Mary, in the Bible, mother of Jesus. Christian tradition reckons her the principal saint, naming her variously the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady, and Mother of God (Gr., theotokos). Her name is the Hebrew Miriam.
The events of her life mentioned in the New Testament include her betrothal and marriage to Joseph; the archangel Gabriel's annunciation to her of Jesus' birth; her visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist; Jesus' nativity; her purification at the Temple; her station at the Cross, where Jesus instructed that she and his disciple John should consider themselves related as mother and son; her visit to Christ's tomb after his resurrection; and her attendance in the room with the Twelve Apostles at Pentecost.
Although few other details of her life are mentioned or implied in the Bible, tradition has it that she was the daughter of St. Joachim and St. Anne, announced miraculously to them; that she was presented and dedicated at the Temple as a virgin; and that she was
directly into heaven, a doctrine that did not appear until the 5th cent. In 1950, Pope Pius XII's bull Munificentissimus Deus made Mary's bodily assumption into heaven an article of faith.
Her Significance in Christianity
Virginity and Immaculate Conception
Since the early church the theme of Mary's virginity has served as an important emblem of Christianity's ascetic ideal. The Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and some Protestant traditions teach the perpetual virginity of Mary, placing a nonliteral interpretation on New Testament references to Jesus'
The Roman Catholic Church additionally has proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (declared in the bull Ineffabilis Deus of Pius IX, 1854), according to which Mary was conceived without original sin. The Roman Catholic Church further teaches that Mary was freed from actual sin by a special grace of God.
Intercession and Veneration
From earliest times Mary's intercession was believed to be especially efficacious on behalf of humankind and the church; since the Middle Ages, recitation of the rosary has been among the most popular expressions of Marian devotion. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Mary is the mediatrix of all graces. The body of doctrine about Mary is called Mariology; Mariolatry is an opprobrious term used since the Reformation to mean the worship of Mary—a criticism leveled by many Protestants at the cult of Mary within the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics maintain that the veneration (hyperdulia) accorded Mary, while higher than that accorded any other creature, is infinitely lower than the worship (latria) reserved for Jesus. The principal feasts honoring Mary are those of the Assumption (Aug. 15), the Birthday of Our Lady (Sept. 8), the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), the Purification (Feb. 2: see Candlemas), and the Annunciation or Lady Day (Mar. 25).
Apparitions of the Virgin have been reported since ancient times, and some have led to new cultuses and shrines, typically associated with cures. These apparitions include those at Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico, in 1531, associated with a miraculous painting (Our Lady of Guadalupe); at Paris (Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal) in 1830; at Lourdes, France, in 1858; and at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. The most well-known apparitions since then have been those at Medjugorje, Bosnia; since they began in the early 1980s they have attracted many pilgrims but have not been officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Two great pilgrim shrines of medieval England were Our Lady of Glastonbury and Our Lady of Walsingham (Norfolk). Our Lady of Częstochowa has been a rallying point of Polish nationalism.
Patroness and Artistic Subject
Mary in her aspect of the Immaculate Conception is the patroness of the United States, and Our Lady of Guadalupe was declared Empress of all the Americas by Pope Pius X. With Lumen Gentium (1964), Pope Paul VI proclaimed Mary as Mother of the Church. In the 1980s, while it was still a part of the USSR, Pope John Paul II dedicated Russia to her. Artistic representations of Mary are innumerable; for differing aspects, see Christian iconography under iconography. She has been the subject of countless works from the time of the pseudepigrapha.
See H. C. Graef, Mary (2 vol., 1963–65); H. A. Oberman, The Virgin Mary in Evangelical Perspective (1971); S. Benko, Protestants, Catholics and Mary (1978); H. Küng, ed., Mary in the Churches (1983); M. O'Connell, ed., Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1983).