VIRGIN MARY: HER MEANING, SIGNIFICANCE AND EVENTS RELATED TO HER

VIRGIN MARY

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Mary
Mary was the mother of Jesus. Christians believe she was made pregnant miraculously by God while she was still a virgin. It can be argued that Mary is not only the central female figure of Christianity and Catholicism, she is the most prominent female figure in Western culture. Great churches and cathedrals like Chartres and Notre Dame in France and Hagia Sophia in Constantinople were raised in her honor and more medieval and Renaissance paintings were painted of her than any other figure. Visions, appearances and apertures of Mary far outnumber those of Jesus or any Christian saint.

Devotion to the Virgin Mary is a characteristic of Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches but is downplayed in Protestant churches which views worshipping Mary as taking away from the devotion to Jesus. Based on the number of books written about her (3,595 in 1999 the Library of Congress collection), the Virgin Mary is the world's most famous woman. The elevation of Mary to a high position in Christianity has largely occurred without backing of the Bible. Part of Mary's appeal is her vulnerability and humanness and her adaptability to folk myth. There is something very approachable about her and she is particularly loved by the poor.

According to the BBC: “Mary has always been a central figure in Christianity. She's always been absolutely key, right from that moment early in Luke's Gospel when she's told "Blessed are you amongst women". The interesting thing for modern scholars is that she's being reassessed because we've become much more sensitive to female characters in the biblical story and because female characters in the biblical story are often quieter than the men. In a contemporary world we want to reimagine Christian origins and involve women much more. And one of the most important women in that story is Mary, of course, and that's why it's worth hearing her voice in a fresh way. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

“One of the reasons that Mary has maintained her popularity is that there were all the makings in the biblical text for a fascinating story, and yet with much of the detail missing. Often when details are missing, tradition will do its own part in trying to fill in those details and imagine those details to make that person's life a little bit fuller and understand a bit more about them. |::|

“Reflecting on stained glass images of Mary in a Norfolk church, Sister Wendy Beckett thinks that Mary's popularity in the Middle Ages was due to her depiction as a caring mother. One of the roles that Mary fulfils is the mother that we see in early Christianity; she's the role model for mothers. She also plays an important role throughout Christian history in providing us with a female that's right at the heart of events. Christianity, after all, can be a fairly male-dominated affair. The Holy Trinity always sounds to contemporary feminists rather male dominated; there's a Father, a Son and there's a Holy Spirit, and the characters in the New Testament are all male. But here we actually have somebody who we can interact with as a female in Christian tradition. |::|

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Early Christianity: Elaine Pagels website elaine-pagels.com ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Gnostic Society Library gnosis.org ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians pbs.org ; Guide to Early Church Documents iclnet.org; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex ; Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Saints and Their Lives Today's Saints on the Calendar catholicsaints.info ; Saints' Books Library saintsbooks.net ; Saints and Their Legends: A Selection of Saints libmma.contentdm ; Saints engravings. Old Masters from the De Verda collection colecciondeverda.blogspot.com ; Lives of the Saints - Orthodox Church in America oca.org/saints/lives ; Lives of the Saints: Catholic.org catholicism.org Jesus and the Historical Jesus ; Britannica on Jesus britannica.com Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories earlychristianwritings.com ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Jesus Seminar Forum virtualreligion.net ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ bible.org ; Jesus Central jesuscentral.com ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ newadvent.org

Books: In Search of Mary by Sally Cunneen (Balantine, 1996); Mary Through the Centuries by Jroslav Pelikan (Yale University Press, 1996)

Female Presence in Christianity

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da Vinci's Virgin
Where is the feminine in the outwardly male-dominated Christianity? According to the BBC: “Any outsider walking into a Christian church could be forgiven for thinking that Christianity is a very male affair - you hear a lot about God the Father and God the Son, and of course in some of the largest churches, the person who represents Christ at the altar - the priest - is also a man. Judaism and Islam are similarly male-dominated. “Where can we find those aspects of God which are really feminine - such as the nurturing, motherly side? And what does it mean for women to be worshipping a God who they think of as male, when there's no equally divine female by his side? The trouble with the Father and the Son for many women is that it sounds too much like two buddies. It's like two buddies going on a trip, or a father-son relationship from which women are excluded. |[Source: August 3, 2011, BBC |::|]

Andrew Walker, Professor of Theology and Culture at King's College in London says the Holy Trinity of Christianity, consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, isn't quite as male as it may at first appear. He rold the BBC: “Christianity is particularly interesting because officially, and I'm being orthodox here, out of the Holy Trinity, the three Gods in one, only one is male. That is the incarnate son, the second version of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, because he was born a man. God the father has a male name, but we know that procreation doesn't occur in spiritual world, so the only reason that Christianity ever came to call God father is because Jesus did. [Source: Andrew Walker, Professor of Theology and Culture, King's College, London, August 3, 2011, BBC |::|]

“A number of Christian feminists in the 1980s and 90s reclassified the Holy Spirit as feminine. I'll tell you what went wrong. What went wrong was that they turned the Holy Spirit into a typical Cinderella kind of character, so you had God the Father who was the big boss, then you had the second big boss who was Jesus his son, and then you had his sister who still had to defer to the son and the father. So making the Holy Spirit feminine actually turned her into a caricature of precisely the sort of woman that feminists were trying to get away from.” |::|

Is Mary a Goddess?

Andrew Walker of King's College, London told the BBCL “The devotion pilgrims show to Mary the Mother is very similar to the devotion of Hindus to their Mother Goddess Amman, or the worship of the Mother of the Earth by those who've revived Goddess spirituality in the West. But Mary is definitely not a goddess, nor part of the Holy Trinity.. [Source:, August 3, 2011, BBC |::|]

According to the BBC: “Many people, Protestants particularly, object to the figure that Mary has become. She is seen almost as a goddess figure, possibly derived from the fact that many Pagans became Christians in the early centuries of the church and they believed in goddesses, so Mary became to them the goddess. Many people would say that was something that went wrong with Christianity. There's nothing about Mary being a goddess in the New Testament. “Jesus is God and human so therefore Mary is simply human. Christian theology has always maintained that she was a human being and not God, but nevertheless, she was a human being in a very important and intimate place in the story of Jesus.


