Along with Gabriel's Annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), her Visitation to Elizabeth (1:39-56), and Jesus' birth and infancy (2:7,16; Matthew 2:11), one other biblical scene depicting the mother of Jesus is especially prominent in the history of Christian art: Jesus' death on the cross (John 19:25-27).

Alone among the evangelists, it is John who informs us that "standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (ESV).

Tender meditations

Over the centuries this scene of immense tenderness immediately preceding the death of Jesus has inspired, not only many Byzantine ikons, works of statuary beyond count, and numerous paintings in every generation, but also a wealth of hymns penned and sung by Christians in both East and West. The poetry and imagery of these diverse hymns share the common purpose of bringing the Christian imagination into a vivid awareness of the pain and dereliction of Jesus' mother standing by his cross, as he entrusts her to the care of "the disciple whom he loved."

What has prompted Christians to think so long and lovingly on this theme?

The emotional impulse to dwell on the sorrow of Jesus' mother at the foot of the Cross had its root in the very love symbolized by the Cross. Simply put, Jesus died because he loved us. And such sacrificial love elicited a responding love from the believing heart. Christian emotional response to the sufferings of Jesus, ...

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