Friday, August 11, 2017

Madonna & the Garden - Wheat & the Nativity

Gerard David (Flemish painter, 1460-1523) In this Panel from The Nativity, simple shepherds brought to the birth by angels gather outside the window, while other panels show Saints Jerome & Leonard & Donors. 1515

In early Christianity, wheat was often used as a symbol for Christ, based on John 6:41, in which Jesus identifies himself as “the bread come down from heaven.”  In this painting, wheat is in the foreground & serves as a bed for the newborn Baby. A strong link was made between wheat and the Nativity early in the history of Christianity, based on the symbolism of the Eucharist. The identification was founded in the interpretation of such scriptural passages as John 6:41, in which Jesus identifies himself as “the bread come down from heaven.” In his homily on the Nativity, Homilia VIII in die Natalis Domini, the 6C Doctor of the Church, Saint Gregory the Great, translated “Bethlehem” as “house of bread” and expounded the transformation of the Christ Child from hay into wheat. From human to Holy? The pictorial tradition of showing the infant Jesus lying on a heap of grain is found in representations of the Nativity from the end of the 15C.  Wheat also is used to suggest the bounty of the earth, and in relation to Holy Communion, it symbolizes the flour used to make the wafer Host for the Consecration at Holy Mass.

Adoration of the Shepherds with Jesus lying on Wheat by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622.

It is an ancient Hungarian custom to offer to Baby Jesus in the manger some green sprouts of wheat. Agriculture was the mainstay of most nations before the industrial revolution, and wheat was the symbol of sustenance and prosperity for the nation. The "new wheat" symbolizes the "new bread" in the natural order and also the "New Bread of Life" in the supernatural order; for it is from wheat that the altar bread is made which the Holy Eucharist, the bread of Christian's souls. The wheat seeds are planted on the day of St. Lucy (or Lucia), the virgin martyr, December 13th. Kept in a moderately warm room and watered daily, the plant reaches its full growth by Christmas.