Greco-Roman goddess Diana

“There have been many images of Mary through the centuries. Some have derived from the Bible, such as the image from the book of Revelation showing Mary with a crown of 12 stars. She represents the early church with the 12 tribes of Israel represented by the stars. There have been images of Madonna and child; Mary seated in a chair with the child on her lap. Some of these images look very similar to images that we know about from some of the pagan goddesses at the time. |::|

“Isis, for example, was seated in such a chair with the infant Horus on her lap in the same way. When Christianity was spreading across the Empire, it's clear that it deliberately took images from the pagan world in which it lived and into which it spread and used those images. Old holy wells and shrines were turned into Christian shrines. In Egypt a shrine of Isis was deliberately and self-consciously re-created as a shrine of Mary. |::|

“One of the important cities for Mary was Ephesus, where the goddess Diana was worshipped. It's not surprising that Mary drew upon the imagery associated with the goddesses, because that was the imagery the people knew. In the same way, we have imagery of Christ with a triumphant crowd looking like an emperor. |::|

Women in Mary's Time

According to the BBC: “Jewish women in first century Palestine had very limited legal and economic rights. It's particularly in the domain of economic rights that this is a big problem. When a girl was in the household of her father, any work that she did or wages that she earned would belong to her father. Once she married, her wages and products that she made belonged to her husband. There were very few times when she would have any sense of financial and economic autonomy. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

“A woman didn't have the right to divorce her husband, but he could divorce her. If she divorced she would lose her children as well. Most inheritances that she received would go straight to her husband. The husband would maintain legal responsibility for the children. |::|


Catacombe of Priscilla

“We have multiple sources for knowing about women's lives in 1st century Roman Palestine. There are literary sources such as the Bible, texts from writers such as Josephus and Pliny and the Apocryphal texts (although these have to be read with a pinch of salt as they refer to a slightly later time). There are the early Rabbinic materials, which provide a good deal of information. There's also archaeological evidence and material culture to give us clues about how women lived and what kind of houses they lived in. There is a great deal of information about Roman women's lives in Roman texts and novels throughout the provinces of Rome. |::|

“Mary, like most Jewish women and girls of her time, would have spent most of her day working. Almost as soon as she could walk she would have been helping out with the many chores it took to keep daily life going. Stoves needed to be tended, beds needed to be made, homes need to be kept in repair, food needed to be prepared, animals needed to be tended whether one was on a farm or in a village. Food needed to be prepared for the future, so meat and vegetables needed to be preserved for future times as well. Water had to be drawn from cisterns and from wells. An incredible amount of work had to be done every day and it was done primarily by women and girls. |::|

“People at this time ate a fairly straightforward diet. Most days people would have eaten lots of bread from wheat or barley, cereals or gruels. Olives, dates and figs were also eaten. Meat was eaten every now and again, usually after a big festival and the slaughtering of a lamb or goat. A lot of wine was drunk too. |::|

Holy Land in Mary’s Time

According to the BBC: “Politically Mary would have lived at quite a difficult time. She would have seen the end of the reign of Herod the Great and all the revolts that accompanied the end of his reign. She would have seen the Roman Legions coming in to Galilee to put down these revolts and all the atrocities associated with the legions. |::|


model of an ancient synagogue

“We know from Jewish writings of the time that the Romans burnt cities and took people away into slavery. Galilee was politically fairly stable throughout most of Jesus' lifetime but there would have been isolated pockets of resistance and certainly no one would have liked the idea that Judea to the south was a Roman province, or that the Romans were present in the Holy City of Jerusalem and in the temple itself. |::|

“Galilee in the 20s was occupied by Romans and would have been an oppressing place for the Jews. If a Roman soldier said "you've got to carry my backpack one mile", they'd have to do it; they had no option. The Romans forced the Jews to pay taxes to Caesar. At night they might have heard the soldiers march by with their swords clanging, and they would have been afraid. |::|

“One can imagine there was talk about trusting in God and that maybe in their lifetime he would send a Messiah. The Jews, as they became more and more oppressed, may have became more and more obsessed with God. They may have thought that this could be the time for the Saviour to come. And it was in this highly charged theological atmosphere that Mary wove her way to the well, perhaps holding in her arms the infant Jesus. |::|

Marriage and Pregnancy Out of Wedlock in Mary’s Time

Mary was young According to the BBC: “Later Rabbinic sources tell us that Jewish girls could be betrothed as early as 12 years and a day or any time after the age of twelve and a half. The actual marriage involved two stages. First of all there was the betrothal and then - after an interval of several months, perhaps a year - the young girl would have been taken to the house of her husband to be and at that moment, once they started to live together, they were considered properly married. |::|


Mary and Joseph's betrothal

“This could have been quite a traumatic process for a young girl; to leave behind her mother and father and all the people she was used to, and go to live in an alien household. The choice of husband was made by the family, not by the girls themselves. It was a legal agreement between the father and the husband. Girls did not have a part in that legality. |::|

“ A girl who became pregnant out of wedlock would have been terrified. The whole social structure was set up for children to be born within marriage. Genealogy and ownership of children was seen as very important. Girls who became pregnant outside marriage would probably have had to leave their homes and their families. |::|

“There was the potential of being sold into slavery or of being stoned to death. She may have been married off quickly or banished from her home and village, which may have led a women to prostitution or slavery when she had no way of supporting herself. According to the New Testament Joseph, after being visited by an angel, decided not to send her away or to expose her but to marry her. |::|

Mary and the New Testament

Jesus’s mother Mary was teenager believed to be around 14 when Jesus was born. It was not unusual for Jewish girls like Mary to get married at an early age. There are few mentions of Mary in the Bible. They include: 1) when Mary is told by an angel that she will conceive the son of God even though she was a virgin (Luke 1:26-38); 2) The manger scene when she gives birth to Jesus (Luke 2:15-19). 3) when she and Jesus’s brother appear to Jesus while he is speaking to a crowd (Matthew 12:46-50); 4) when she urges Jesus to perform his first miracle (turning water into wine) (John 2:1-7); and 5) her appearance at the crucifixion (John 19:25-27).

