By kind permission of the Dean and the Glazing Department, Lincoln Cathedral

Joseph wins Mary. The widowers (left) of Judea wait as the high priest (right) prays for divine guidance in choosing Mary’s future husband, in this detail from the rose window in the northern transept of England’s Lincoln Cathedral. When a dove emerges from Joseph’s staff and sits on his head, the priest insists that Joseph is the one. But Joseph is reluctant to accept Mary. “I’m an old man,” he complains to the priest. “She’s only a young woman. I’m afraid I’ll become the butt of jokes among the people of Israel” (James 9:8).

In this 13th-century stained-glass window, the dove rests not simply on Joseph’s staff, but on a flower that has blossomed from the staff. The flowering staff—an addition apparently inspired by Aaron’s flowering rod in Numbers 17:1–8—is also found in the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, a fifth-century apocryphal gospel based on the Infancy Gospel of James. In art, Joseph’s flowering staff comes to replace the dove motif altogether.