Mary, mother of Jesus of Nazareth

Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth is one of great figures of Christianity and Islam. Some, like Catholics and Orthodox, consider Mary a privileged intercessor between men and God. Since the origins of Christianity, Mary fascinates and is the object of important apocryphal literature to lift the veil on the many gray areas of its existence. Let us return to the story of the one who became the patron saint of France.

At the origins: the canonical gospels

The oldest sources we have on Mary are the canonical Gospels, in particular those of Saint Luke and Saint Matthew, but also Saint John who, although never calling her by her first name, speaks of the "Mother of God". Mary appears during the story of the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel coming to tell her that she will give birth to a newborn child begotten by the Holy Spirit.

According to Luke (1, 26-38), we learn that Mary is then betrothed to a man, but is still a virgin and that the unborn child is of divine origin. Joseph, of course disappointed by his fiancée's pregnancy, decided to secretly break up with her. But he would have been warned of the sacred mission of his companion by an angel and decides not to repudiate her. After a visit to her relative Elizabeth, also miraculously pregnant (she would give birth to Saint-Jean-Baptiste), Marie would have returned to her husband who had to go to Bethlehem for a census. It is the famous episode of the Nativity celebrated at Christmas: the couple makes the trip on donkeys and Mary gives birth in Bethlehem, in a stable. There the angels would have rallied shepherds who had come to see the newborn and, according to St. Matthew, three wise men from the East would have come to pay homage to him.

Warned by the Magi of the birth of a new "King" and knowing his power threatened by a prophecy, King Herod would then have ordered the massacre of the newborns, an episode only reported in the Gospels and which is retained under the name of Massacre of the Innocents. But there again, according to Saint Matthew, Joseph, warned in a dream, escaped the massacre and fled with his family to Egypt and did not return until the death of Herod. Saint Matthew is the only one to record this episode, perhaps simply to make the Gospel account coincide with the prophecies of Micah and Jeremiah. However, the scene is not historically aberrant since Egypt was then indeed a land of immigration for the Palestinians during the difficult reign of Herod. Saint Luke is content to tell how Jesus was presented in the Temple of Jerusalem, according to the Jewish rite. It was there that an old sage, moved by the Holy Spirit according to the gospels, came to see Jesus and made this prophecy to Mary of the imminent redemption.

Then passes all the childhood of Jesus, passed in silence, where we no longer know anything about the life of Mary. It is only in the twelfth year of Jesus that we learn that the child was lost by his parents during the great feast of Easter in Jerusalem. They found him in the Temple, among the Doctors who marveled at his intelligence ...

When the canonical accounts resume, Jesus is already an adult and has several brothers. If some wanted to see these brothers as the sons of Mary, others think that they could be half-brothers from a previous marriage of Joseph, an elderly man who would have married Mary late and would not have no carnal union with her. More generally, it is considered that the translation of the term “brothers” falls within a much larger reality than the current definition and can relate to various ties of cousins.
During Jesus' public life, his relationship to his mother was little known. Jesus apparently minimized the strength of their links to privilege the link which through him united believers to God.

However, Marie is always with her son and it is even she who in a way launches her public life by inviting him during the wedding at Cana to transform water into wine. Mary then appears as the engine of the Christic mission: she knows the divine origin of her son, she knows that he has a mission and that everything must end in suffering for her ... And yet she accepts it and even invites Jesus to initiate this process which seems inevitable. Present at the beginning, always in the shadow of her son during the evangelization, Mary takes on a primary role during the Passion. She is, with Saint-Jean and Marie-Madeleine, the last faithful to be found at the foot of the cross.

This gesture is often seen as a confirmation of the fact that Mary had no other children, which is why the visibly widowed woman (which could justify the idea of ​​an older husband) and without other supports is entrusted to a trusted third party. From then on, Mary was taken in charge by the apostles, the first Christian Church, and we find her cited in the Acts of the Apostles attributed to Saint-Luke.

Mary of Nazareth, central figure ... So a prime target ...

