Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Friday 04 December |
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

The symbolism of swaddling clothes at Jesus' birth

JESUS

Anneka | Shutterstock

Philip Kosloski - published on 12/21/19

The small biblical detail in the Nativity narrative was practical as well as symbolic.

In the Gospel of Luke many small details are given about the birth of Jesus. For example, we read how Mary “wrapped him in swaddling clothes” (Luke 2:7).

This detail can easily be passed over, as parents of newborn children are very familiar with swaddling their infant. The custom of swaddling a child helps them feel comfortable, protects them from the cold weather, and prevents their flailing arms from waking them up.

In fact, there is a particular art in swaddling an infant and if you do it just right, the child will “sleep like a baby.”

If this is such a common practice, why did St. Luke include it in the narrative?

One of the reasons behind the inclusion of this small detail was to link it to the birth of King Solomon, “In swaddling clothes and with constant care I was nurtured” (Wisdom 7:4). It is one of the numerous messianic images that are fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.

The reference to swaddling clothes also has been interpreted by many scholars and saints to be a symbolic connection and foreshadowing of Jesus’ death.

St. Gregory Nazianzen in the 4th century made the connection in one of his homilies, saying, “He was wrapped in swaddling clothes — but He took off the swathing bands of the grave by His rising again.

This is often visually depicted in early Christian iconography in which Jesus is swaddled in such a way that he looks like a mummy, and is even shown in front of the darkness of a cave.

Furthermore, it was a Jewish custom to bind the lambs who were destined to be sacrificed in the Temple, swaddling their legs. Again, this action further solidifies Jesus being known as the “Lamb of God,” who was sacrificed for our salvation.

Other saints saw the swaddling clothes connected to Jesus’ second coming at the end of time. St. Cyril of Jerusalem in the 4th century made this connection while commentating on the Book of Daniel.

We preach not one advent only of Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the former … For all things, for the most part, are twofold in our Lord Jesus Christ: a twofold generation; one, of God, before the ages; and one, of a Virgin, at the close of the ages: His descents twofold; one, the unobserved, like rain on a fleece ; and a second His open coming, which is to be. In His former advent, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger; in His second, He covers Himself with light as with a garment.

This observation by St. Cyril reinforces the two spiritual themes of the season of Advent, on the first coming of Jesus at Bethlehem and his second coming at the end of the world.

The symbolism related in this article is only a small selection of what saints and biblical scholars have seen in the swaddling clothes of Jesus and hopefully presents some more thoughts to ponder during the Christmas season.


PAPIEŻ FRANCISZEK, PASTERKA

Read more:
Pope Francis explains the symbolism of each figure in the Nativity scene




Read more:
The hidden symbolism found in a Christmas creche

Tags:
BibleChristmas
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Top 10
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful...
Andrea Bocelli
J-P Mauro
Andrea Bocelli to perform live Christmas conc...
FATHER JOHN FIELDS
John Burger
Priest who volunteered for COVID-19 vaccine t...
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to t...
Theresa Civantos Barber
Walk with Mary this Advent as a sweet alterna...
THOMAS A KEMPIS IMITATION OF CHRIST
John Burger
12 Historical figures who read 'The Imitation...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.