The tradition that Mary was presented in the Temple as a child relates that after Mary was weaned, her parents took her to the Temple to give thanks. When her parents placed her on the lowest of the Temple steps, to their amazement and to that of the High Priest, the three year old climbed them without any help. When artists painted this scene, they gave prominence to the steps. Most have the steps rising from one side of the painting to the other. By showing the steps rising up and curving into the painting, Tintoretto both creates a sense of depth and locates the viewer at their base. He places the child near their top in the sun shine and set against a bright sky, so that the eye is drawn past the darker figures lower down to the child above. It is as if you had arrived there at the bottom of the steps just in time to glimpse the little girl before she enters the Temple. Originally, this painting was in two halves, each of which adorned the outside of an organ door. Now they are sewn together and are shown as one canvas. However, although the the unity of the scene is not compromised, each side is self-contained and distinct. The left hand side is almost completely in shadow. The figures and the Temple facade have a vertical rhythm. The figures, who are all men, all look towards the light on the right. By contrast, the right hand side is filled with light. There are only women on this side. The steps fill quite a large section of this side and lead the eye past the women to the child above. At the base of the steps one woman points Mary out to her own daughter and helps to draw our eye to her as well. The contrast is that between the Old and New Testaments, as in the Gospel of Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah’s prophecy: ”The people who sat in darkness have seen great light” (Mt 4:16). This child is destined to be the bearer of the Light of the World. Previously, artists had given her a lighted candle to express this unique role. However, Tintoretto, by clever use of composition, light, and shade, makes her unique sanctity clear to the viewer. The Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple falls next Sunday and so is not celebrated in our liturgy this year.
The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.
The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.