Mary holds a special place because it believed that as the mother of Jesus none of the things that Christ did would have been possible if she didn’t give birth to him first. Some Christians believe that God gives his grace through Mary to women and through them to men. Christians have a special prayer for Mary: “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of the womb. Jesus, Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

Many Protestants believe that after Jesus was born Mary no longer remained a virgin and had children with Joseph the normal way. They were all born after Jesus, making the virgin birth more plausible. Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe that Mary was virgin her entire life.


Mary's Well in Nazareth

“The story of Mary comes in all sorts of different contexts of the New Testament and we have to piece the different bits together. Matthew tells us a little bit, Luke tells us some different things, Mark doesn't tell us very much, John tells us some different things again. It's not one big coherent story that takes you from her birth to her death. We just have little spotlights of certain parts of her life. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

“The New Testament is quite disappointing in some ways because it doesn't tell us as much about Mary as we'd like to know. The place that we find most about Mary from is Luke's gospel. Luke thinks that Mary is one of the key characters in the drama so he tells the whole story of Jesus' birth from Mary's perspective. In particular, Luke writes about the time of the conception of Jesus and exactly what Mary was thinking, what she was doing, what her reactions were when the Angel Gabriel talked to her. |::|

“Other parts of the New Testament tend to be rather negative about Mary. Matthew tells the story from a traditional male perspective. He sees the whole story from Joseph's perspective. Mark's gospel tends to lump her together with Jesus' family and regards her as being someone who stands in the way of Jesus and his gospel and his message. |The gospel writers don't actually want to tell very much about Mary unless the action is really revolving around something important about Jesus. |::|

“Mary does appear outside the New Testament, but the documents start looking very much like pieces of ancient fiction. The best source for her is a document from the second century called the Proto-Evangelium of James. It's a parochial text and it talks in great detail about her parents, her upbringing, her age when she conceived Jesus and so on. The disappointing thing about it is that most of it is probably made up. |::|

“The fact that Mary is in the New Testament at all is significant because it deals with Jesus and the growth of the early church; there's actually very little reason to mention anything at all about Mary. The New Testament tells us very little about his father Joseph so the fact that she's prominent shows that there was some interest in Mary in the early church years. |::|

“It is important to remember that all of the gospels were written significantly later than the death of Jesus. Matthew and Luke, who do refer to Jesus' birth, were probably written almost a century later than his birth. Each of the gospels was composed in a different environment at a different time with particularly different interests in mind. Each one of them has a slightly different theological overtone, each of them is writing for slightly different purposes and thus each has its own particular traits. |::|

“There are very few references to Mary outside the New Testament. Later Jewish writings refer to her by her Jewish name, Miriam, and say that she's a hairdresser and that Jesus is the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier called Panthera. The problem with these references is they are at least from the 200s - quite possibly as late as the 500s - so they're substantially later than the New Testament and probably reflect a lot of the hostility between Jewish and Christian groups at that late date.

Immaculate Conception

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Imaculate Concepcion
According to the BBC: “The immaculate conception of Mary has no historical basis at all. This is something that was invented by later Christians to extend the idea of her holiness. The purity, the perpetual virginity, all of those kind of themes end up with Mary (as well as Jesus) having to be conceived immaculately. One of the difficulties that many people today have with the virgin birth is not so much historical, the idea that it couldn't happen, but theological; the idea that it must have happened in order for Jesus not to have had any sin. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

“Early Christians like Augustine tended to think that Adam's original sin was passed on in the act of sex and that therefore in order for Jesus to be holy and sinless it was necessary for him not to have been born from parents who had had sex. Theologically people now have more problems with the Virgin Birth than they would have done in the past. In the past it was almost necessary to have a virgin birth in order to get Jesus out of this rather sticky difficulty of having been born with ordinary human parents who'd had sex. |::|

“The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary, the mother of Christ, was conceived without sin and her conception was thus immaculate. Mary's sinless conception is the reason why Catholics refer to Mary as "full of grace". The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated by Catholics on December 8th each year. |::|

“There are two mistakes that people often make about the Immaculate Conception: 1) Many people confuse the Immaculate Conception with the "virgin birth"; the belief that Mary gave birth to Jesus while remaining a virgin. They are not the same thing. 2) A less common mistake is to think that the Immaculate Conception means that Mary was conceived without sexual intercourse. In fact Mary had ordinary human parents who conceived her in the usual manner.” |::|

In his book What the Gospels Meant , the writer and thinker Gary Wills said it “is not gynecological or obstetric teaching, but a theological one.” The historical Jesus scholar Raymond Brown said, Matthew and Luke “regarded the virginal conception as historical, but the modern intensity about historicity was not theirs.”

Annunciation


The Annunciation (“Announcement”) marks the announcement by an angel that Mary will become pregnant and give birth to Jesus. According to the Bible, Mary became mysteriously pregnant while a virgin betrothed to Joseph, who considered divorcing her.

In Luke the angel Gabriel delivers the news to Mary, greeting her with the often recited, “Hail, Mary, full of grace.” According to Luke 1:30-35, 38: "And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall give the him name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever.'"

"And Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I have no husband?' And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the son of God'...And Mary said, 'Behold, I am a handmaiden of the Lord, let it be me according to your word."

In Matthew an unnamed angel brings news to Joseph. In Matthew 1:20-21: "an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.'"

