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Apocryphal Writings on the Life of Mary

Apocryphal Writings on the Life of Mary

– Answered by Sister M. Danielle Peters

Q: What are the aspects of Mary’s person and life, which are related by the various apocryphal writings?

A: Scripture is tight-lipped regarding details of Mary's personality and life. It speaks only to the essentials of her religious vocation and role in the Incarnation and Jesus’ salvific work. The apocryphal writings, non-canonical early writings dealing with Jesus' and Mary's life as well as other apostles and events surrounding the earliest times of Christianity are merely expansive and sometimes generously complement lacunas found in Scripture. This is not to say that apocryphal writers are of higher authority than Scripture. It is Scripture in all its sobriety and sometimes frustrating poverty of information that constitutes the measuring rod of our faith. However, the apocryphal writings have documentary value. They witness contemporary feeling and reverence about Mary. They tell us what some people at a given time thought about Mary, and what their expectations and spiritual beliefs on her behalf were.

The following presentation attempts at gathering most of what the apocryphal writers tell us about Mary, without any claim of being comprehensive. The listing of the various items regarding aspects of Mary's person and life gives reference to their sources (see abbreviations in second column), which in turn are mentioned with more specific bibliographical information as attachment to this presentation.


Protoevangelium of James = PJ
Odes of Solomon = OS
Acts of Peter = AP
Sibylline Oracles = SO
The Ascension of Isaiah = AI
History of Joseph the Worker = HJW
Arabic Gospel of the Infancy = AGI
Book of Resurrection of Christ = BRC
Apocalypse of Paul = AOP
Gospel of Nicodemus/Acts of Pilate = NP
Gospel of Gamaliel = GG


Announcement of Mary's birth by an Angel to Anne and Joachim - PJ

When Mary was six months old, she could walk seven steps. - PJ

At her first birthday Joachim held a banquet inviting the High Priests. - PJ

Her bedroom was a sanctuary - PJ

Presentation of Mary in the Temple at age three - PJ

Mary's betrothal to Joseph at age twelve - PJ

Mary was asked to spin thread for the veil in the temple. - PJ

Added details to Mary's Annunciation (she sees the Angel twice): She went to the well to draw water when she heard a voice. - PJ

Then at home while she was spinning thread for the temple veil the angel appeared to her. Annunciation took place in Jerusalem

The High Priests sent Mary into the wilderness. She returned unharmed. - PJ

Nativity in a cave: Midwife's testimony to Mary’s virginity and Mary's vindication before the High Priest - PJ

The cave where Mary gave birth was illumined with intense light so that the eye could not take it.

Mary encountered Jesus on the Way of the Cross - NP

Christ appeared to Mary after the resurrection - GG

Vision of Hell

Transitus Mariae

Mary's coming in glory before her Son's coming in glory - AOP

Mary is a descendent of David. - PJ

In the temple Mary was fed by a heavenly messenger. - PJ


Mary's intercession - PJ

Due to Mary's intercession God allotted seven periods for penance to straying humans. - SO

Two miracles of the Infant Jesus worked for women who appealed to Mary. - AGI

The apostles asked Mary to ask the Lord to reveal to them all things in heaven. - BRC


Upon entering the temple, Mary danced. - PJ

Mary is terrified upon hearing the voice at the well.

Mary laughs and her cheeks become flushed at the Annunciation. - PJ

She rejoices and is touched in her heart with shame at the Annunciation. - PJ

Mary cried bitterly when Joseph doubted her, insisting ‘I am innocent.’ - PJ

Mary hid from the people once her pregnancy became visible. She was sixteen years old. - PJ

Mary urges that Joseph be invoked by the poor. - PJ

At the cross Mary is overwhelmed with grief, weeping, crying aloud. - NP


Conception of Mary - JP

Nativity of Mary - JP

Presentation of Mary in the Temple - PJ


Highly Favored One - BRC

Tabernacle of the Most High - BRC

Salvation of the World - BRC

Mother, Queen, and Servant - BRC

Mother of the heavenly King - BRC

Mary’s Virginity - PJ


Joseph’s doubt: he did not want to take Mary as his wife since there was such an age gap. He feared to be made fun of. - PJ

Two brothers of the Lord are sons of J. from a former marriage - PJ

Joseph took Mary out of fear of the Lord but left her alone while going on a journey to build houses. - PJ

Joseph did not know how to register Mary because she was too young to be his wife - PJ

Joseph found a cave where Mary could give birth - PJ

His sons guarded the cave while he looked for a Hebrew midwife - PJ


Hennecke Schneemelcher, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen 1959. English translation edited by R. McL. Wilson

James, M. R. The Apocryphal New Testament 1969

Rush, A. C. "Maria en los evangelios apocrifos," In: J. B. Carol, Mariologia 1964, pp. 156 – 181

Rush, A. C. "Outlines of Mary's holiness in New Testament Apocrypha, In: Virgo Immaculata III pp. 259-268

Schmid, H. R. Protoevangelium Jacobi, A commentary 1965

Schmidt, K. L. Kanonische und apokryphe Evangelien und Apostelgeschichten 1944

Strycker, E. de La forme la plus ancienne du Protévagile de Jacques, 1961 BS2860.2.J2 S8

Tischendorf, C. Evangelia apocrypha Evangelia apocrypha, adhibitis plurimis codicibus graecis et latinis maximam partem nunc primum consultis atque ineditorum copia insignibus, 1876, new edition 1966 BS2850.G7 T5 1966

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