Mary (mother of Jesus)

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Raphael's Sistine Madonna (around 1512/13) is one of the most famous depictions of the Virgin Mary.

Maria ( ancient Greek Μαριάμ , Mariam , Hebrew מרים, Miriam , Aramaic ܡܪܝܡ; also: Mary of Nazareth ) is the mother of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament . She lived with her husband Joseph and other relatives in the village of Nazareth in Galilee . Mary is particularly venerated in Christianity as the mother of Jesus Christ and is also mentioned in the Koran as the virgin mother of Jesus.

Outside of the New Testament sources, nothing has historically been handed down about the parents of Jesus, since the prevailing opinion of research is that all later sources depend on the New Testament. Their existence and the names "Maria" and "Josef" are nevertheless regarded as authentic by the vast majority of historians.

This article treats Mary as a biblical figure. The later ecclesiastical and dogmatic developments in their veneration are described in the following articles The Theotokos of God , Adoration of Mary and Mariology .


Maria is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Miriam (also transliterated as Mirjam ), and is traditionally seen as a nominal formation from the Hebrew terms mir / mar for "bitter" and jam for "sea". It would then be translated as “sea bitter”, also “sea myrrh” or “sea drops”. This name interpretation still sounds in the title Stella Maris (Eng. "Sea star"). In addition, a derivation of the name from Egyptian has recently beenproposed: merit-amun , translated "from Amun beloved". Other derivations from Hebrew are also discussed, such as “the sublime” from רום rum “to rise” and “thestubborn” from מרה marah “to be stubborn”.

In the Tanach , the Jewish Bible, two bearers of this name appear: Miriam , the prophetess and sister of Moses , and a woman from the tribe of Judah , who is mentioned in a genealogy in the 1st Chronicle Book (4.17 EU ).

Others named Mary in the New Testament are Maria von Magdala (Maria Magdalena) and Maria des Cleophas . Both are named in Mk 15.40  EU as disciples of Jesus and witnesses of his death. Another Mary, the mother of James, is usually equated with the Mary of Cleophas (mentioned in Mt 27.56  EU ). In the Greek text, the mother of Jesus is mostly called Mariám (Μαριάμ), less often María (Μαρία). In the Latin translations the name is Maria throughout .

In Islam , the mother of Jesus is also known by the name Maryam ( Arabic مريم) famous.

In German, the genitive form of the name is not only “Marias”, but also “Mariens” and, derived from Latin, “Mariä” or “Mariae”, for example in the expressions “ House of Mary ”, “ Annunciation ” or “ Assumption of Mary” ".

Mary in the New Testament

Maria, the “apocalyptic woman” ( Rev 12.1–18  EU ): Fresco of the Seckau Apocalypse by Herbert Boeckl , 1952–1960, in the angel chapel of the Seckau basilica

Mary appears in the New Testament only in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, especially in the childhood stories of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke , as well as in a few other places in the margin. In all other scriptures Mary is not mentioned by name. In addition, Mary is also reported in some extra-biblical sources, Apocrypha and writings of the Church Fathers . The way in which the Gospels report about Jesus' mother is entirely shaped by the intention of preaching Jesus Christ and therefore cannot be regarded as a biography.

In the Gospel of Mark

The birth of Jesus is not recorded in the Gospel of Mark . Nevertheless, his mother is mentioned by name as the mother of Jesus at one point, namely in Mk 6.3  EU . Four brothers of Jesus are also named here , namely James, Joses, Judas and Simon. If the perpetual virginity of Mary is accepted , they are considered half-brothers or cousins.

In the Gospel of Matthew

The childhood story of Matthew begins with a family tree that leads from Abraham to King David and Joseph to Jesus. In addition to the male lineage, four women are named who are important in the Old Testament , namely Tamar , Rahab , Ruth and Bathsheba (referred to as the wife of Uriah ). The mention of these women prepares Mary in Mt 1.16  EU . It is noticeable that the structure of the family tree when Mary is mentioned is different than before. Now it does not say “Joseph was the father of Jesus” but “Joseph, [the] husband of Mary; of her Jesus was born ”(Mt 1:16). This emphasizes that Joseph is not viewed as the biological father of Jesus. The fact that evidence of a descent of Jesus from David is still provided via the ancestors of Joseph presupposes a purely legally understood fatherhood of Joseph.