Catholic and Protestant Views on the Immaculate Conception

According to the BBC: Mary received God's grace from the first moment of her existence, and was totally and completely redeemed by this grace. Because she was redeemed, Mary spent her whole existence in a perfect relationship with God. God did this so that Mary would be worthy to be the mother of God. Pope Pius X said in 1904: “to the Christian intelligence the idea is unthinkable that the flesh of Christ, holy, stainless, innocent, was formed in the womb of Mary of a flesh which had ever, if only for the briefest moment, contracted any stain.” [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

“Mary received this redeeming grace not because of any merits of her own, but because God freely gave her the gift of his love. Christians believe that God's redeeming grace is available to all believers: those who accept the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception regard Mary as the perfect example of the redeeming action of God's grace, and believe that Mary was only able to receive this grace because Christ would later redeem all humanity through his death on the cross. |::|

“Chosen in advance to be the Mother of the incarnate Word, Mary is at the same time the first-fruits of his redeeming action. The grace of Christ the Redeemer acted in her in anticipation, preserving her from original sin and from any contagion of guilt. This is an ancient teaching, but it remains controversial to some Protestants because it is not explicitly referred to in the Bible. Early Protestant thinkers were more devoted to Mary than some of their successors. Martin Luther, for example, was a firm believer in the Immaculate Conception. He said his sermon “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God”: “The infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin...From the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.”


Immaculate Conception

“A 2005 report by Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians found common ground for this belief when it stated that: “In view of her vocation to be the mother of the Holy One (Luke 1:35), we can affirm together that Christ's redeeming work reached 'back in Mary to the depths of her being, and to her earliest beginnings. This is not contrary to the teaching of Scripture, and can only be understood in the light of Scripture. Roman Catholics can recognize in this what is affirmed by the dogma - namely 'preserved from all stain of original sin' and 'from the first moment of her conception.' |::|

“The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed as infallible by Pope Pius IX in the bull (formal proclamation) Ineffabilis Deus in 1854, and thus is an important article of faith for Roman Catholics. Before proclaiming the doctrine the Pope took steps to see whether the Church as a whole agreed by asking 603 bishops whether he should proclaim the Immaculate Conception; 546 (90%) said that he should. Bernadette's vision at Lourdes in 1858, where Mary revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception, put the stamp of God's approval on the doctrine. |::|

Pope Pius IX in his Ineffabilis Deus (1854) said: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.”

Virgin Birth

According to the BBC: ““In the New Testament, many of the women characters are either so holy and pure that it's unrealistic, or they're prostitutes. And Mary falls into the category of being holy and pure and absolutely without sin; and she carries on in that trajectory right through the tradition so that she gets more and more holy and her virginity is stressed more and more and her holiness throughout her whole life is stressed, so that she too becomes sinless. She is assumed into heaven rather than having to die, she herself gets born of an immaculate conception; so you get a development in the idea of the perpetual virginity, because she's begun a journey to becoming ever more holy, ever more pure which in the end can only end up with those concepts of perpetual virginity. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

“The virgin birth is a very powerful story which explains the theological truth that Jesus is the son of God - not just the son of God from his resurrection or from his baptism, as perhaps the gospel of Mark might suggest, but the son of God from the moment of his conception. |To what extent it's historical is much more difficult to analyse. One of the difficulties is that we hear nothing at all of a virgin birth tradition, until late in the first century. Only in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, which were probably written in the 80s or 90s of the first century, is there a mention of the virgin birth. |::|

“Another difficulty with the virgin birth idea is that the texts in Matthew and Luke are clearly overlaid with references to the Old Testament. They're evocative of the typical Old Testament annunciation narrative: the angel going down to one or two of the parents; the insurmountable problem, which usually in the Old Testament is the fact that the parents are elderly or barren; the angel proclaiming that the problem is going to be surmounted; and the birth ensues. It's very similar to the stories about the birth of Isaac or the birth of Samson or Samuel. Matthew and Luke are indebted to the Old Testament and they're drawing on these Old Testament ideas. The story of the birth of Jesus has to be even better. Mary can't be an elderly barren woman: instead she's a young girl who's also a virgin. |::|

Miraculous Greco-Roman Births and Jewish Virgins


Mary's Conception

The idea of a virgin birth was nothing new. The Romans used the idea in a story about birth of Caesar and his conception by the God Apollo. According to a prophecy in the Book of Isaiah the Messiah, would be born to a “virgin.” Some historians have suggested the idea of the miraculous birth may been constructed to hide accusations that Jesus was a bastard and that he father was a Roman soldier named Panthera. The notion of Immaculate Conception, that Mary was preserved from original sin by virtue of a special grace from God, is a Catholic concept made infallible dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854.

According to the BBC: “There were lots of stories of miraculous births in Greco-Roman society. Famous figures tended to attract these stories as people speculated on what it would have been like to be present at the birth of such a person. Astrology was also important, so it was felt that if a person was going to be very prominent their fate was already preordained, that in their horoscope one would see how wonderful they were going to be. It's not surprising they began to think that perhaps their birth was miraculous and wonderful. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

“In the Greek and Roman system of gods and goddesses, the goddesses themselves could be said to be virgin mothers. Athene and Artemis were regarded as virgins. They gave birth and then dipped themselves into the rivers so their virginity was renewed. |::|

“The Greek and Roman stories are not quite the same as the virgin birth stories in the gospels. They differ in that there's a male god and a human mother and the male god comes down to earth and impregnates the mother in a very graphic way. In the gospel stories there's no mention of God or the Holy Spirit taking the form of a human being and actually coming down and impregnating Mary. |::|

“The word virgin developed in western culture has become a synonym for purity and good behaviour. But virginity in Jewish society at the time that we are talking about was about ensuring that the new husband wasn't getting second hand merchandise. Virginity was only important for the moment of the first marriage. The first marriage was more important; for example, in the Jewish marriage contract for a first marriage they paid twice as much as for a second marriage. Virgins went out on the wedding procession with their hair open and flowing so that everyone could see and it would then be remembered that she had been a virgin when she entered her husband's house at that event. In fact after a while, instead of being a prize, virginity became a burden. We know this from several Jewish burial inscriptions where women were buried and the messages of mourning on their tomb say how sad it was that she died a virgin.” |::|

Was Mary Raped?

