We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

The Annunciation

The Annunciation is when the Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will give birth to Jesus, is a pivotal moment in the Christmas scriptures.

The Annunciation paintings held two important meanings for the faithful: the first being the incarnation- or conception- of Christ, which is the central tenant of the Christmas story. The second being the vision of Mary as the ultimate example of womanhood, chastity and humility. The Virgin’s queen-like demeanor in early Renaissance painting often showed both seriousness and sadness, indicative of her inherent knowledge of what was in store for her son. It took two centuries for the depiction of the Holy Family to evolve into a more ‘earthly’ image, with both Mary and Joseph portrayed as humble, human parents of Jesus, surrounded by their barnyard of animal

Traditional Annunciation scenes take place either in a bedroom near a bed (to imply the conception of child) or in an enclosed space near a garden, symbolizing both Mary’s womb and her virginity. The two figures are usually separated by architectural features, creating a certain solemnity and formality between angel and Virgin.

As the Renaissance progressed, the rise of capitalism was particularly significant for art. Patronage passed from the church to princely families. Artists were now employed as commonly by wealthy merchants and bankers as by bishops and popes. Rather than glorify god, this new breed of patron, be they religious, preferred to glorify themselves and their material world. Artists now had the freedom to step away from the rigid constraints of early Renaissance painting to explore new ways of representing religious themes- the nativity included

Over time, the art shifted from a form of the supernatural to the natural world, the mood in both Nativity and Annunciation scenes progressed from a divine, heavenly scene to one of a more “human” or worldly nature.

The Virgin was given a motherly dimension, celebrating her earthly beauty. Annunciations developed a personal feeling by bringing Gabriel and Mary together into a single, intimate space, often a bedroom. The Virgin was now presented as the ultimate example of humility- inviting the viewer to contemplate the image and adopt this same virtue.

International trade encouraged import and export not only of goods, but also of ideas. Important artistic exchanges took place between northern and southern Europe beginning in the fifteenth century. Italian artists are credited with the increasing naturalism of the human figure and the working out of perspective. Flemish masters (modern day Netherlands and northern France) developed oil painting, which aided in the realistic rendering of humans. These new techniques were shared across borders as merchants and artisans traveled through Europe.

This new realism would come in handy as a more personal approach to religious devotion prompted a more personal art form to develop. Increasingly lifelike figures and detailed landscapes aided viewers in meditation, drawing them into the scene. While nativities retained an overall mystical and heavenly character, the Holy Family seems almost commonplace in many of these same paintings. The art of the Christmas story was evolving. The Virgin Mary is no longer enthroned, but rather kneeling in front of baby Jesus; sometimes inside a cave, rather than in a stable. This particular image is not found in the Bible, but drawn from the 13th century writings of St. Bridget of Sweden’s vision. Joseph likewise, found his way into the standard iconography of the nativity scene. He is almost universally depicted as a bearded old man, based on the apocryphal book of James and shown asleep or resting his head on his arm- symbolic of his secondary role in Christ’s birth.