity to give thanks for all kinds of mothering in diverse family life, including those parents who adopt children. Last week a report noted a significant reduction in potential adoptive parents in the UK, together with severe cut backs in financial support to adoption services.


A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.

Psalm 68:5-6a

And when he (Moses) was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.

Acts 7:21

Loving Father,
who through a Spirit of adoption
has made us his children and fellow-heirs with Christ,
grant that those who seeking adoption
may be brought fully into family life with adoptive parents,
come to know their love,
and find in the fullness of their common life,
the joy and the glory
of Jesus Christ our risen Lord.

Common Worship, adapted