This bronze sculpture of St. Joseph sits in Nazareth between the Church of St. Joseph and the Basilica of the Annunciation. So often we are offered images of the spouse of Mary as a genial old man seemingly out of touch with what is going on around him. So I find it especially refreshing to see a depiction of Mary’s husband and Jesus’ foster father as a strong and virile man.
It would stand to reason that strength and stamina would be required for Joseph to safely transport a pregnant Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then to flee to Egypt with both Mother and Child, finally to return to Nazareth and provide for them by setting up a home and working to support them.
His work was that of a tekton (artisan or craftsman), in particular a carpenter or woodworker or builder. He used his hands to create in wood, stone and metal. For that reason, in 1955 Pope Pius XII added the feast of St. Joseph the Worker to the Church’s calendar on May 1 (to accompany his March 19 feast day). This silent saint and just man was given the noble task of providing for the Virgin Mary and Jesus, and now models for all the dignity of human work.
You will notice that the verdigris (green) patina on the knees of this sculpture has worn off, revealing the base metal. This obviously is the result of years of being touched and rubbed by devout pilgrims. It is a most appropriate accident, however, because it reinforces the idea that St. Joseph worked with his hands, often on his knees, at various tasks.
St. Joseph, one of the most beloved saints among Italians, is seen as the “breadwinner” for the family, so his March 19 feast is for many Italian-Americans a special day of celebration around a traditional St. Joseph’s table.
According to legend, there was a famine in Sicily many centuries ago. The villagers prayed to St. Joseph, the breadwinner, and asked his intercession. Their prayers were answered. With the ending of the dreadful famine, a special feast of thanksgiving was held in commemoration of the saint. Wealthy families prepared huge buffets and invited the less fortunate people of the village, especially the homeless and sick. This tradition still is practiced today.
For good reason, the solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19 is also Father’s Day in Italy. Perhaps we, too, could take advantage of this feast to reinforce the dignity of fatherhood.
FATHER VINCENT DE PAUL CROSBY, OSB, is a monk, priest and artist at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. To see his work, visit fabricart.net.