May 24, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: Ancient traditions about Mary

John F. FinkDuring this month dedicated to Mary, I thought I’d write about some ancient traditions about Mary. Catholics don’t have to believe in them, though, but only the doctrines I wrote about last week. These traditions are found in writings from some of the earliest days of the Church.

Mary is believed to have been born in Jerusalem, near the Bethesda Pools. Her parents were Joachim and Anne. Today, the Church of St. Anne, built by the Crusaders in the 12th century, is over the site.

Tradition holds that Joachim and Anne were elderly when Mary was born. When Mary was 3, they took her to the Temple, as they promised to do before she was born, and left her there. Girls were sometimes raised in the Temple and given a thorough Torah education in exchange for performing various services for the priests.

These girls, though, had to leave the temple before puberty because menstruation made a woman ritually impure. Women could not be in the Temple when they were menstruating.

Apparently Mary’s parents had died by the time Mary reached adolescence, so the priests looked for a husband for her among widowers. An older man was sought for her husband because Mary had taken a vow of virginity. Her husband was expected to protect her and to honor her vow.

Joseph was selected. According to tradition, he protested that he was old and already had six children, but he agreed to take Mary as his wife. He would protect her while she helped him care for his children. The names of Joseph’s four sons are in the Gospels of Matthew (Mt 13:55) and Mark (Mk 6:3)—James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. His daughters are not named.

These traditions aren’t in the Bible; they are traditions, not doctrine. The Gospels do, however, tell us about the Annunciation, Visitation, birth of Jesus, Jesus’ presentation in the Temple, the flight into Egypt, the family moving to the town of Nazareth, the finding of Jesus in the Temple when he stayed there at the age of 12, and Mary’s role at the wedding feast at Cana.

She was at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified, according to John’s Gospel. Luke’s Gospel already established that Mary went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, so that’s probably why she was in the city at the time. According to the Acts of the Apostles, she was present when the Holy Spirit came upon those assembled in the Upper Room.

The building where the Upper Room was located became the first Christian church. It’s believed that Mary moved into a home across the street with the Apostle John. The Byzantine church Hagia Sion was built over her home in 415. Today the Dormition Abbey is there.

Mary died there and was buried in the Kidron Valley, near the Garden of Gethsemane. Catholics believe that from there she was taken bodily to heaven. Today, the tomb is still venerated.

Some Catholics, though, believe that she moved to Ephesus with the Apostle John and died there. It seems more likely, though, that John moved to Ephesus after Mary’s death and assumption into heaven. †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!