Did St. Joseph have a first wife named Melcha?
My mother told me years ago that shortly before St. Joseph was betrothed to Mary, he had been married to a woman named Melcha who bore him a lot of children. Is this true, and where does this story come from?
The story about St. Joseph being married to a woman named Melcha with whom he had six children is taken from apocryphal writings, which have no authority. From the Catholic Encyclopedia’s entry on St. Joseph:
It will not be without interest to recall here, unreliable though they are, the lengthy stories concerning St. Joseph’s marriage contained in the apocryphal writings. When forty years of age, Joseph married a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived 49 years together and had six children, two daughters and four sons, the youngest of whom was James (the Less, "the Lord’s brother"). A year after his wife’s death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Judah a respectable man to espouse Mary, then 12 to 14 years of age. Joseph, who was at the time 90 years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place. These dreams, as St. Jerome styles them, from which many a Christian artist has drawn his inspiration (see, for instance, Raphael’s Espousals of the Virgin), are void of authority; they nevertheless acquired in the course of ages some popularity; in them some ecclesiastical writers sought the answer to the well-known difficulty arising from the mention in the Gospel of "the Lord’s brothers"; from them also popular credulity has, contrary to all probability, as well as to the tradition witnessed by old works of art, retained the belief that St. Joseph was an old man at the time of marriage with the Mother of God. (www.newadvent.org)