The Thread of Life in the Hand of the Virgin
McMurray Gibson, Gail
Equally in God’s Image: Women in the Middle Ages, Edited, Julia Bolton Holloway, Joan Bechtold, Constance S. Wright (Peter Lang, 1990)
The gossamer threads which float lazily in the autumn air over fields and meadows are known in France as fils de la Vierge. The name for the delicate silken threads released by ballooning spiders is a humble survival in present-day folklore of a medieval legendary tradition which showed the Virgin Mary with the thread of life in her hand. The legend of the weaving and spinning Virgin Mary – as almost all the other legends concerned with her life – can be traced back to an eighth-century apocryphal Latin text, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. Pseudo-Matthew, in turn, depended on a Greek gospel that dates from the Apostolic age, the so-called Protevangelion of James.
Pseudo-Matthew, with his interest in details of the lives of the Holy Family (which are significantly missing in the references to the Infancy of Christ in the canonical Gospels of Matthew and Luke), reveals that the girlhood of Mary was spent in close seclusion. She spent her early years as one of the Virgins of the Temple of Jerusalem.