The Passionists - Compassion

Mary in Christian Tradition

Mary in the Apocryphal Writings
Stories of Her Early Life: 2nd Century

Popular Christian stories about Christ, Mary and the apostles originating in Syria, Palestine and Egypt from the mid-2nd century, greatly influenced the way ordinary Christians imagined Mary's life. These stories, attempting to supply details omitted in the Gospels, went beyond and sometimes contrary to the indications of the Scriptures. They have inspired art, liturgy and Christian devotion to Mary over the centuries.

"The Gospel of James," one of these stories written about 150 A.D., portrays the childhood of Mary in this way:

"When Mary was one year old, Joachim made a great feast and invited the priests and scribes, and the whole people of Israel assembled.

"And Joachim brought the child to the priests, and they blessed her saying, 'O God of our fathers, bless this child and give her a name renowned for ever among all generations.'

"And all the people said: 'So be it, so be it. Amen . . . '

"And the child became three years old, and Joachim said: 'Call the virgin daughters of the Hebrews and let them accompany the child to the temple of the Lord with lamps burning in their hands.'

"And they went up to the temple of the Lord.

"And the priests received her and kissed her and blessed her, saying: 'The Lord has magnified your name among all generations; in you the Lord will show redemption to the children of Israel.'

"And he sat her on the third step of the altar. And the Lord gave her grace and she danced with her feet and all the house of the Lord loved her.

"And her parents returned home marveling and praising the Lord because their child did not turn back.

"And Mary was in the temple of the Lord to be nurtured like a dove; and she received food from the hand of an angel."

The story proceeds to give details of Mary's marriage to Joseph, who is portrayed as an old widower with his own children. It relates new wonders and signs that accompanied the birth of Jesus in a cave. The account, by presenting Mary as a sheltered virgin absorbed in the service of God in the temple, sought to defend the Christian doctrine of the virginal conception. Unfortunately, it pictures her removed from the ordinary, uneventful village life that Scripture suggests was hers.

By the 5th century, a church honoring Mary's birthplace and home, suggested by this apocryphal story, was built close by the Temple site in Jerusalem. The Church of St. Ann, the mother of Mary, stands on that place today.

Mary's death and assumption into Heaven