“Mothers as Artists” by Jane Beal

My article, “Mothers as Artists,” with my poem, “Gold Sparrows,” now appears in Midwifery Today 135 (Fall 2020).


When I was a little girl, I used to watch my mother. She was a calligrapher. My father made a light table for her where she laid down her pages and, bent attentively over the light, she wrote. The light table illuminated a lined page behind an unlined parchment page so that my mother could write a straight script across the parchment without marking lines on the parchment itself. She would write fancy scripts and make lovely flowers, gilded with silver or gold from her tiny paint pots, and create something beautiful: a wedding invitation, a birth announcement, a wall hanging, a bookmark. Her pens had special, pointed nibs that she dipped in black inkwells, from which flowed many precious words, often from scripture and sometimes from poetry. From my mother, I learned that mothers are artists.


Gold Sparrows

Our branches intertwine,
our sparrows are golden in sunlight.

Green curlicues of fabric
frame our lives like leaves—

new life, prophetic art:
a gift marking time.


“The Life of Christ in Medieval Bestiaries: Imagining the Griffin, Lion, Unicorn, Pelican and Phoenix” by Jane Beal

My peer-reviewed chapter, “The Life of Christ in Medieval Bestiaries: Imagining the Griffin, Lion, Unicorn, Pelican, and Phoenix,” now appears in Imagination and Fantasy in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Time: Projections, Dreams, Monsters, and Illusions, ed. Albrecht Classen, Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Culture, Vol. 24 (Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2020), 607-36.


Bestiaries developed the richness of the medieval Christian imagination, the nature of contemplatives’ memory, and their spiritual literacy – that is, their ability to discern the meaning of images of beasts in art, architecture, and other medieval material cultural media based on the beasts’ depiction (esp. their specific iconic markers) and context – as well as in some of the content included in sermons preached in monastic and secular spheres. As repositories for knowledge received about the natural world from Greco-Roman texts and traditions of learning, and Christian allegorical interpretations from the Physiologus, they were enormously influential. To explore how the bestiaries influenced the late-medieval imagination, it is useful to consider what bestiaries are and how they work as contemplative, devotional texts before turning to specific considerations of the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ represented through two beasts and two birds – the lion, unicorn, pelican, and phoenix – in medieval bestiaries in general and in the twelfth-century, deluxe, Latin manuscript known as the Aberdeen Bestiary in particular.

The Aberdeen Bestiary Phoenix (Illuminated)

“Saint Galadriel? J.R.R. Tolkien as the Hagiographer of Middle-earth” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 2.05.38 PM

My peer-reviewed, academic article, “Saint Galadriel? J.R.R. Tolkien as the Hagiographer of Middle-earth,” now appears in the Journal of Tolkien Research 10 (2020): Iss. 2, Art. 2, 1-34.


Galadriel is perceived in different, sometimes contradictory ways both within the world of Middle-earth and the world of Tolkien scholarship. In some ways, she is a liminal figure, on the threshold between Middle-earth and Valinor, and between secular and sacred influences from the primary world Tolkien actually lived in. One neglected context that may help readers to understand Tolkien’s characterization of Galadriel is the medieval cult of the saints.

The cult of the saints provides specific practices and beliefs that shaped how Tolkien consciously characterized Galadriel as saint-like, especially in terms of her beauty, holiness, and power. Her saintliness has Marian qualities, in that female saints were expected to be like the Virgin Mary, but Galadriel is distinctly different from the Virgin Mary in key ways. So she may not necessarily be a figure of “our Lady” in Middle-earth – at least, not in terms of Tolkien’s conscious, authorial intention.

However, in his letters, Tolkien acknowledges the possibility of the formation of an unconsciousconnection between Galadriel and Mary. The late shift in Tolkien’s thinking between characterizing Galadriel as a saint, who “fell” at the kinslaying of the Teleri at Alqualondë because of her “pride” but was redeemed through her penitence and resistance to the temptation of the Ring, to one who is “unstained” and “committed no evil deeds” (Letter 353 To Lord Halsbury) may have been motivated by the perceptions of influential readers of The Lord of the Rings,like Tolkien’s proofreader, Father Robert Murray, S.J.. As this study suggests, Tolkien is not only the sub-creator of Middle-earth, but also the hagiographer of Middle-earth: the man who finally idealizes the Marian qualities of Galadriel in order to inspire us all.

