Declared the Guardian of the Universal Church by Pope Pius IX in 1870, Saint Joseph is one of the most beloved saints in the Christian world today. There are more churches and schools in America named after him than any other saint! Yet many Christians know very little about this important saint, who was such a major figure in the beginning of Our Lord's earthly life.
As with many icons of the saints, Monastery Icons' depiction of Saint Joseph includes the classic elements of portraits of him and reflects the apocryphal accounts of his life. Contrary to statues and paintings that show the saint as a middle-aged man with brown or black hair, he was advanced in years at the time he was betrothed to the Virgin Mary, and thus is portrayed with white hair in our icon. Some accounts, such as the apocryphal "History of Joseph the Carpenter," say he was as old as 90 at the time he was betrothed the adolescent Virgin Mary.
Searching for a righteous man with whom they could entrust the youthful Virgin Mary in marriage, the priests of the Temple called all men of the tribe of Judah to bring their staves into the Holy of Holies. The staff of the righteous old man Saint Joseph miraculously budded, as is depicted in our icon of the saint. And so he was chosen to be the spouse of the Blessed Virgin. Some traditions say that Saint Joseph was a widower at this time, others that he had never married and his "sons" were his nephews and nieces who he adopted upon the death of his sister.
Lilies of Purity
The lilies symbolize purity, reflecting the saint's intent that his marriage to Mary would be a virgin marriage. In the apocryphal account of the Protoevangelium of Saint James, it says that rather than his rod blooming, "a dove came out of the rod and flew upon Joseph's head." In his Gospel Saint Matthew writes of Saint Joseph as "a just man," and so the lilies also echo the verse from Isaiah "The just man shall blossom like the lily."
Saint Luke's Gospel describes in detail Saint Joseph's important role in the eternal drama of Christ's birth, the flight into Egypt, and the finding in the Temple. The apocryphal "History of Joseph the Carpenter" records that at his holy death he was assisted by both Christ and the Blessed Virgin.
Saint Joseph was more or less ignored for the first thousand years of Christianity. He began to receive the attention of Western Christians' prayers in the early second millenium, and his rise to great popularity began in the 16th century with such saints as Saint Teresa of Avila, who placed her formation of the Carmelite under the holy protection of Saint Joseph.
St. Joseph's Patronage
Besides his patronage of the Church, Saint Joseph is also prayed to as the patron of dying people, doubt, hesitation, people in doubt, interior souls, carpenters, craftsmen, engineers, fathers, laborers, and the countries of Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Korea, Mexico, and Vietnam.
In fact, many saints considered Saint Joseph the patron saint of...everything! The recently canonized Saint Andre of Montreal recommended that for every need all Christians should "Ite ad Joseph" – go to Joseph! And the many healings and other miracles that Saint Andre brought about through the intercession of Saint Joseph are testimony to the wisdom of this advice.