According to the BBC: “There was an ancient legend from the Jewish side that Mary was the victim of a rape. They even gave us the name of the Roman soldier who was supposed to have carried out this rape: a man called Panthera, which apparently was quite a common name for Roman soldiers. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

“Recently some scholars looked at this theory and decided it was simply an ancient slur, anti-Christian slander made up in the second century to try to prevent belief in Jesus. Some say that perhaps it isn't so impossible as previously we thought. There are certain clues in the New Testament to suggest that Mary was in quite a terrible state after the beginning of the pregnancy. The fact that she went in great haste to see Elizabeth. The fact that she talks about herself as a "lowly handmaid": why is she lowly? Some people believe the lowliness was because she was actually the victim of a crime. |::|

“The strength of the idea is that just as Jesus in his crucifixion identifies with those who suffer, Mary, as victim of rape, is somebody that women who suffer can identify with. |The problem of the theory is that Jesus could have been the son of a Roman soldier, which is even more unpalatable for people than the idea that Mary wasn't a virgin. The idea that Jesus was somehow genetically dependent upon a rapist is more difficult to swallow and it would take a tremendous radical leap of faith to accept that kind of theory. |::|

Mary Still a Virgin When Jesus Was Born


According to the BBC: “The book of James establishes that Mary was a virgin during the birth of Jesus - in other words she remained intact, physically, despite the birth, which is miraculous. It led to later speculation that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life, before her pregnancy, during the birth of Jesus, and after. The book of James begins to speculate on the birth of Jesus in quite graphic detail. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

“The idea that Mary is intact comes from the idea that she suffers no pain. This is theologically important to the early Christians because of the curse, mentioned in Genesis, of the two human beings who are responsible for the fall. Adam's curse is to work in sweat in the fields and Eve's curse is to bear children in pain. The idea that Mary and Jesus are free of sin, that they are immaculate, leads us to think that Mary wouldn't suffer the pain of Eve, that she would have a painless birth. |::|

“Some would argue that this makes her rather distant from the ordinary woman. The way that the tradition has dealt with that is to say she had a painless birth but she wasn't without pain because she saw her son die on the cross. |::|

“The great tradition of Mary as the "Mother of Sorrows" comes into being and there are often depictions of Mary as a woman in tears, of a woman laid low by grief. John's gospel refers to the crucifixion as a laborious birth, so if Mary does have a painful birth in the Christian tradition she has it at the crucifixion. |::|

Was Mary at the Crucifixion?

It is plausible that Mary was present at the Crucifixion. On the Gospel of John explicitly places her at the Cross but there are hints that she was there in the other gospels. According to the BBC: “In John's Gospel she's actually placed at the Crucifixion; Mary stands with the disciples, and they're entrusted to one another's care by the dying Jesus from the cross. But it's unlikely that Jesus would have been able to communicate with anyone from the cross. In the other gospels the relatives of Jesus stand at a distance and Jesus wouldn't have been able to have a conversation with them. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

“What does seem to be historically accurate is that Mary was in Jerusalem at this time. She could conceivably have been at the crucifixion. It's difficult to work out what happened to Mary after Jesus' crucifixion. The last reference there is to her comes early in Luke's second volume, The Acts of the Apostles. Luke was the only one of the gospel writers to write a second volume. He mentions Mary being in Jerusalem not long after the crucifixion. The other possibilities are either that she went home to Nazareth and went to live with family there, or she went to Ephesus and lived with the "beloved disciple" who's mentioned in John's gospel. |::|

Mary After the Crucifixion: Jerusalem or Ephesus?


Mary and other women at the tomb during Christ's Resurrection

“The story of Mary after the beginning of Acts is not known but there are traditions about it and it's important as part of the Christian story. Mary was associated with a beloved disciple in John's gospel and Jesus says the beloved disciple is to take her to his home. Women had to be looked after by men in that society so when Jesus could no longer look after her, the beloved disciple looks after her. The beloved disciple, who is not named in John's gospel, is identified later as being John. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

“Traditions vary. One tradition is that Mary stayed in Jerusalem, died in Jerusalem and Jerusalem claims her tomb. The reasoning for this is that we know James, her son (or her step-son), was there. Moreover, when James died, a cousin of Jesus' called Simeon became the next leader of the Church in Jerusalem. This suggests that there was a family enclave in Jerusalem. If this is the case then it makes it quite likely that Mary was one of the people who stayed there and held them all together. In a sense Jerusalem claims that Mary was the mother of the church in Jerusalem and James stayed in Jerusalem. But James himself had to flee Jerusalem when things got very difficult so perhaps Mary had to leave Jerusalem at some point.” |::|

Another “possibility is that Mary went to Ephesus some time after Jesus' death and resurrection. The reason for this theory is that John, the Beloved Disciple, is supposed to have written his gospel from there and this same John is said to have been at the cross with Mary when Jesus entrusted each of the disciples to each other. Ephesus is relatively unlikely to be the place where Mary went. The idea is purely based on the tradition of her association with John and John's gospel. At the beginning of the 19th century an interesting German nun had a vision about Mary's life. In that vision she saw Mary's life ending in Ephesus and she also described the house where Mary lived. As a result of that vision archaeologists dug up a house which is very similar to the one she described and this is now revered as Mary's house. |::|

“Mary may have died not long after Jesus' death and resurrection. Even if she was very young when she gave birth to Jesus she would have been in her forties, at the youngest, at this stage, which is already very good by ancient life expectancy, especially for a woman who's given birth.” |::|

In Turkey, the location of Ephesus, Mary “replaced Artemis, one of the Greek goddesses. When Christianity began to spread beyond the Holy Land, it arrived in areas where other gods and goddesses reigned. Christians now sing hymns at the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Ephesus on the west coast of Turkey. But before Mary came, the Greek goddess Artemis was worshipped there, and there was a large temple in her honour. The Christian Bible records how craftsmen who made silver shrines to Artemis railed against the newly arrived Christians who were threatening their trade.“But their protests were in vain - as Christianity gained a following in Ephesus, Mary replaced Artemis in the affections of the people. Mary even assumed many of the Greek goddess's titles, such as "Queen of Heaven" and "Mother of God". [Source: Andrew Walker, Professor of Theology and Culture, King's College, London, August 3, 2011, BBC |::|]