“The Value of the English Major Today” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2020-08-06 at 1.32.05 PM

My peer-reviewed, academic article, “The Value of the English Major Today,” now appears in Humanities 9:3 (2020): 1-11.


This essay explores the value of the undergraduate English major today in terms of the knowledge and skills it develops, graduate school and employment opportunities it provides, and self-actualization and social improvement it fosters. From the perspective of an English department chair, this essay stresses both the tangible and intangible benefits of the study of literature and writing, and it does so as a defense against those that seek to cut funding or devolve English departments. With reference to data from both a small, private, liberal arts college in southern California and national sources to give context, the essay shows how the English major is not only perennially valuable, but particularly valuable today in the midst of the world-wide coronavirus pandemic and the protests that aim to arrest police brutality against African Americans and their communities.


“Powerlessness: Redeeming the Memory of Trauma in _Patience_” by Jane Beal

My peer-reviewed academic article, “Powerlessness: Redeeming the Memory of Trauma in Patience,” now appears in Integrité 19:1 (Spring 2020), 14-36.


This essay on Patience, a fourteenth-century, Middle English poem, explores the parallel between the sense of powerlessness experienced by the poem’s speaker as a result of poverty and the powerlessness experienced by Jonah as a result of his prophetic calling. The speaker’s redemptive healing can be understood in terms of the narrative identification with Jonah and the progression through the Christian contemplative stages of humility, purgation, illumination, maturation, and unification. As the conclusion to the poem shows, this process strengthens the virtue of long-suffering in the speaker, not in isolation, but in community with the readers of the poem.

_Wide Awake & Dreaming_ by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2020-05-25 at 4.56.46 PM

My new haiku micro-chapbook, Wide Awake and Dreaming,
is now available from Origami Poems.

Wide Awake
and Dreaming


morning mist
the mountain

pink hibiscus
the hummingbird


at night, the Lighthouse,
lit up for a wedding
my lover and I walk past

sitting by dark water,
I listen to his heart
the illuminated bridge

a white-crowned sparrow
into the green hedge


my shadow
walks through the shadows
of autumn trees

yellow light on the blue mountains
yellow leaf on the blue road

up the gold hill
a dark tree
white sky


winter rain
against my window
awakens me

the sky turns
white, gray, ash-blue
then, the lightning

on the mountain
my heart full of yearning


white, wind-blown roses
in the rain
thorns scratch my hands

full moon
shining on white roses
little children

white roses
reach up toward white clouds
blue sky 


Ever After

the wind blows
yellow ginko leaves
onto dark, wooden roof shingles

I turn the corner
the moon is still following
me around the bend


  • You can click, download, print, fold, and cut this micro-chap into your own little book! Directions here.

“Lúthien’s Lullaby for Dior” by Jane Beal with Chinese translation by Wingelot

My poem, “Lúthien’s Lullaby for Dior,” now appears in Arda Poetry 2 (2020), in English with a Chinese translation by Wingelot.

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 10.01.27 PM

Lúthien’s Lullaby for Dior
by Jane Beal

Before you, before me, there was my mother,
Melian the Maia, who lived in Valinor,
and served the Valar, and saw the light of the Two Trees
with her own far-seeing eyes.
In the gardens of lovely Lórien,
she took on the form of the fairest Eldar
and taught the nightingales to sing.
She was standing in a glade open to the stars
when my father, Elwë Singollo, came fast to her,
and took her hand, so that, with that touch,
they were both enchanted and stood for years together
as the trees grew around them and the stars wheeled overhead.

I sing a song for you, my son, 
Dior, darling Eluchíl, future King of Doriath! 
I sing a song of love for you, my son – 

Before you were born, I was born,
in the Kingdom of a Thousand Caves, in mighty Menegroth,
in Beleriand, protected by the Girdle of Melian,
and they called me the fairest of the Children of Eru Iluvatar.
I grew and sang and danced, free in my forest of trees,
to the sound of a secret flute, and there, your father
found me, as my mother knew he would, at moonrise,
but I vanished, even as he called me Tinúviel, daughter of twilight.
By doom and by destiny, oath-bound and enchanted,
we two became one on a journey to do justice:
I shifted shape to set your father free, and he
cut the Silmaril from Morgoth’s Iron Crown.

