Tag Archives: albrecht durer

The Holy Family and the Mayfly

The Holy Family and the Mayfly by Albrecht Dürer

The month of May is with us and we continue to see signs of new growth and life all around. Not those first buds of spring, but the lush greenness of trees coming into full leaf, ferns unfurling themselves and the first swarm of midges over the pond in the early evening. Having celebrated Easter recently, the gift of new life is very much in our minds as we rejoice in the resurrection of Christ.

This new life we see around us never comes from nothing: the trees are producing new growth from existing branches; the bluebells filling the woods are from bulbs deep in the soil and even the bedding plants waiting to be nurtured for summer colour are from the seed of a plant that bloomed last year. As Jesus said ‘unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’

This is true however brief that life is, and one of the briefest of lives is that of the mayfly, a primitive insect that the German engraver Albrecht Dürer included in his 1495 engraving sometimes known as ‘The Holy Family with the Mayfly’, suggesting a link between heaven and earth. However, Dürer may have intended it as a butterfly, a creature whose dramatically transformative life-cycle makes it a perfect symbol of resurrection and redemption. Whatever its identity, with inoperative mouthparts and digestive systems filled with air, this ephemeral creature, the mayfly, is destined to live only a few hours. It lives and dies purely in order to produce new life; a female typically laying between four hundred and three thousand eggs.  

Jesus’ life similarly could be considered all too brief, yet he tells us that he came that we ‘may have life, and have it abundantly’. We also recognise that the seasons change and all too soon spring will give way to summer with its abundant fruitfulness, before winter will see those fruits awaiting transformation. Through Jesus we are assured that for us this transformation will mean a new and everlasting life. His promise is not necessarily in longevity, but life in all its fullness – so let’s make the most of each and every day, finding in it God’s blessings and sharing them with those around us. 

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!