The extended Holy Family


Mark 6.3 and Matthew 13.55 refer to the brothers of Jesus. While the Eastern Church took them to be Joseph’s children by an earlier wife, the West recalled that ‘brethren’ can mean near relatives and believed them to be Jesus’ cousins, sons of Mary’s sisters Mary Salome and Mary Cleophas, as enunciated by Jacques de Voragine in the thirteenth-century Golden Legend.

The rood screen in the little church of Houghton St Giles, just outside Walsingham, depicts Jesus and his extended family. The first two panels (1) represent St Emeria (sister of St Anne) and St Mary Salome with her two sons, James the Great (scallop) and John the Evangelist (chalice); the next two (2) show the Virgin Mary and the Holy Child, together with St Mary Cleophas with her sons, James the Less (martyr’s palm), Jude (boat), Simon (fish) and Joseph Barsabas (loaves). The last two panes (3) have St Elizabeth and her son John the Baptist together with St Anne teaching the Virgin to read. For a representation taking up less space, there is the statue (4) of the Sainte Parenté in Notre Dame la Grande in Poitiers. St Anne holds in her arms the crowned Virgin with the infant Jesus in her arms. On the left is the Virgin, holding the hand of Jesus, and to the right is Mary Cleophas with her four sons.

For a surprisingly conservative take on the Extended Holy Family by a theologian, see John

A.T. Robinson, The Priority of John, J.F. Coakley 4
(ed.), SCM Press, 1985, pp. 118–122.


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