I sing a song for you, my son, 
Dior, darling Eluchíl, future King of Doriath! 
I sing a song of love for you, my son – 

Now I know the future, and the hard sorrow that it holds,
as I look ahead through a veil, like my mother before me,
and I see the wide waterfall of Lanthir Lamath,
and Nimloth, your bride, and Elured and Elurin, your mighty sons,
and Elwing, your darling daughter, the Star-Spray of Night.
I see the defeat of the Dwarves, at your deft hand,
and Nauglamir – ah, Nauglamir! – the necklace you will bring me
to avenge my father’s death, shining with the Silmaril
your father cut from Morgoth’s Iron Crown,
so that I will wear it and so that the Land of the Dead Who Live,
and even this green isle of Tol Galen,
will be filled, in the new year, with the last light of Yavanna’s Two Trees.
One day, your father will die in his last battle,
and I, too, will die, for I have Chosen,
but you will live until you are slain
and descend into the Halls of Mandos.

I sing a song for you, my son, 
Dior, darling Eluchíl, future King of Doriath! 
I sing a song of love for you, my son —

chosen before Time for the triune blood
that flows like a fountain of hope through your veins
from the far-seeing Maiar, the immortal Eldar,
and the swift Edain, your father’s people,
the ones who live and die,
for a doom Eru Iluvatar deems,
and I know, my sweet son, lying innocent in my arms,
that you bear within your beautiful body
the whole future of Middle-earth.

































































注1:本诗涉及的情节和《精灵宝钻》的故事有所出入,疑为托尔金早期写作中的故事版本。注2:简·比尔博士是一位诗人、文学学者,加州大学戴维斯分校的副研究员。她关于J.R.R.托尔金的作品见于《粗糙的魔法》(This Rough Magic)、《托尔金学术期刊》(The Journal of Tolkien Studies),以及《托尔金百科全书》(The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia)。本诗是受克利夫兰州立大学的音乐教授艾琳•玛丽•摩尔委托而创作的,她为其谱曲,并在2016年5月于西密歇根大学举办的第51届中世纪研究国际大会的“托尔金自由创作”分会场上演。她目前正在写作关于中洲神话中的爱与救赎的专题论著。更多信息请见janebeal.wordpress.com。


“A Prayer for Mothers and Children” by Jane Beal

My friend and sister-artist, Laura Tabbut, invited me to write “A Prayer for Mothers and Children” as part of her Liturgy for the World project, which invites everyone, everywhere, to pray for global needs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Screen Shot 2020-04-04 at 3.45.18 PM

O Lord God, Creator of the Universe, Maker of Everything, and Giver of Life, we pray to you today for all pregnant women, new mothers, and all mothers, for their babies, young children, older children, and adult children, whom you have made in your image and whom you love with an everlasting love.

A Prayer for Pregnant Mothers

We pray for pregnant mothers who are afraid of giving birth in hospital, birth center or home because they or their children might be exposed to coronavirus from their healthcare providers or on the surfaces of the environment of their birthplace. Lord have mercy.

Please ease their anxiety and fear, and let them feel your love and your presence. Surround them with your protection and your provision, and bring them safely through childbirth.

A Prayer for New Mothers and Newborns

We pray for all new mothers and newborns who have been exposed to coronavirus, asking you to heal them completely. Lord have mercy. 

Please do not allow new mothers and their newborns to be separated from one another if one tests positive and another does not. Instead, please increase the antibodies to the virus in mothers’ breastmilk so that exposed babies who are nursing will be strengthened in their immune systems and be able to fight off illness by your mighty power at work within them.

A Prayer for All Mothers and Children

We pray for all mothers and their children to be strong and healthy, both physically and emotionally, during this time of pandemic. Lord have mercy.

Please let the bond of love between mothers and their children increase during this time. Let all mothers who are homeschooling their children, as a result of them being at home originally or being sent home to avoid exposure to coronavirus, have the strength and the wisdom to teach their children about those things that really matter at this time, especially the virtues of faith, hope, and love, and patience and long-suffering in the face of difficulty, so that both mothers and children will be built up in their moral character and their spiritual devotion to you.

A Prayer for the Quarantined

We pray for all mothers and their children who are “sheltering in place,” and for all mothers and their children who have no shelter, both in our nation and in all the nations of the world. Lord have mercy. 

Please hide them in the shelter of your wings and give them a home in you. Let them find their place of safety with you. Let them be able to say with the Psalmist: “You are my hiding place. You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance. Whenever I feel afraid, I will trust in you.”

A Prayer for Basic Needs

We pray for all mothers and their children who are without clean water and healthy food and the necessities of life because of shortages from hoarding or from poverty in this time of pandemic. Lord have mercy.

