Mary of Egypt

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Mary of Egypt, Russian festival icon with scenes from the legend, 17th century

Maria of Egypt ( Latin Maria Aegyptiaca , * around 344 in Alexandria in Egypt ; † around 421 or 430 near Jericho ) was an early church hermit and is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches . Only legends have come down to us about her life. Her image is often found as the patroness of penitents over confessionals .



The most important Vita of Maria Aegyptiaca is written in Greek and is considered the work of the Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem († 638). Paulus Diaconus († 799) translated it into Latin. Its version became the basis of the version of the Legenda aurea of Jacobus de Voragine and many other modifications.


Mary of Egypt receiving communion through the monk Zosimas, travel icon from the middle of the 19th century

The legend embeds Mary's story in a frame that tells of the monk Zosimas, who, after decades of exemplary asceticism, believes that he has reached perfection and is led to an encounter with the penitent Mary. She tells him her story herself.

According to this, she was a prostitute in Alexandria before the end of her life . One day she decided to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Cross in Jerusalem . At the door to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher , she was prevented from entering three times by an invisible hand. Only after praying for the assistance of the Blessed Mother in front of an icon of Mary was she able to enter the church and there converted to a Christian way of life.

A stranger gave her three coins. She bought three loaves of bread and retired as a penitent to the desert on the other side of the Jordan . 46 years later, on the day of Easter , the monk Zosimas found the hermit Maria, naked and completely covered with hair. She asked him to come back to her over the Jordan the next Easter and bring her communion. The next year, Zosimas was on his way, the Jordan overflowed at Easter. Mary came to meet him, made a sign of the cross , walked across the water, received Holy Communion , made the sign of the cross again, stepped back across the water and disappeared. When Zosimas returned after another year, he saw her body and a request written in the sand to bury her. Although she had been dead for a year, her body was not decomposed. While Zosimas was still thinking, a lion appeared and dug the grave with his paws, in which Zosimas then laid her.

Evidence and Relics

For the first time 200 years later, in the 6th century, Mary's grave is documented as a destination for pilgrimages. The first stories can be found in Johannes Moschos around 600, Latin translations at the beginning of the 7th century. The relationship between the legend and the stories about Mary Magdalene and those about the desert fathers like Onophrios the Great is clear.

Alleged relics came to Rome , Naples and Antwerp . Her unspoiled tongue is kept in the reliquary collection of Vodnjan in Croatia , where there are several immaculate bodies of Christian saints. In 872 Pope John VIII consecrated the Temple of Portunus on the Roman Forum Boarium as a Church of Mary ; It was first mentioned in 1492 as the Church of St. Mary of Egypt testifies.

Remembrance Day, Iconography and Art

The feast day of the saints is April 1st . In the Orthodox churches it is commemorated on the fifth Sunday of the great Lent .

In iconography , Mary of Egypt is often unclothed and covered only by her hair, with three loaves of bread and a chalice. She is the patroness of penitent women and repentant sinners . She is called upon in prayer against a high fever . In pictorial representations of the Middle Ages, for example on winged altars , elements of her legend are often juxtaposed with that of Mary Magdalene and sometimes mixed together.

According to legend, Mary of Egypt, only covered by her head hair, as intercessor for a donor couple; Picture window in Quimper Cathedral , 15th century

In the final scene of Goethe's Faust II , Mary of Egypt appears together with two women from the New Testament and intercedes for Gretchen with the Virgin Mary:

Maria Aegyptiaca
By the sacred place
Where the Lord was settled;
By the arm that
pushed me back from the warning gate ;
At forty years of penance,
Which I remained faithful in the deserts;
At the blessed parting greeting that
I wrote down in the sand -
To three.
You who
do not deny your closeness to great sinners ,
And atone gain
in eternity,
Grant 'also to this good soul,
who once only forget themselves, who
did not suspect that they were missing,
your forgiveness appropriate!

Emil Nolde created two depictions in 1912: Saint Mary of Egypt, today Essen, Folkwang Museum , and the triptych Maria Ägyptiaca , today Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle , previously in the Heinrich Kirchhoff collection .

Rainer Maria Rilke's poem The Egyptian Maria was published in 1918.

The motif was included in Ottorino Respighi's Mysterium Maria egiziaca ( Eng . The Egyptian Maria ; 1931–1932). Libretto: Claudio Guastalla. Premiere 1932 New York and Venice. The Italian composer Alberto Franchetti (1860–1942) wrote an opera of the same name ; but it was never performed and is considered lost or destroyed.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. See Vitae patrum
  2. Patrologia Graeca Volume 87 c , Col. 3697ff.
  3. Patrologia Latina Volume 73 Col. 673ff.
  4. Mary of Egypt - Ecumenical Lexicon of Saints. Retrieved May 26, 2020 .
  5. Vesna Maric, Anja Mutic: Lonely Planet Travel Guide Croatia: with downloads of all maps . Mairdumont GmbH & Company KG, 2019, ISBN 978-3-575-44073-0 ( [accessed on May 29, 2020]).
  6. Gospel day by day - HL Mary of Egypt. Ⓒ, accessed May 29, 2020 .
  7. Vodnjan Reliquary Collection - Biology. Retrieved May 26, 2020 .
  8. Christian Hülsen 1927 ( online in Italian )
  9. An excerpt “Death of Maria” easily accessible as a print in Berghof (Red.): Art in the persecution: Degenerate Art (exhibition) 1937 in Munich. Examples. Neckar, Villingen 1998, without ISBN, large format
  10. ^ Rilke: The Egyptian Maria


  • Konrad Kunze : Studies on the legend of St. Maria Aegyptiaca in the German-speaking area. Erich Schmidt, Berlin 1969
  • ders. (Ed.): The legend of St. Mary Aegyptiaca. An example of hagiographic transmission in 16 unpublished German, Dutch and Latin versions , ibid. 1978 ISBN 3-503-00582-X
  • The legend of Mary from Egypt - Bios Marias Aigyptias . Translated from the Greek and explained by Gabriele Ziegler; Foreword by Anselm Grün; Decorative vignettes by Franz Grundler (Sources of Spirituality Volume 8) Vier-Türme-Verlag, Münsterschwarzach 2013, ISBN 978-3-89680-708-3
  • Gabriele Ziegler: The desert mothers. Wise women of early Christianity . Camino, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 978-3-460-50003-7

Web links

Commons : Mary of Egypt  - Collection of images, videos and audio files