The Death and Burial of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Death and Burial of the Blessed Virgin Mary

John Account of Mary as instructed by Jesus

John was deliberate in his account of Mary. Lets start the story of Mary to her death and burial

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19:26-27)

At some point in time John made his way to Ephesus.  It was assumed by many that Mary was with him, an assumption which gave rise to the tradition that Mary died in that city. This tradition, to the best of my knowledge, dates back only to about the middle of the fourth century, whereas the tradition that Mary lived, died and was buried in Jerusalem dates back to the second or third century.

Death and burial of Mary
The Stair case to the tomb of Mary

There is both biblical and post-biblical evidence that Jerusalem was in fact the place of Mary’s death and burial.

As Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles,after the Ascension of Jesus the apostles…

…returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. (Acts 1:12-14)

Other than the eleven apostles, “Mary the mother of Jesus” is the only person named in this post-Ascension gathering of disciples, who were the first members of the Jewish Christian Church in Jerusalem. However, the bible does not provide us with any further details about the earthly life of Mary, at least not directly.

The Acts of the Apostles leaves one to infer that John remained in Jerusalem for quite some time after the Ascension, which by extension means that Mary would have remained there living in John’s home. How long did John remain in Jerusalem? Well, we know that John was in Jerusalem for the ‘Council of Jerusalem’, which convened to consider Paul’s missionary methods among the Gentiles (Acts 15:1-34). Paul mentions John’s presence in his letter to the Galatians:

[W]hen they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised…and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Galatians 2:7-9)

Death and burial of Mary
The Beautiful edifice in the tomb of Mary

An edicule over Mary’s tomb

Even if we accept the traditional dating of Jesus’ birth, Mary would have been about sixty-five years old in 50 AD. Most scholars, however, date Jesus’ birth as much as seven years earlier, which would mean that Mary was more likely around seventy years old in 50 AD. In his book, Paths of the Messiah, BargilPixner suggests that John didn’t leave for Ephesus until after the Jewish revolt began in 66 AD, and therefore:

It is not very likely that the Virgin at her advanced age could have accompanied [John] to the Gentile city of Ephesus in order to die alone, far removed from her relatives. (Pixner, 404)

The source of the tradition surrounding Mary’s death and burial is a post-biblical document known as Transitus Mariae (Latin, The Crossing Over of Mary). While this has long been considered a document composed in the fourth century (which, by the way, pre-dates the Ephesus tradition) more recent studies have identified, within the document, certain theological terminology typical of early Jewish Christians. The presence of such Jewish Christian language in the document would date it to the second or third century.

According to Transitus Mariae, Mary was surrounded by “all the apostles” when she died. Therefore, Pixner concludes that Mary died around the time of the ‘Council of Jerusalem’, as this would have ensured all the apostles would have been in Jerusalem (Pixner, 404).

It is Transitus Mariae which tells us of Mary’s burial at Gethsemane. In their report, New Discoveries at the Tomb of Virgin Mary (Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1975), B. Bagatti, M. Piccirillo and A. Prodomo point out the fact that there are various versions of Transitus Mariae, and thus there are a variety of accounts about the burial of Mary. Despite the differences between the various versions, however, they all agree that Mary was buried in a tomb at Gethsemane (Bagatti, 11-13).

Death and burial of Mary
The Stone were Mary’s body was laid after her death

The stone upon which her body was supposedly laid. The tradition says that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven on the third day (the Assumption)

In a document from 451 AD, in response to a request for the relics of the Virgin Mary, the Patriarch of Jerusalem responded with his firm belief that her relics were in the “remarkable church of the Blessed Mother of God, the Virgin Mary in the place called Gethsemane. There Mary’s body was placed in a tomb” (Bagatti, 16-17). Thus we know that there was a Byzantine church on this site at some point prior to 451 AD, which means that the site was venerated by Christians previous to the construction of the church.

From my conclusion, Blessed Virgin Mary remained in Jerusalem after the Ascension of Jesus, that she lived in the house of John until her death, and that she was buried in the tomb at Gethsemane which bears her name to this day.

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