Assumption of Mary

According to the BBC: Roman Catholics believe the doctrine of the Assumption, which teaches that at the end of her life, Mary, the mother of Christ, was taken body and soul (i.e. both physically and spiritually) into heaven to live with her son (Jesus Christ) for ever. Human beings have to wait until the end of time for their bodily resurrection, but Mary's body was able to go straight to heaven because her soul hadn't been tainted by original sin. [Source: July 21, 2011, BBC |::|]

“Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on August 15th each year. Eastern Orthodox Christians, following the Julian calendar, mark the event as the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, or the Dormition of the the Most Holy Mother of God on 28th August. |::|


Assumption of Mary


“This is an ancient teaching, first found in the 5th century, but it remains controversial to Protestants because it is not explicitly referred to in the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church bases the doctrine on other valid authority. |::|

“A report in 2005 by Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians found common ground (but not common authority) for belief in the Assumption: ...we can affirm together the teaching that God has taken the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of her person into his glory as consonant with Scripture and that it can, indeed, only be understood in the light of Scripture. Roman Catholics can recognize that this teaching about Mary is contained in the dogma. [Source: 2005 report by Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians] |::|

“The doctrine of the Assumption was proclaimed as infallible by Pope Pius XII on All Saints Day 1950 in the bull (formal proclamation) Munificentissimus Deus. We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. — Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, 1950 |::|

“This made it an important article of faith for Roman Catholics. This was only the second time that a Pope had proclaimed a doctrine to be infallible. The first was the Immaculate Conception, another doctrine that concerns Mary. The Pope justified the Assumption not on Biblical authority but largely on: 1) the "universal consensus of the Church"; 2) the theological "suitability" of the doctrine." |::|

Universal Consensus, Theological Suitability and the Assumption

According to the BBC: “The "universal consensus of the Church" means that what the Church as a whole teaches and believes must be treated as a revealed and thus indisputable truth. The Church can only reach such a consensus through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit cannot be wrong. [Source: July 21, 2011, BBC |::|]

“This doesn't mean that Church doctrine cannot change - theologians use the idea of dogmatic progression, by which human ideas, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, slowly develop towards the real truth. Once the real truth is established, the "universal consensus" of the Church then confirms it as an eternal truth. |::|

“Before proclaiming the doctrine Pope Pius XII made sure that there was really was a consensus in the Church. In 1946 he wrote to all the Roman Catholic bishops to ask them a) whether they thought the Assumption should become Catholic dogma, and b) whether the priests and the laity agreed with them. 99% of the bishops said yes. |::|

According to the BBC: “The other main argument for the Assumption was that it fitted well with other Catholic teaching, and would reinforce believers' faith that they too would eventually go to heaven. The Assumption was also clearly in harmony with other Catholic ideas about Mary: 1) Her immaculate conception; 2) Her perpetual virginity; 3) Being the mother of God. Theologians argued that the Mother of God could not be separated from God, and so must have been taken up to be with him in heaven. |::|

History of Mary

20120507-Dormition_of_Virgin_Mary_at_Troyan.JPG
Dormition of the Virgin Mary
Although she is mentioned only a few times in the Bible she is regarded as the mother who gives life and the Pieta who revives the dead. Quotes like "Mary so lived the world...that she gave her only begotten son" appeared in prayers long after the Bible was written.

The first prayer devoted to her did not appear until the A.D. 3rd century, but since then the Mary movement has intensified. After asceticism became established as a virtue she was described as a virgin for eternity. In A.D. 431, at the Council of Ephesus, she was honored as the Theotokos (the Godbearer of Mother of God).

A popular medieval story recounts the purported experience of Theophilus of Cilicia, a 6th century ecclesiastic figure who made a pact with the devil to exchange his soul for a powerful and profitable position in the church. When the devil appeared and demanded payment the Virgin Mary intervened on Theophilus’s behalf and descended into hell and pulled him away from the devil and vouched before God that he had repented. The story helped elevate Mary’s status and was an inspiration for Marlow’s Doctor Faustus and Goethe’s Faust , whose witty, garrulous devil Mephistopheles also shaped our modern concept of Satan.

Mary and Catholics

The Virgin Mary, Jesus’s mother, is highly esteemed in the Catholic Church. She is regarded as and intermediary between Catholics and God as is often referred to as "Our Lady," "Blessed Mother," or even “Mother of God." Mariology (or "Marion devotion," Marianism has a negative connotation) has grown as a kind grass roots purist movement rather than a declaration by the Pope or the Vatican. One priest told the Washington Post, "We do view her as the first saint, the most important saint. Christ is more important. Christ is divine. Mary isn't. Mary is human."

The belief in the Immaculate Conception---that the Virgin Mary was freed of original sin by virtue of a special grace from God at the moment of conception---is a widely held belief among Catholics. In 1854, Pope Pius IX invoked the doctrine of papal infallibility to make the Immaculate Conception an infallible dogma even though it is not clear whether the conception refers to her conception or Jesus’s.

Mary is not buried anywhere because, according to the Catholic scripture but not the Bible, when she died she rose into the sky “assumed body and soul into Heavenly glory.” This was made official ideology of the church in 1950 by Pope Pius XII.

The major pilgrimage sites of Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe were all places where Mary not Jesus was seen.

Apparitions of Mary


Tia Ghose of Live Science wrote: “Our Lady of Guadalupe: In 1531 in the fields near Mexico City, a peasant named Juan Diego claimed to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary, who asked that a church be built in her honor. The Virgin also asked the man to gather flowers on a hillside, which he did and placed in his cloak. Afterwards, the cloak appeared to hold the imprint of the Virgin Mary. Though there have been a few scientific analyses of the so-called Our Lady of Guadalupe miracle over the years, no one has come to a definitive conclusion as to whether or how the image was painted, and if so, how it has been preserved so well. [Source: Tia Ghose, Live Science, July 9, 2013 /+/]

“Fatima: In 1917 in the fields near Fatima, Portugal, shepherd children said the Virgin Mary appeared to them in a vision, telling them a miracle would occur on Oct. 13 that year. Thousands came to witness the event. Around Noon on a rainy day, the sun appeared to turn into a spinning disk that spiraled toward the Earth. Newspaper reporters onsite also reported the event. The church added the miracle of the sun to its list of official miracles in 1930. Some skeptics, however, point out that the effect could have been a sundog, a patch of light that appears near the sun, or note that not everyone there that day saw the miracle. /+/