In the childhood story of Matthew, Joseph alone is the doer, Mary herself neither speaks nor is she addressed. Your name only appears in Mt 1.18  EU , 20 EU and 2.11 EU , in the latter position in connection with the homage to Jesus by the magicians.

In the Gospel of Luke

In Luke's childhood story, Mary is at the center of the narrative. The angel Gabriel, who was sent to her, promised her the birth of a son, the Messiah and Son of God awaited by Israel . The address of the angel (“Greetings, you favored ones, the Lord is with you”, Lk 1.28b) puts Mary in the center of the action. She asks the angel how that should happen, since she does not recognize a man ( Lk 1.34  EU ). When the angel replies that the Holy Spirit is coming upon Mary, it is left open how she will eventually become pregnant. In contrast to Matthew, there is no explicit mention of a conception by the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel of Luke, the story of the birth of Jesus is linked to the birth of John the Baptist . By introducing Elizabeth , the mother of John, as Mary's cousin, Jesus and John are related to one another. With the story of Mary's visit to Elisabeth, both birth stories are linked. The pregnant Elizabeth greets Mary and the child hops into Elizabeth's belly when it hears Mary's greeting ( Lk 1.41  EU ). This shows a progression from the narrative of the birth of John the Baptist to the birth of Jesus. This is followed by the Magnificat , the hymn of praise of Mary (named after the first word in the Latin translation). This is the largest coherent portion of Mary's speech in the New Testament. Beginning with a praise for the actions of God in their own person, the connection extends to the salvation history of the whole people of Israel ( Lk 1.46-55  EU ).

In the Gospel of John

The Gospel of John never mentions Mary by name. Although it does not tell a childhood story, Mary appears as the mother of Jesus in two places:

  • Jesus' mother is present at the wedding in Cana ( Jn 2 : 1–12  EU ). It is mentioned before the disciples accompanying Jesus. What is noticeable is the distant attitude that Jesus takes towards his mother: He addresses her with “woman”, not “mother”, and his question “What do you want from me, woman?” Also seems rather dismissive.
  • Only the Gospel of John depicts Jesus' mother as a witness of the crucifixion . The favorite disciple, later identified with the Zebedaiden John and the author of the Gospel, is appointed by Jesus as the son of Mary and she as his mother ( Jn 19.25  EU ). This story served in the Johannine community especially to anchor the person of the favorite disciple in the family of Jesus and thus as a guarantee for the reliability of the tradition. Also since this story cannot be found in the synoptic reports, in which Jesus' mother is not mentioned as a witness to the death of Jesus, there is possibly a symbolic scene here.

In the rest of the scriptures

At one point in the Acts of the Apostles , Mary appears after Jesus' resurrection among his disciples in Jerusalem ( Acts 1,14  EU ). There she takes part in the prayer of this community together with the brothers of Jesus.

The Pauline letters , which are the oldest New Testament texts, do not mention Mary by name. In the letter to Galatians it says in a passage that deals with the salvation-historical mission of Jesus Christ and his divine and human nature : "But when the time was fulfilled, God sent his Son, born of a woman and subject to the law" ( Gal 4,4  EU ). The other epistles of Paul do not mention the mother of Jesus.

In Revelation of John , Revelation 12 : 1-2 EU speaks  of a woman “clothed with the sun; the moon was under her feet and a wreath of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and screamed in pain in her birth pangs. ”A dragon wants to devour the child after the birth, but is defeated by the Archangel Michael and his angels. Above all, the Catholic tradition sees this so-called "apocalyptic woman" as the Mother of God, Mary.

Mary's ancestors

The names of Mary's parents are not mentioned in the Bible. In the apocryphal writings, such as the Proto-Gospel of James , however, the names Anna and Joachim are mentioned. These are venerated as saints in some denominations . Her feast day in the Catholic Church today is July 26th.

