During the Annunciation, Gabriel passes on the news about Mary's cousin
And behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her,
who was called barren:
For with God nothing shall be impossible. (Luke Ch
The son is, of course, the future John the Baptist.
The story of the Visitation has the authority of the Gospel of Luke:
And Mary arose in those days, and went
into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; And entered into
the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary,
the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And
whence is this to me, that the
mother of my Lord should come to me?
lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe
leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is
she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which
were told her from the Lord.
(Luke 1 v 39 – 45)
And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
The Protoevangelium of James adds a little more
colour to the story:
Mary, with great joy, went away to Elisabeth her kinswoman, and knocked at
the door. And when Elisabeth heard her, she threw away the scarlet, and
ran to the door, and opened it; and seeing Mary, she blessed her, and
said: Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For, behold, that which is in me leaped and blessed thee. But
Mary had forgotten the mysteries of which the Archangel Gabriel had
spoken, and gazed up into heaven, and said: Who am I, O Lord, that all the
generations of the earth should bless me? And she remained
three months with Elizabeth; and day by day she grew bigger. And Mary
being afraid, went away to her own house, and hid herself from the sons of
Israel. And she was sixteen years old when these mysteries happened.
The Visitation is a very popular theme in art. The version of the
Annunciation by Melchior Broederlam (below left) we have seen before,
includes a Visitation scene. The wonderful fresco of the Visitation by
Domenico Ghirlandaio (right) comes from Santa Maria Novella, Florence. The
ladies on the left are presumably the virgins given to Mary as companions
by Joseph; see What happened before (here) for a little more on this.
There should be five of them: the three behind Mary and the two behind
Elisabeth make up the number.