It has been said that somewhere, buried deep in Bethlehem, is the body of an over two-thousand-year-old man. Still intact and incorrupt, frozen in time.
This body is said to belong to St. Joseph – husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus.
“Only a few men followed the coffin with Jesus and Mary; but I saw it accompanied by angels and environed with light. Joseph’s remains were afterward removed by the Christians to Bethlehem, and interred. I think I can still see him lying there incorrupt.”
If this is indeed true, in a world covered with dark ashes of doubt, faithlessness and immorality, this tremendous discovery might just be our phoenix. But whence do the clues to unearthing this hidden gem come?
Herein lies the secret: in the old, forgotten visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824) – a controversial German mystic, stigmatist and one of the greatest visionaries in the history of the Church.
Her visions on the most intimate parts of the lives of Jesus, Mary and the Saints brought their extraordinary stories to life, like supernatural characters leaping off the page of a book. Despite Anne’s never having visited the Holy Land in her lifetime, those who have journeyed there are often stunned by the striking resemblance between her descriptions and the actual sites and monuments.
Although Anne could not write what she had witnessed, given her poor education, she earned the respect of a distinguished German Romantic poet, Clemens Brentano, who regularly sat by her bedside to transcribe her exultant recounts. He published her extraordinary visions on the life of Christ in one of Emmerich-Brentano’s most prized books, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1883) – the same book which inspired Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ because of its sheer detail on the Gospel stories.
Some know Anne’s extraordinary story, but most do not. It is only fitting that it be revived today on her birthday.
Emmerich was born at Flamske in Westphalia, Germany on 8 September 1774 to poor, devout parents. As a child, Emmerich could discern whether objects were consecrated or not and which saint a certain relic belonged to. In the dark of night, she often walked barefoot on the snow, defying piercing winds, so that she could make the entire Way of the Cross to Coesfeld. She preferred to eat leftover scraps and often gave her food away to the poor and sick so that they would not starve. She barely slept. When she was 29, she became a nun of the Augustinian Order at Dulmen, Westphalia.
One day, whilst praying for hours before the crucifix at St-Lambert, Coesfeld, Anne begged Jesus to let her share in His Passion, and several years later on 29 December 1812 at 3:00 pm, whilst bedridden and extremely ill, she experienced the stigmata. Doctors had no medical explanation for her wounds.
In the final 12 years of her life after she received the Sacred Wounds of Christ, she could no longer eat or drink, and for some time only survived on the Holy Eucharist. Even when she attempted to eat, she would get extremely sick. In 1819, she was examined by prominent secular authorities who confined her for three weeks. Their test subject was observed at every moment in six-hour shifts and nicknamed “The Imposter”. Yet, she still could not eat and persistently bled through her holy wounds. Her captors eventually set her free, frustrated that they reached no plausible rationalization despite rigorous study.
Anne was beatified by Pope St John Paul II on October 3, 2004, who said in his Homily:
“the fact that the daughter of poor peasants who sought tenaciously to be close to God became the well-known ‘Mystic of the Land of Münster’ was a work of divine grace. Her material poverty contrasted with her rich interior life.”
Some question the credibility of her writings, given Clemens Brentano’s embellishments, as well as her negative portrayal of the Jewish mobs who condemned Jesus to death. Nevertheless, editor of TAN Books, Dr. Paul Thigpen, said that we ought to be inspired by her unwavering holiness in the face of adversity more so than for her visions, “What the Church is focusing on is her heroic suffering, offering up that suffering to God … If she is canonized, she would be a wonderful role model for the disabled and those with chronic illness.”
But one thing is certain – Anne’s visions recorded in the 1852 book, The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary based on Visions of Anna Katharina Emmerick, led to the discovery of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s house in Ephesus, Turkey.
But what about St Joseph’s body?
In the Gospels, we barely hear a spoken word from St. Joseph. He was a man of silence and complete humility. Fr Paul of Mill (1824-1896) once said,
“in an ecstasy, a Saint has seen the body of St. Joseph preserved intact in a tomb, the site of which is yet unknown. The more the glorious spouse of the most Blessed Virgin is honoured, the sooner will the finding of his body take place, which will be a day of great joy for the Church.”
If Anne’s visions have led to such mind-blowing breakthroughs, what makes us think the incorrupt body of St. Joseph – one of the greatest saints of all time – isn’t waiting to be found?