Mary's descendants

Whether Mary gave birth to other children besides Jesus, as suggested by several biblical and extra-biblical testimonies from Jesus' brothers and sisters, is one of the disputed questions between the denominations due to doctrinal controversies about the virginity of Mary. The names of the brothers of Jesus are recorded in Mk 6.3  EU : James , Joses, Judas and Simon; sisters are also mentioned in the same place.

In the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, the siblings of Jesus are understood as cousins ​​and bases of Jesus or - less often - as children of Joseph from a previous marriage, since Joseph is referred to as a widower in apocryphal sources. The Greek word for 'brothers', ἀδελφοί adelphoi , allows this interpretation. Others claim, however, that it seems improbable, since there is a separate word for cousins ​​in Greek ( ἀνεψιός anepsios , also used biblically in Col 4,10  EU ); moreover, this use of adelphoi was possible, but not common. In Lk 2,7  EU Jesus is referred to as the “firstborn” son of Mary, which suggests that Jesus had brothers and sisters. In ancient times, however, certain rituals, responsibilities and inheritance rights were associated with the (male) firstborn , regardless of whether the child remained an only child or not.

According to the biblical story in Mt 1.18-25  EU , Joseph took Mary as his wife. At the outset, it is said that through the working of the Holy Spirit , Mary was expecting a child "even before they [Mary and Joseph] met" (v. 18). This also corresponds to the formulation at the end of the pericope that Joseph did not marry Mary (literally: he did not “know” her) “until she gave birth to her son” (verse 25). In any case, according to the understanding of the time, marriage also included the sexual act. The report therefore partially concludes that sexual intercourse occurred after the marriage. In contrast, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches advocate the doctrine that Mary remained forever a virgin .

In the Gospels, Jesus 'mother and brothers' are mentioned together several times. No Bible text specifically mentions that the brothers and sisters of Jesus are distant relatives (about whom no other details are given). From the context of the passages about the brothers and sisters of Jesus, some conclude that it is a question of the closer family union . According to the more recent Protestant view, the “ incarnation ” of the Son of God also means that Jesus grew up with his father, mother and siblings, although the Reformers themselves had interpreted this differently.

According to Gal 1.19  EU and Gal 2.9  EU, Jesus' oldest brother James later assumed a leadership role in the early church in Jerusalem .

Marian devotion

Mary is venerated primarily in Christianity, but also in other religions.

Marian veneration in Christianity

Mary in the blue gate - symbol for the universe and the symbiosis of old and new ( Jimmy Fell , 2010)

The veneration of Mary is expressed, among other things, in the titles of the Virgin Mary, Marian feasts, certain forms of devotion such as the rosary , the founding of Marian congregations as well as various forms of popular piety and is visible in Christian iconography in multiple pictorial representations (see the portrait of the Virgin , the symbol of the Virgin and the life of the Virgin ). The Virgin Mary also appears in heraldry in various representations in coats of arms .

Marian devotion in Hinduism

In the Hinduism of the Tamils , especially the Sri Lankan Tamils , the veneration of Mary plays a prominent role, as does the Christian Tamils. About 80 to 90% of the Tamils ​​living in Germany are Hindus, 10% Catholics; in Sri Lanka the distribution is similar. The vast majority of Christian Tamils ​​are Roman Catholic. All Tamils ​​venerate Mary.

Marian veneration in Islam

Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Koran . Her name is mentioned in six suras in about 40 verses. The 19th sura also bears her name. Maryam also plays an important role in post-Koranic tradition and piety, and she is one of the most revered women in Islam , along with the women from the immediate vicinity of Muhammad ( Khadijah and Fatima ).

Marian veneration in voodoo

In Haitian voodoo , Maria is syncretized with the loa Erzulie . Erzulies Veve shows a heart pierced by a sword, as it stands for the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Christian iconography .


Mariology is a sub-area of Catholic dogmatics that is closely related to Christology . Mary is seen here as the first addressee of God's saving action towards human beings and her role and behavior with regard to the redemptive work of her Son is examined. The starting point is the third ecumenical council in Ephesus (431), which Mary declared to be Θεοτόκος Theotókos , the “ Theotokos ” (against the view as Ανθρωποτόκος Anthropotókos = “the bearer of man”).