Please provide for all mothers and their children. Please do miracles for them. Please give them water and their daily bread, just as you taught as to ask you in the Lord’s prayer. Please give them living water, which is the salvation, and spiritual food, which is your body and blood. Strengthen them for the journey that is this life.

A Prayer for Mothers Separated from Their Children

We pray for all mothers who are separated from their babies, young children, or adult children at this time, especially due to coronavirus. Lord have mercy.

Please help them not to be afraid, or feel alone, but instead, let them be able to stay connected to one another and to feel loved by one another, through any means of communication available to them (such as video calling, phone calling, email, regular mail) and through the power of your Holy Spirit.

A Prayer for Mothers and Children Experiencing Loss

We pray for all mothers who lose a child, and all children who lose their mother, during this time of pandemic. Lord have mercy.

Please fill mothers and children with a deep sense of your love for them and your presence with them in a time of loss. Let them know that the death is only the valley of the shadow, and you are not the God of the dead, but of the living, because to you, all are alive. We thank you that through your Son, Jesus Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life, we have forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life reunited with you and with everyone that you, through your loving-kindness, died on the Cross to save.


About the Author Jane Beal is a Christ-follower. She is also a writer, educator, and midwife. See https://janebeal.wordpress.com and https://christianmidwife.wordpress.com.


“The Rules of Chess” by Jane Beal

My creative nonfiction piece, “The Rules of Chess,” now appears in The Right Words 9 (2020), 5-6.

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 7.20.06 AM

The Rules of Chess
by Jane Beal

Chess teaches patience, strategy, history, culture, civility, persistence, and how to effectively engage an opponent in an intellectual arena while maintaining an emotionally or socially warm relationship. Chess teaches emotional self-control. It teaches players to recognize, value, and utilize their resources. It teaches hierarchal thinking and symbolism. It reinforces powerful values. These are the rules of chess:


  1. Open well.
  2. Control the center.
  3. Pay close attention to the present position of the pieces on the board AND never forget your goal.
  4. Do not move the same piece twice in a row. Think in terms of maneuvers and combinations.
  5. Be patient. Every move counts. Consider every possible move. Consider every possible response.
  6. Keep in mind the relative value of the pieces — king, queen, castle, bishop, knight, pawn — ALWAYS but especially when making sacrifices.
    • The King is the most valuable.
    • The Queen is the most powerful.
    • The Rook is essential for the endgame.
    • The Bishop and the Knight are of equal value, but they move differently.
    • The pawn has the least value of all but can become the most powerful piece on the board, a Queen, if she can make it to the other side of the board.
  1. Protect pieces as they advance.
  2. Avoid mistakes. Take advantage of the other player’s mistakes. Festina lente.
  3. Learn from every game.
  4. Read about chess, and practice every day.

If you follow these rules, you can not only win at chess but become a chess master.

“The board is set and the pieces are moving.”
~ Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings


Photo by Jessica Wilson

Song of the Selkie by Jane Beal

My new poetry collection, Song of the Selkieis now available for pre-order from Aubade Publishing.

Song of the Selkie


Before reading the book of Ruth, I was sitting in silence:  I saw myself, naked, standing under a waterfall. Bright water was pouring over me.

I looked into the water, and a silver fish leaped up! I caught this fish in my hands. It lay breathing between my palms, one eye looking at me. I let it go, back into the water, and I followed it downward.

Underwater, I found the bed of the stream. There were sparkling-bright jewels lying on the surface of the sandy streambed. I was transformed into a selkie as I was swimming over those gems, my eyes full of light, my lungs full of water, the lower half of my body like the lower half of a powerful seal – full of hidden meaning.

I sat down underwater, curling my tail around me, the upper half of my body floating in the gentle current as I opened the book that appeared between my hands. The pages were wet, of course, but they were not damaged at all. From the pages of the open book, jewels floated upward, hovering in the water before me,

bright and shining.


“Beauty for Ashes” by Jane Beal

My lyric essay, “Beauty for Ashes,” now appears in a new ebook, Laments, edited by Kim Bond (Draw Near Press, 2020), 42-45.

Screen Shot 2020-02-28 at 9.06.29 PM


“During Holy Week, I meditated on the fire that took place in the Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame in Paris, wondering: why now? Why after that beautiful church survived the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, World War I, World War II, and so many other hazards of time and chance? The Cathedral is the heart of Paris, the heart of France: an iconic symbol of nationalidentity, beloved by people all over the world.

