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Massacre of the Innocents

century art infant killed

The Massacre of the Innocents is the episode described in *Matthew 2:16 in which *Herod ordered all infants in Bethlehem and the surrounding region to be killed because he had learned of the birth of the potentially threatening “King of the *Jews.” Before this, warned by an *angel, Saint *Joseph and the Virgin *Mary had escaped with the infant Jesus. Apocryphal sources describe how Mary’s kinswoman *Elizabeth sought refuge in a cave in the mountains with her infant, Saint *John the Baptist, while her husband, the priest Zacharias, was killed in the Temple by Herod’s soldiers.


The Massacre of the Innocents appears early in art: in Byzantine ivory carvings of the fifth century, in the fifth-century mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, frequently in illustrated Gospel manuscripts, and in Romanesque and Gothic architectural sculpture. Customarily, armed soldiers are depicted attacking and dismembering children while women struggle and weep (a connection with *Jeremiah’s description of *Rachel weeping for her children). The Holy Innocents also appear in art as a group or with other crowds of *saints bearing *haloes and martyrs’ palm branches.

Massey, Mary Elizabeth (1915–1974) - U.S. Civil War History [next] [back] Mask (1985) - Overview, Synopsis, Critique

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