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This painting of the Nativity of John the Baptist is by the Italian Renaissance artist Domenico Ghirlandaio. It is one of a cycle of frescoes he produced between 1485 and 1490 for the Tornabuoni Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence.


St Luke’s Gospel isn’t clear if the Virgin Mary was present for the birth of John to her cousin Elizabeth. It simply states: “Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months. Meanwhile the time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son…” (1 : 56-57)


Ghirlandaio’s fresco does show Mary present at the birth. She is the second figure from the right and portrayed as Lucrezia Tornabuoni, the mother of Lorenzo de’ Medici, known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, and de facto ruler of the Florentine Republic.


The Queen of Peace first appeared at Medjugorje to two of the now established six seers – Ivanka Ivankovic and Mirjana Dragicevic – on the afternoon of June 24, 1981, the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. What would be the reason for her visitation coinciding with this special feast day? Was there an unspoken message in the timing itself?


An answer to this question can be found in Ghirlandaio’s fresco painted over five centuries ago and the figure representing both the Virgin Mary and Lucrezia Tornabuoni. The two hands and fingers point to a verse from the first chapter in Luke’s gospel. The thumb is the chapter number 1. The four fingers on each hand, four and four, reference verse 44, which reads: “Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?”


This is the same question the parish of Medjugorje asked on the Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist, June 24, 1981. “Why should we be honoured with a visit from the mother of our Lord?”


Mary came to Elizabeth carrying Jesus in her womb. She appeared on the first day at Medjugorje carrying what the visionaries described as “a baby in her arms”.


There is another interpretation applied to the Virgin’s hands in the fresco. They represent the wings of the Holy Spirit, the thumb its head, nestling and covering Mary’s womb. When the Virgin asked Gabriel how she would conceive, the angel responded: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”


When Jesus becomes incarnate in the hearts of people at Medjugorje, it is the same Holy Spirit that comes upon them. Mary, the mother of Jesus and spouse of the Holy Spirit, does not come alone.


John the Baptist is patron saint of Florence.


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