Jesus’ Great-Grandmother Not Identified

An interesting article in the Journal of Medieval History, by Catherine Lawless:

This article will examine an unusual legend contained in Florentine fifteenth-century manuscripts concerning St Ismeria, the ‘grandmother’ of the Virgin. Unlike more well-known versions of the Holy Kinship of Christ, where Ismeria is described as the sister of St Anne and grandmother of St John the Baptist, in this legend she is instead firmly described as St Anne’s mother and thus the grandmother of the Virgin and the great-grandmother of Christ. Most of the legend is concerned with Ismeria’s life of penitential piety as a wife and widow and has little in common with standard legends of the Virgin or of St Anne, but has strong resonances within the world of late medieval Florentine piety and the type of ‘new’ sanctity defined by Vauchez, where sanctity is earned by a life of penitence rather than with blood martyrdom. The contents of the codices which house the legends are typical of medieval vernacular writings and contain more traditional lives of the Virgin and accounts of the Holy Kinship. The way in which these legends lay side by side with such contradictory material suggests a fluidity in the way holy narratives were accepted.

For Discovery News (associated with the Discovery Channel), this becomes:


The great-grandmother of Jesus was a woman named Ismeria, according to Florentine medieval manuscripts analyzed by a historian.

The legend of St. Ismeria, presented in the current Journal of Medieval History, sheds light on both the Biblical Virgin Mary’s family and also on religious and cultural values of 14th-century Florence.

…Lawless studied the St. Ismeria story, which she said has been “ignored by scholars,” in two manuscripts: the 14th century “MS Panciatichiano 40” of Florence’s National Central Library and the 15th century “MS 1052” of the Riccardiana Library, also in Florence.

This is a risible misinterpretation of the article: Lawless put quotation marks around the word “grandmother” for a reason, and no-where does she claim that the legend might have any basis in historical reality. And while this Florentine variation on the story may have been “ignored by scholars”, the sources are known: Google Books brings up other references for both the  “MS Panciatichiano 40” and for “MS 1052” in the Biblioteca Riccardiana.

“Ismeria” is also sometimes given as “Emeria”, “Esmeria”, “Hesmeria”, or “Hismeria”.

(H/T Robert Cargill and Jim West)

2 Responses

  1. Way to go Discovery News.
    Not much analysis at all, so that makes it news.
    Discovery News!
    I guess.

  2. Oh well, it wouldn’t be Christmas without at least one spurious or woefully misrepresnted story of supposed historical evidence for a biblical figure or event.

    At least its not usual idiot finds star of Bethlehem using Google Earth nonsense, so we should, perhaps, be grateful for small mercies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.