Like many others, I felt the fire burning in the Cathedral as a terrible grief and a piercing loss. I have walked around it and inside of it, taken pictures of its towering spires and stained-glass windows, stood beside its statue of my name-saint,Jeanne d’Arc, and fallen in love with itsmajesty while praying in its cool shadows. So much beauty was destroyed in the fire –and for what? I knew the stone foundations were still in place, and still strong, but that did not feel like enough.

Then, I heard two stories related to the fire in the Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame that truly touched my heart and gave me hope that the destruction could be redeemed. The first one is honestly amazing: in response to the crisis of the declining bee population, beekeepers were caring for hives of bees on the rooftop of the cathedral … and the bees survived the fire.”

Three Haiku from “In Search of Tuna Canyon Labyrinth” by Jane Beal

Malibu Beach Near Tuna Canyon

Three of my new haiku, from my haiku series “In Search of Tuna Canyon Labyrinth,” now appear in The Asahi Haikuist.

the rear-view mirror
reveals the snow-capped mountains
as we drive away


sliver of white moon
shining in the deep blue dark
a broken seashell


we look for the maze
but didn’t find it today
the music played on


_Bliss_ by Jane Beal


My new haiku micro-chapbook, Bliss,
is now available from Origami Poems.


sunset over Wales
a girl looks through the window
of a speeding train

from a tower-top
in a big, modern city
the medieval bridge

walking down the hill
to Indian food in Leeds
the blue hydrangea

Museum Gardens
a Yorkshire hedgehog waddles
under a green bush

at Castle Howard
little, brown butterflies
dance in the heather

an old woman sits
on the park bench by herself –
the river flows by


 (Britain, 2019)

  • You can click, download, print, fold, and cut this micro-chap into your own little book! Directions here.



“A Gather of Lesser Goldfinches” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2019-11-04 at 1.52.56 PM

My poem, “A Gather of Lesser Goldfinches,” now appears in the Anglican Theological Review 101:4 (Fall 2019), 732.


The lesser goldfinches have come!
They gather in the November colors

of the California maple tree, whistling as they
turn upside down and eat the seeds,

letting black husks fall to the ground
with the dead leaves, crackling.

The gathering of lesser goldfinches
is a magical crown around the maple tree,

gently turning in gyre,
expanding, contracting, singing

that a new life will come—
a new life, a new life, a new life.


“The Bird of the Soul” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2019-11-01 at 6.11.36 AM

My poem, “The Bird of the Soul: A Psalm of Lament,” now appears in the Jewish Literary Journal 77 (November 2019).

The Bird of the Soul
A Psalm of Lament


I am in love with you.
I need you
to come to me

Why will you not come?

I bow my head in grief.
The tears come from a deep place.
Shana tova,a woman says,
and I understand what she means.

Why will you not come?

How can it be a good thing
if my heart breaks,
and out of the ashes of my heart,
something new grows?

Why will you not come?

O God, perfect heart-builder!
You said he would come to me here.
But he says he will not come.

O God, I am alone without him.
My heart is breaking in pieces,
and it is a new year.


My soul is a bird
in pain.  

My heart is a leaping bird
breaking in flight.

The nest is empty.
The nest is empty now.

When there were nestlings,
a cruel child came

and struck the mud nests
from the wall, so that they fell

and all our nestlings

Now my soul is with the other bird-women,
crying in a wheeling-circle over the nesting place

where there is nothing
except what has fallen

to the ground,
to the ground.

My soul is a bird
in pain. 

My heart is a leaping bird
breaking in flight.


Now it is the Day of Atonement,
and I must atone for my sins.
I know I have sinned, and I blame myself,
and I fear that I have forsaken my blessing
by reaching out to take it too soon.

O Lord God, have mercy on me!
My longing was so great!

If you cut open the pomegranate,
you will see my heart.
My heart is a leaping bird, breaking in flight.

All night I lie dreaming, and nothing
takes away my sorrow.


On Wednesday, I will go outside
and begin to build the outdoor tent, where
I am supposed to live this week and remember
how my ancestors dwelled in tents
in the wilderness before God
brought us into the Promised Land.

I will see the birds fly overhead by day,
and the stars wheel overhead by night.
It is the season of harvest.
Even my dog knows the time.
My womb, however, weeps blood,
again and again and again.