“In 1981 in the small town of Medjugorje in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, six children reported seeing apparitions of the Virgin Mary. For years they claimed to receive daily messages and so far have allegedly received thousands of prophecies. "One is a prediction that there are 10 secrets that will reveal the end of the world," said Michael O'Neill, who runs the website MiracleHunter.com. Though the Vatican has never officially weighed in, the site has attracted millions of pilgrims over the years. In 2010, the Vatican agreed to investigate this event and should have its findings out in the next few months, O'Neill said. /+/

“In 1968, people in the Zeitoun district of Cairo, Egypt, reported seeing an apparition of an illuminated woman walking on the roof of a Coptic church. Many considered this to be an apparition of the Virgin Mary. The event was reportedly seen by many onlookers and even captured in photographs. So far, no one has found evidence that those photos were manipulated. The head of the Coptic Church in Alexandria declared this a legitimate miracle. /+/

“In 1973, a statue in a little church in Akita, Japan, allegedly began to bleed soon after Sister Agnes Sasagawa at the church had an apparition of the Virgin Mary. The statue continued to cry, sweat and bleed for several years and was even captured on national television. The Sister Agnes, who was deaf prior to the apparition, also regained her hearing about a decade later.” /+/

Tales of The Virgin: Virgin Saved Matron and Monk Who Stole Monastery Treasures

In the 13th century, Jacques de Vitry wrote:A certain very religious man told me that this happened in a place where he had been living. A virtuous and pious matron came frequently to the church and served God most devoutly, day and night. Also a certain monk, the guardian and treasurer of the monastery, had a great reputation for piety, and truly he was devout. When, however, the two frequently conversed together in the church concerning religious matters, the devil, envying their virtue and fame, tempted them sorely so that the spiritual love was changed to carnal. Accordingly they made an agreement and fixed upon a night in which the monk was to leave his monastery, taking the treasures of the church, and the matron was to leave her home, with a sum of money which she should secretly steal from her husband. [Source: Jacques de Vitry, CCLXXXII. (pp. 117, ff.), “From University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 2-7, sourcebooks.fordham.edu]

“After they had left and fled, the monks on rising in the morning saw that the receptacles were broken and the treasures of the church stolen and not finding the monk, they quickly pursued him. Likewise the woman's husband, seeing his chest open and the money gone, pursued his wife. Seizing the monk and the woman with the treasure and money, they brought them back and threw them into prison. Moreover so great was the scandal through all that part of the country and so much were all religious persons reviled that the damage from the infamy and scandal was far greater than from the sin itself.

“Then the monk restored to his senses, began with many tears to pray to the blessed Virgin, whom from infancy he had always served, and never before had any such misfortune happened to him. Likewise the matron began urgently to implore the aid of the blessed Virgin whom, frequently, day and night, she had been accustomed to salute and before whose image she had been wont to kneel in prayer. At length the blessed Virgin appeared before them in great anger and after she had upbraided them severely, she said, "I am able to obtain pardon for your sins from my son, but what can I do about such an awful scandal? For you have so befouled the name of religious persons before all the people, that in the future no one will trust them. This ia an almost irremediable injury."

“At length the pious Virgin, overcome by their prayers, summoned the demons who had caused the deed and enjoined upon them that, as they had caused the scandal to religion, they must bring the infamy to an end. Since, indeed, they were not able to resist her commands, after much anxiety and various conferences they found a way to remove infamy. In the night they placed the monk in the church and repairing the broken receptacle as it had been before, they placed the treasure in it. Also they closed and locked the chest which the matron had opened and replaced the money in it. And they set the woman in her room and in the place where she was accustomed to pray by night.

“When, moreover, the monks found the treasure of their house and monk, who was praying to God just as he had been accustomed to do; and the husband found his wife and the treasure; and they found the money just as it had been before, they began to be amazed and to wonder. Rushing to the prison they saw the monk and the woman in fetters just as they had left them. For one of the demons was seen by them transformed into the figure of a monk and another into the shape of a woman. When the whole city had come together to see the miracle, the demons said in the hearing of all, "Let us go, for long enough have we deceived these people and caused ill to be thought of religious persons." And having said this they vanished. Moreover all fell down at the feet of the monk and of the woman and demanded pardon. Behold how great infamy and scandal and how inestimable damage the devil would have wrought against religious persons, if the blessed Virgin had not aided them.”

Virgin Replaces Nun Who Ran Away from her Convent


In the 13th century, Caesar of Heisterbach wrote: “Not many years ago, in a certain monastery of nuns, of which I do not know the name, there lived a virgin named Beatrix. She was beautiful in form, devout in mind, and most fervent in the service of the mother of God. As often as she could offer secretly to the Virgin special prayers and supplications, she held them for her dearest delight Indeed, having been made custodian, she did this more devoutly because more freely. [Source: Caesar of Heisterbach, Distinctio VII, Cap. XXXIV. (Vol. II, pp. 42-43.), “From University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 2-7]

“A certain clerk, seeing and lusting after her, began to tempt her. When she spurned the words of lust, and on that account he insisted the more strenuously, the old serpent enkindled her breast so vehemently that she could not bear the flames of love. Therefore coming to the altar of the blessed Virgin, the patroness of the oratory, she spoke thus: "Mistress, I have served thee as devoutly as I could; behold, I resign thy keys to thee, I cannot longer withstand the temptations of the flesh." And, having placed the keys on the altar, she secretly followed the clerk.

“When that wretched man had corrupted her, he abandoned her after a few days. Since she had no means of living and was ashamed to return to the convent, she became a harlot. After she had continued in that vice publicly for fifteen years, she came one day in a lay habit to the door of the monastery. She said to the doorkeeper, "Did you know Beatrix, formerly custodian of this oratory?" When the latter replied, it I knew her very well. For she is an honest and holy woman, and from infancy even to the present day she has remained in this monastery without fault." When she hearing, the man's words, but not understanding them, wished to go away, the mother of mercy appeared in her well-known image and said to her, "During the fifteen years of thy absence, I have performed thy task; now return to thy place and do penance; for no one knows of thy departure." In fact, in the form and dress of that woman, the mother of God had performed the duties of custodian. Beatrix entered at once and returned thanks as long as she lived, revealing through confession what had been done for her.”