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Catholic Church proclaimed several dogmas of Mary that were felt to be separating from Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Most recently in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. the bodily acceptance of Mary into heaven formulated as a dogma.

Memorial days

In the course of the year, numerous festivals and memorial days in honor of Mary are celebrated by the various denominations.


  • Karl Rahner SJ: Maria - mother of the Lord. Theological reflections. Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 1956.
  • Hilda Graef : Maria. A history of teaching and worship. Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 1964.
  • René Laurentin : The Marian question. (Translated from La question mariale. Paris 1963), Herder-Verlag, Freiburg i. Br. 1965.
  • Hermann Lemperle : Madonnas: The Madonna in German sculpture , 1965
  • Paul J. Achtermayer and others / Raymond E. Brown and others (eds.): Maria in the New Testament. An ecumenical inquiry. (Translated by Ursula Schierse, original title: Mary in the New Testament. Philadelphia / New York 1978), Katholisches Bibelwerk, Stuttgart 1981.
  • Alois Müller: Faith speech about the mother of Jesus. An attempt at mariology from today's perspective. Matthias Grünewald Verlag, Mainz 1983.
  • Wolfgang Beinert et al .: Maria - an ecumenical challenge. Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 1984.
  • Christa Mulack : Maria. The secret goddess in Christianity. Stuttgart 1986.
  • John Paul II : Mary - God's yes to man. (Encyclical "Mother of the Redeemer", introduction by Joseph Ratzinger , commentary by Hans Urs von Balthasar ), Herder-Verlag, Freiburg i. Br. 1987.
  • Max Thurian , Brother de Taizé: Maria. Mother of the Lord - archetype of the Church. Matthias-Grünewald Verlag, Mainz 4th edition 1988 (= Topos-Taschenbücher 72).
  • Franz Mußner : Mary, the mother of Jesus in the New Testament. St. Ottilien 1993.
  • Alan Posener : Maria. Rowohlt monograph. Reinbek near Hamburg 1999, ISBN 978-3-499-50621-5 .
  • Klaus Schreiner : Maria. Life, legends, symbols. CH Beck Wissen, Munich 2003, ISBN 978-3-406-48013-3 .
  • Shalom Ben-Chorin : Mother Mirjam. Mary from a Jewish perspective. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2006, ISBN 3-579-05344-2 ).
  • Marie-Louise Gubler: Maria. Mother - Prophetess - Queen of Heaven. Katholisches Bibelwerk eV, Stuttgart 2008.
  • Thomas A. Seidel , Ulrich Schacht (ed.): Maria. Evangelical. Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig, Bonifatius, Paderborn 2011, ISBN 978-3-374-02884-9 , ISBN 978-3-89710-498-3 .
  • Silke PetersenMaria, mother of Jesus. In: Michaela Bauks, Klaus Koenen, Stefan Alkier (eds.): The scientific biblical lexicon on the Internet (WiBiLex), Stuttgart 2006 ff.

Web links

Commons : Virgin Mary  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Commons : Maria with child  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Manfred Görg : Mirjam. In: also with Bernhard Lang (ed.): New Bible Lexicon , Volume 2, Benziger, Zurich / Düsseldorf 1996, ISBN 978-3-545-23075-0 , Sp. 815-816.
  2. a b Martin Bauschke: The son of Mary. Jesus in the Koran. Darmstadt 2013. p. 22 f.
  3. Fabian Brand: Mention also in non-Christian writings and art - Joachim and Anna: The grandparents of Jesus belong to the "Holy Kinship". In: . July 26, 2020, accessed September 8, 2020.
  4. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 499–501
  5. Kevelaer: Thousands of Tamils ​​as guests of the "Comforter of the Sorrowful". In: , August 10, 2019, accessed on the same day.
  6. Friedmann Eißler: Jesus and Maria in Islam. In: Christfried Böttrich , Beate Ego, Friedmann Eißler: Jesus and Maria in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2009, pp. 120–205 (here: 182 ff.).
  7. Mary in Islam. In: Forum am Freitag , ZDF , article from October 2, 2010, accessed on December 19, 2016.
  8. ^ Description of Various Loa of Voodoo , Webster University , 1990