September 2016. Mary, mother of Jesus

Mary, the mother of Jesus


What picture comes into your mind when you think of the mother of Jesus?

There are so many images of Mary, in stained glass, like the Annunciation window in St. Mary’s, and statues like the one in Wigginton church.  I have seen a black Madonna carried in procession in France, and there is Mary, Queen of heaven at Walsingham.

Iconography gives us another insight into her being where Orthodox churches depict Mary as the Mother of God.  The oldest surviving icons from the 6th century CE, show Mary, Christ and the Apostles and Saints, in certain stylised poses.  Their huge eyes gaze fixedly at the observer and they show no emotion and play no part in earthly life.  Only their expressive eyes, regarded as the window of the soul, suggest the artist’s desire to approach eternity, God.

Mary is revered and venerated by the whole church, and there is a Chapter about her in the Qur’an where she is called Maryam, and she is much revered by Muslims also.

So who was the real person?

She was a Jewish maiden of the house of David and the tribe of Judah.  Her parents were thought to have been  Joachim and Anna, and her birth, which the church celebrates on 8 September, may have been at Sepphoris or Nazareth.  Tradition, however, favours Jerusalem, near the Pool of Bethesda close to a gate still called by Muslims, but not Christians, Bab Sitti Maryam, the Gate of the Lady Mary.

What we know about Mary biblically is contained in the New Testament, though the picture is a little confused because there are many women called Mary in the Gospels.

Apart from the familiar Nativity stories, and the visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old (Luke 2, 21-52) we only have fleeting glimpses of her throughout Jesus’s ministry.  We know she was at the wedding at Cana when Jesus turned the water into wine (John 2, 1).  We hear of her again wanting to speak to Jesus, with his brothers, where Jesus appears to reject his family, (Matthew 12, 46-50) also, later when Jesus, himself, is rejected at Nazareth (Matthew 13, 55).

Mary was witness to the Crucifixion and we have the very moving account of Jesus giving her into the safe-keeping of John with the words, “Woman here is your son”.  Then he said to the disciple “Here is your mother.  And

from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (John 19, 26-27).

She is named in the first chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, where all the disciples were at prayer, including the mother of Jesus (1, 14).  Although she is not named, it is feasible to suppose that she was still with the others on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended like tongues of fire and a tongue rested on each of them (Acts 2, 1-4).

That is the last time she is named in the Bible, and the rest of her earthly life was probably in Jerusalem, with short stays at Ephesus with John and the other disciples.

Mary has been the inspiration of countless works of art and sculpture, including La Pieta by Michelangelo.

There have been many visions of Mary through the ages leading to thousands of people making pilgrimage in her name: to Walsingham since 1061, to Lourdes (1858) and to Medjugorje (1981).  She has been called the spiritual mother of all living beings, and veneration and honour are due to her above all other saints, but to give divine worship to her would be idolatry, for she is a creature like the rest of human-kind and all her dignity comes from God.


Anne Wright

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