Woman Punished for Bad-Mouthing Virgin Statue

“Caesar of Heisterbach wrote: “In the chapel of the castle of Veldenz there is a certain ancient image of the blessed Virgin holding her son in her bosom. This image is, indeed, not very well made, but is endowed with great virtue. A certain matron of this castle, which is situated in the diocese of Trier, standing in the chapel one day looked at the image and despising the workmanship, said, "Why does this old rubbish stand here?'" [Source: Caesar of Heisterbach, Distinctio VII, Cap. XLV. (Vol. II, pp. 62-63.), “From University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 2-7]

“The blessed Mary, the mother of mercy, not as I think, complaining to her son of the woman who spoke so foolishly, but predicting the future penalty for the crime to a certain other matron, said "Because that lady," designating her by name, "called me old rubbish, she shall wretched as long as she lives."

“After a few days that lady was driven out by her own son from all her possessions and property, and up to the present day she begs wretchedly enough, suffering the punishment for her foolish speech. Behold how the blessed Virgin loves and honors those who love her, and punishes and humbles those who despise her.”

Other Fantastic Stories Related to the Virgin Mary


On the Horrible Death of a Blasphemer of the Virgin, Étienne de Bourbon wrote in the 13th century, “Near Cluny, as I have heard from many, it happened recently, namely, in the year of our Lord 1246, when I was there, that a certain tavern keeper on the Saturday before Advent, in selling wine and taking his pay, blasphemed Christ during the whole day. But when about the ninth hour, in the presence of a multitude of men, he had sworn by the tongue of the blessed Virgin, by blaspheming her he lost the use of his tongue, and by speaking basely of her, suddenly stricken in the presence of the multitude, he fell dead. [Source: Étienne de Bourbon, No. 133. (p. 113), “From University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 2-7]

On a Robber Saved from Hanging by Prayers to the Virgin, Étienne de Bourbon wrote: “Also we read that a certain robber had this much of good in him, that he always fasted on bread and water on the vigils of the blessed Mary, and, when he went forth to steal, he always said, "Ave Maria", asking her not to permit him to die in that sin. When moreover he was captured and hung, he remained there three days and could not die. When he called out to the passers by, that they should summon a priest to him, and when the priest had come and the prefect and others, he was removed from the gallows, and said that a most beautiful virgin had held him up by the feet during the three days. Promising reform, he was let go free. [Source: “Étienne de Bourbon, No. 119. (p. 103)]

On the Devil Thwarted by Prayers to the Virgin, Étienne de Bourbon wrote: “Also it is related that there was a certain knight, lord of a castle in Auvergne, whom the devil served in human form for twelve years, as he wanted to carry the knight off on account of his sins, if he should find him at any time unfortified. When this was revealed to a certain holy man, he approached the castle, saying that he wished to speak with the servants. When, moreover, the devil seeing the holy man, wanted to run away and hide, the latter had him summoned and adjured him to say what he wanted and who he was. He replied that he was the devil and that for twelve years he had been waiting for a chance to carry off that lord; but he was not able to do so, because seven times each day the lord with bent knees was accustom the blessed Virgin, and to say the "Pater noster" seven times. Adjured in the name of the blessed Virgin he left the foul corpse in which he was and fled. [Source: Étienne de Bourbon, No. 129. (p. 110)

Hymn to Virgin, c.1300


Christ and Mary in the Last Judgment by Michelangelo

Of on that is so fayr and bright
Velut maris stella,
Brighter than the day is light,
Parens et puella:
Ic crie to the, thou see to me, 5
Levedy, preye thi Sone for me,
Tam pia,
That ic mote come to thee
Maria. [Source: Anonymous, Bartleby]

Al this world was for-lore 10
Eva peccatrice,
Tyl our Lord was y-bore
De te genetrice.
With ave it went away
Thuster nyth and comz the day 15
Salutis;
The welle springeth ut of the,
Virtutis.

Levedy, flour of alle thing,
Rose sine spina, 20
Thu bere Jhesu, hevene king,
Gratia divina:
Of alle thu ber'st the pris,
Levedy, quene of paradys
Electa: 25
Mayde milde, moder es
Effecta.

Mary in Islam

On the Annunciation, Qur'an 19:19 says: “(The angel) said: "I am only a Messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a righteous son."


Annunciation in Islam

Andrew Walker wrote for the BBC: “Mary is an important figure in Islam, where she's honoured as the mother of the Prophet Jesus. But anything like the veneration of Mary at” some some Christian shrines “would be quite unthinkable for Muslims - so where do they look for the feminine aspect of the divine, and where do they find it? When you look at the Qur'an it has one description of the essence of the divine. And language fails to describe the essence of that entity, which is indescribable and cannot be defined. But there is a description in the Qur'an, and the description is androgynous. Androgynous, gender-less, or even better, beyond gender. [Source: Andrew Walker, Professor of Theology and Culture, King's College, London, August 3, 2011, BBC |::|]

Fadia Faqir, Jordanian-British writer and feminist, told the BBC: “My conclusion is that the divine as defined in the Qur'an is gender-less or even beyond gender. However, if the Qur'an is divinely inspired, when it was recorded it was recorded by a patriarchal culture. And the divine was turned into a He. So when you read the Qur'an you will find that "God said", "Allah said", and then "He said". And yet, if the Qur'an is divinely inspired, as Muslims believe, does this text inspired by God reveal a feminine side of God? There are attributes like compassion, kindness, and forgiveness, says Fadia - but to call them feminine may not be useful: |::|

“If God is an essence, you can't apply gender norms to an essence. So I wouldn't go there myself. The feminists in the West, they have turned God into feminine; they say she rather than he. And I don't know if it's going to be useful for us to turn God into a she. We cannot define God. So to apply gender is a bit hasty.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” users.ox.ac.uk ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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