I want to sing the songs that are inside,
each one a little babe –

I want to sing the psalms that save and bind up
bright and broken wings –

songs like lullabies
to little hearts, like lullabies to mine –

but never again sung to rock the cradle,
never again to watch it fall down.

O, how can the childless mother
make a wish in the dark? The silence

is very deep now. The silence
is profound.


“The Song of Dionysius” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2019-10-30 at 2.48.04 PM

My poems, “The Song of Dionysius” and “The Tattoo Artist,” now appear in fws: a journal of literature and art 1:2 (Fall 2019).


I am coming to you
through the wine country
carrying my staff
wrapped in ivy
and dripping with honey.

Come meet me in the fields
of endless pleasure. 

Come to me, Ariadne,
darling princess, royal bride –
you are everything
I want, and I am
everything you want.

Come meet me, singing,
with the epiphany of your body.

I am coming to you
with the fox-skin of new life,
with the heritage of the twice-born,
richer than your wildest dreams,
more intoxicating than golden wine.

Come meet me at dusk, when the peacocks
are crying out from the shadows.

Come with me, and bring
the labyrinth of your heart –
I know the way in, and
I know the way out. My wine
is for your sweet mouth.



_Hail, Radiant Star! Seven Medievalist Poets_ edited by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2019-10-09 at 12.16.37 PM

My new poetry anthology,
Hail, Radiant Star! Seven Medievalist Poets (2019),
is now available from Finishing Line Press.

There are seven poets who have written poems to light up the little universe of the book:  Jane Beal, Gail Berlin, Albrecht Classen, Thom Foy, Katharine Jager, A.J. Odasso, and Katherine Durham Oldmixon (Garza). Each poet has contributed a group of nine poems, and in reading and re-reading these verses, readers may be able to discern themes that unify each group like constellations are connected by stars in the night sky … There are eighty-eight constellations in the night sky. In the microcosmos of Hail, Radiant Star!, there are just seven: the Crown, the Lyre, the Pegasus, the Lion, the Ship’s Keel, the Twins, and the Virgin. Yet hopefully there is enough light from them to brighten a reader’s heart.

–Jane Beal, editor of Hail, Radiant Star!: Seven Medievalist Poets

Screen Shot 2019-10-09 at 8.13.42 PM


The tender scene, so beautiful in the forest,
when the maiden sits in the middle of the path that runs
through the trees, and the unicorn lays his head in her lap:

Incarnation of God! What magic is in the world?
The hunters draw closer, but still, you lie at peace
like a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes

and laid in a manger. The woman with you cannot
imagine how the sword will pierce
her own heart, too.

~ Jane Beal



“Zebel and Salome, the Virgin Mary’s Midwives: Doubt, Faith, and the Miraculous in a Medieval Legend” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2019-09-25 at 9.05.44 PM

My article, “Zebel and Salome, the Virgin Mary’s Midwives: Doubt, Faith, and the Miraculous in a Medieval Legend,” now appears in Midwifery Today 131 (Autumn 2019), 44-46.


“The birth of Jesus is perhaps the most famous birth in the world. It is called the Nativity (meaning “the Birth”) and represented in homes, churches, and communities by iconic Nativity scenes at Christmastime, when it is celebrated by Christians (and many non-Christians) worldwide. Nativity scenes recall figures from the birth and infancy stories of Jesus preserved in the gospels of Matthew and Luke as well as extra-biblical sources, including Christmas carols: a stable with a star shining over it; domesticated animals like the ox, ass, and sheep; angels, shepherds, and Magi (also known as the Wise Men or Three Kings); and Joseph and Mary, come from Galilee to Bethlehem to participate in a Roman census, and of course, the baby Jesus lying in a hay-filled manger.

            “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed –

            the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head;

            the stars in the sky look down where he lay –

            the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”

          “Away in a Manger” (late 19thc.)

Figures that we almost never see depicted in Nativity scenes today are Zebel and Salome, the midwives who were long believed to have attended Mary when she gave birth to Jesus. That’s because no midwives are named, or even mentioned, in the Nativity accounts in the biblical Gospels of Matthew and Luke. But in the late-antique and medieval periods, several well-known written documents and visual sources depict two midwives with Mary when Jesus was born. These midwives, Zebel and Salome, play a vitally important role in such depictions: their doubt and faith, their practical knowledge and spiritual authority, are used to verify the miraculous nature of the virgin birth.”