Other people

 The Holy Family are often accompanied by others. Frequently there are angels. They could be more than simply decorative: they are often pictured performing as angelic sat-navs  showing the way, or, as in the well known painting by  Caravaggio discussed here, providing solace in the form of music. Occasionally, a saint appropriate for the particular church setting is included, as in this version by Correggio.

Rest on the Flight into Egypt with St Francis
Uffizi, Florence

   Much more interesting is this fresco by Giotto from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. 

   So who are all these people?
   One of them (the female character) is Salome the midwife, whose story is told in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.  She is an interesting character, an early version of doubting Thomas who, at the birth of Jesus,  did not believe that it was possible that Mary could still be a virgin. She  insisted on proving it for herself with an inserted finger, whereupon her arm became withered; it was restored by the young Jesus. From that moment she was a devoted follower, who accompanied Jesus during the Flight and remained with him until his crucifixion. 
    The Bible and other texts have various characters called Salome: Richard Bauckham in Gospel Women (2002) does his best to sort them out. *

   But what about the men?
   The Apocryphal History of Joseph the Carpenter tells us that Joseph had six children by a previous marriage, four boys and two girls. The additional figures could have been drawn from them.

   Some commentators speak of 'Jesus's brother James' (author of the Epistle of James) as accompanying the family, but this is problematic, unless he was one of Jesus's half brothers - a full brother would have to be younger.   Given that St Francis wasn't around for more than another 1000 years, this may be a minor point, though St James is presented as a protagonist in the story rather than a future saint just popping in to do a spot of adoring. A younger brother creates other problems as it denies  the supposed 'perpetual virginity' of Mary.

  I have seen the odd reference to a person described as 'the servant of St. Elizabeth' who accompanied them at the beginning of the journey, but I have found no source for this.

* Out of print but the relevant section can be found by searching Google Books for Gospel Women.


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