As we can imagine, the virgin birth did not go more than 2,000 years ago than today, and questioning this virgin birth was a good way to question the divine character of Jesus and therefore of her mission and her message ... Mary was thus quickly a target of choice for anti-Christian literature. From 178, the Roman Celsus rejects all of Jesus' divine origin in his “True Speech”, also called “Speech against the Christians”. He makes Mary an adulterous woman who had sex with a Roman soldier named Panthera.

This accusation which appears a century and a half after the facts is certainly the culmination of a general accusation made by the Jews and the pagans who did not accept the possibility of this conception by the Holy Spirit. The choice to make the father a Roman soldier, an occupier, is also a way of minimizing the character of Mary and of insulting Christians by making their “Mother” a soldier's daughter.

The apocrypha and tradition to complete canonical history

To fill in the many gray areas in the life of Mary, Christian communities have written apocrypha, more or less late. Tradition has also made it possible to evoke the origins and the end of life of the mother of Jesus. If we manage to date the found apocrypha, it remains very difficult to date the tradition they relate. Concretely, they bring us nothing irrefutable about the historical life of Mary, on the other hand they inform us of an important historical phenomenon: the preponderant place which the figure of Mary takes in the first Christian communities. These apocrypha often entered the Catholic tradition.

It is thus only in the apocryphal texts that the names of Mary's parents appear: Anne (long sterile) and Joachim who would have met at the Golden Gate in Jerusalem. These stories are transcribed in the protevangelist of James (2nd century) and the gospel of pseudo-Matthew (end of the 6th century). Mary is presented there as a precocious child, brilliant in her goodness and more pious than any other, undeniably in the grace of God. As a teenager she refuses marriage, considering that God prefers chastity. Respecting her vow of virginity, the priests of the Temple would then have organized a ceremony to find out who God designated to keep her.

An apocryphal text comes to resolve the problem of marriage and of Mary's virginity by making her a consecrated virgin entrusted to an old man so that he can protect and maintain her and not so that he can found a family with her. The rest of the story takes up the main lines of the canonical Gospels, but with more details, notably the reaction of the priests when they learn that “their” consecrated virgin is pregnant ... Mary is subjected to a ritual test to prove that she is not did not fault. This apocryphal work also brings various miraculous episodes during the flight into Egypt. Finally, the question of Mary's death is dealt with in Pseudo-John's Dormition of Mary, an apocryphal, which only dates from the sixth century, states that the precious body was laid in Gethsemane in a tomb transferred to paradise at the end. three days.

What about the tomb of Mary

The location of Mary's tomb is not known with certainty. Several sites are claimed to be the last earthly abode of the Virgin, notably the Church of the Sepulcher of the Blessed Virgin in Jerusalem, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. This church, the culmination of a succession of buildings since the 4th century, is well founded on a cemetery from the 1st century around a contemporary tomb of Mary. However, only tradition (which Dionysius the Areopagite mentions in the 4th century) and not archeology, serve to authenticate it. The other competing site is quite a distance from Jerusalem, at Ephesus. It is indeed in this city that Saint-Jean would have gone to evangelize.

Yet Mary was entrusted to Saint-Jean. The city of Ephesus has a basilica built on an ancient tomb attributed to Saint John and a chapel considered to be the last house of Mary. The latter site was not identified as such at the end of the 19th century, based on the visions of a Germanic mystic: Anna Katharina Emmerick. However, the site being a 13th century chapel (although certainly built on older remains) nothing archaeologically allows to link the site to the 1st century and therefore even less to Mary. Some point out that if we are to believe the Acts of St. John by Prochurus dating from the 2nd century, St. John did not join Ephesus until an advanced age, and therefore most certainly after the Dormition. If this were the case, the tomb of Mary would therefore be in Palestine and not in Turkey.

The famous tomb of Talpiot in Jerusalem was presented in 2007 by James Cameron as possibly being the tomb of Jesus and his family. Among the six nominative ossuaries discovered (although it is not even certain that they all come from the tomb), one bears the name of "Mariah". However, the bond woven between this tomb and the Holy Family was widely criticized and questioned. Already, Marie was not to be called Mariah during her lifetime, more certainly Mariam, in Aramaic.

