“The angel Gabriel was sent by God…” “Do not be afraid, Mary…”
When I first walked up the steps of the Convento di San Marco in Florence and viewed the fresco of the Annunciation by Fra Angelico I was overcome by the Florence Syndrome. I went alone on a morning visit and I remember so vividly the glistening of the rainbow wings of the Angel Gabriel as the sunlight peered through the windows coming from the left corridor. I was so physically moved by this celestial piece of art that I had to sit down and gaze in awe at so profound a masterpiece unfolding before me. It seems an understatement for the Angel Gabriel to say “Do not be afraid”. If I was so stunned by the artistic representation, what must have been the emotional impact on Mary as she heard the supernal greeting of “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” And yet she maintains her composure and stares into the eyes of the heavenly messenger as if she is able to foresee the entire life of Christ her Son and the history of the Church which would follow in His Name. Beneath the painting are two inscriptions reflecting the mystical Marian devotion of Fra Angelico. The first quotes a hymn of Adam de Saint-Victor’s medieval Latin hymn addressing Mary as the “three-fold couch” sustaining the Trinity. [Salve, Mater pietatis et totius Trinitatis nobile triclinium Maria!]. The second message directly addresses the friars passing by to say an “Ave” as you walk by, thus participating once again in meditation upon the glorious moment which initialized the Incarnation. [“Virginis intacte cum veneris ante figuram pretereundo cave ne sileatur ave.”] Today let us say an Ave as we pass by the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her many manifestations, and in particular the Virgin of Guadalupe.