Mary, mother of Jesus of Nazareth, occupies a preeminent position in the theology and piety of the traditional Eastern and Western Churches.

Information about the life of Mary is extremely sparse (Matthew 1 and 2; Luke 1 and 2). It is clear that for Matthew and Luke in their Gospels, Mary's conception of Jesus was miraculous, involving no human paternity, and that her son was the Messiah expected by Israel. Mary belonged to the house of David (Luke 1:26), was engaged to a man called Joseph (Matthew 1:18), and lived in Nazareth in lower Galilee (Luke 1:26). The Gospel relates how an angel of God announced that she, though a virgin, would conceive the son of the "Most High," to be named Jesus, and that he would found a new Davidic kingdom (Luke 1:31-33). Mary consented. Joseph discovered that Mary was with child and wished to dissolve the engagement quietly. In a dream, however, God's angel admonished him to marry Mary because the son she would bear was the result of a divine intervention (Matthew 1:19-21).

Before her marriage, Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and on that occasion more prophetic utterances made quite clear that Mary's future son would be the fulfillment of Israel's hopes. No further personal details are given of Mary. Her silent presence at the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:12-21; Luke 2:1-7) is recorded. When the child was presented at the Temple to be redeemed according to Jewish law, the aging Simeon told Mary that she would suffer much (Luke 2:21-35). Later, when Jesus at the age of 12 was lost for 3 days, his parents found him among the doctors of the law, and the first of Mary's two recorded statements appears: "My son, why have you acted so with us? Your father and I have looked for you in sorrow" (Luke 2:41-48). Luke adds: Mary kept all these happenings in her memory.

Mary appears again (John 2:1 ff) at a marriage in the town of Cana when her second recorded statement occurs: "They have no wine," she told Jesus. Jesus thereupon turned water into wine. She appears with the relatives of Jesus in an attempt to see him during his public life (Mark 3:3 ff) and at the foot of Jesus' cross when he entrusts her to the care of John the Apostle (John 19:26 ff). She is also mentioned briefly in the Acts of the Apostles (1:14).

The dates of Mary's life can only be surmised. Present researches place the birth of Jesus between 7 and 4 B.C. Granting Mary a minimal age of 16 to 18 years at the time of Jesus' birth, this would place her birth at sometime about 22-20 B.C. There is no precise information as to her death. In the later development of the Eastern and Western Churches, Mary was proclaimed the mother of God. Her position was further defined in the Roman Catholic Church, which in 1854 stated as an article of faith that she had been conceived without the original sin which affects all men. In 1950 Pius XII declared that at her death Mary's body had not corrupted in a grave but that God had taken her body and soul into heaven.

Further Reading on Mary

Most of the books written on this subject are either Roman Catholic devotional books, such as Juniper B. Carol, Mariology (1955), or Roman Catholic studies of theology. Nothing has been published concerning the archaeological excavations at Nazareth. For a view of Mary by a Protestant Church historian consult Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary: The Roman Catholic Marian Doctrine (1950; trans. 1955).