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Flight into Egypt

joseph infant donkey mary

After the birth of Jesus, when the Magi returned to their homeland without further contact with King *Herod, *Joseph was warned by an *angel in a dream about Herod’s plans for the *Massacre of the Innocents. Joseph took *Mary and the infant from Bethlehem to Egypt. The brief description of this event in *Matthew 2:13-15 was expanded in apocryphal writings, the * Golden Legend , and late medieval devotional works. These texts include descriptions of the *Holy Family resting en route (miraculously refreshed by a spring which appeared and a palm tree which bent over to provide fruit), their encounter with thieves (who, impressed with the infant, left them unmolested; these are the men who were later crucified with Jesus; see: *, their arrival in Egypt (when the pagan *idols fell and broke and where they were greeted by the governor), and their return from Egypt to Nazareth (also in Matthew 2:19-23). Representations of the Flight into Egypt may thus include details drawn from these sources, although the core figures for the scene are Joseph leading Mary and the infant on a donkey. They may be guarded by angels, accompanied by the midwife, a servant, or Joseph’s son from a previous marriage. Occasionally Joseph is shown riding on the donkey; he may also be depicted walking and carrying the infant on his shoulders, especially in Byzantine examples. The theme appears in early Christian mosaics of the fifth century and frequently in all media throughout the Middle Ages.
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