Then, the regrouping of the various characters (Marie-Madeleine, Judas, Joseph, Jacques ...) contradicts the oldest sources and traditions. DNA analyzes cannot be conclusive, because the ossuaries could be reused multiple times. The names being among the most used at this time, their regrouping in a tomb does not allow any conclusion. In the end, if the Christic theory of the tomb of Talpiot was an audiovisual success, it is clear that it does not receive any scientific approval.

Mary in the Quran

Islam is the latest Abrahamic religion, it does not appear until the 7th century in a territory already strongly marked by various Christian churches. The Koran will echo the canonical gospels and the various late apocryphal traditions concerning Maryam (/ Mary) such as the proto-gospel of James, the gospel of pseudo-Matthew, the Arab Gospel of Childhood or even the 'Gospel of the Child according to Thomas ...

In the Koran Maryam is a virgin entrusted to the prophet Zechariah. Like Christians, Muslims confess the virgin birth of Isâ (/ Jesus) and consider her to be one of the few perfect women (like Fatima, daughter of Muhammad). According to the Koranic story, Maryam will give birth alone, "in a place towards the East", at the foot of a palm tree. Faced with the accusations leveled against her, she makes a young person of her word (she remains silent) and it is the newborn himself who presents himself as a prophet sent by God.

The Virgin Mary and Marian worship

Marian worship is very early in Christendom, as the apocrypha testifies. In 431, at the Council of Ephesus, Pope Pius V formalized the title of “Theotokos” which officially recognized that Mary is the mother of God and that her motherhood was indeed of divine origin. Marian worship spreads very quickly, the Virgin appearing as a privileged intercessor between men and her Son. In the 6th century, the Byzantine Emperor Mauritius fixed August 15 as the Marian feast, which was already widespread in the East. The same date is retained in the West during the Council of Mainz in 813.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Marian and Christ figures are almost inseparable. In 1630, Louis XIII consecrated France to the Virgin Mary to thank her for a cure he considered miraculous. From then on, the Kingdom of the Lilies made room for Mary in each of its churches: either that the church was totally consecrated to her, or that at least one chapel was dedicated to her. Even today, Marie is officially the first patron saint of France.

The 19th century was a golden age for Marian worship, marked by multiple appearances, especially in France. The question here is not to determine the nature of these apparitions (metaphysical, psychological, mythomania ...), but the fact is that the nineteenth century is extremely rich in Marian apparitions: Rome in 1842, La Salette in 1846, Lourdes in 1858, Champion in 1859, Pontmain in 1872 and Gietrzwald in 1877. Of these six appearances, half took place in France. For believers, these apparitions concretize Mary's role of intercessor: Marian worship takes on new vigor. As an echo of this fervor, Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854 the dogma of the Immaculate Conception according to which Mary is free from all sin.

The twentieth century is not to be outdone in terms of Marian apparitions: Fatima (Portugal) in 1917, Beauraing and Banneux (Belgium) in 1933, Amsterdam (Netherlands) in 1945, Bouchard Island (France) in 1947 , Betania (Venezuela) from 1940 to 1990, Akita (Japan) in 1973, Kibeho (Rwanda) from 1981 ... The regularity of the apparitions, we only quote here those recognized by the Catholic Church, maintains a Marian fervor already very strong. In 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary celebrating Mary's ascension into heaven body and soul. The Orthodox, on the other hand, do not consider that Mary was brought up body and soul, they do not speak of Assumption, but of Dormition and simply consider that she died without suffering in a perfect state of spiritual peace.

For further

- Marie of Nazareth in the eyes of the Christians of the first century, by Charles Perrot. CERF, 2013.

- MAES Bruno (ndd), Jubilee and Marian worship (Middle Ages - contemporary period), PU Saint-Etienne, 2009.

Some monographs

- Collective, Around the Marian cult in Forez. Customs, Art, History, Proceedings of the colloquium of September 19 and 20, 1997 at the Jean Monnet University in Saint-Etienne, PU Saint-Etienne, 1999.
SERRES-BRIA Roland, Aspects of Marian worship in Roussillon and Catalonia, Tdo éditions, 2012.

Source texts

- The New Testament
- The Christian Apocrypha
- The Koran

Video: Mary, Mother of Jesus 1999 (January 2022).