Saturday, November 4, 2017

Mary of Nazareth

Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of Jesus, is credited with more miracles of healing than any other historic figure.  In Aramaic she was called Mariam after the sister of Moses.  Mariam was the most common name given to Jewish girls at the time, a name linguistically related to the myrrh plant, the bitter tasting herb used to anoint the body for burial.  Because of the acrid taste of the plant the word myrrh derives from the Hebrew root word mr that means bitter.  The sister of Moses presumably was so named because of the bitterness the people suffered under bondage. 

Mary lived with her parents Anne and Joachim during her betrothal to Joseph.  Jesus was born in a cave in Bethlehem while the family was traveling because there was no lodging to offer hospitality.  In a state of ritual impurity for forty days after giving birth Mary brought an offering to the priest and presented Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem.  

Later prompted by a spirit of hospitality at the wedding of her nephew Simon, Mary of Nazareth was instrumental in the first miracle of her son, turning water into wine for the wedding guests.  She is not present at any of his subsequent miracles such as healing the sick, exorcising demons, and raising the dead rituals that would have rendered a person ritually impure according to Jewish law.  The fact that Jesus so frequently reached out to the sick, the dying and the possessed made him suspect to the Jewish authorities. It was customary to designate women to perform the rituals that rendered a person impure, especially the washing and anointing of the body after death.  

All four canonical Gospel accounts agree that a group of women came early the next morning to anoint the body. They differ as to the names of the women who performed this ritual, but Mary of Nazareth is not mentioned in any of them.  In all four Mary Magdalene is first among those listed.  Matthew names Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, which is either Mary of Cleophas or Mary Salome.  Mark names Mary Magdalene, Mary of Cleophas and Mary Salome.  Luke names Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary of Jacob and other women of Galilee. Mary of Jacob is elsewhere called Mary, the mother of Jacob and Joses, otherwise known as Mary of Cleophas. John names only Mary Magdalene, but he records her as saying to the gardener, “We do not know where they have laid him,” implying that others were with her.   

Although Mary of Nazareth is called Comfort of the Afflicted, Health of the Sick, Help of the Afflicted, Mother of Mercy, Mother of Sorrows and Our Lady of Compassion, there is no connection between Mary of Nazareth and the rituals of anointing or healing described in scripture.  The healing miracles credited to her after her Assumption involve water rather than any of the healing oils.   

In many apparitions, most famously at the one at Lourdes, Mary indicates a spring with miraculous healing power.  The earliest written reference to the spring from which Mary of Nazareth drew water after the birth of Jesus is in the Protoevangelium of James. “And she took the pitcher and went forth to draw water, and behold, a voice said: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, you are blessed among women.’”  The evangelist Luke does not mention the spring in his account of the nativity, but the Book of Maryam in the Quran says that when Mary bore Jesus, she took herself away to a place next to the trunk of a palm tree where there was a stream of fresh water.

A wellspring on the site where the Archangel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus in Nazareth has served for centuries as the main water source for the surrounding area, and is purported to be the spring where Mary drew water to wash the infant Jesus.  “Women draw water in jars, which they balance on their heads, from a well at the foot of a hill where a little spring supplies it." Mary’s well has been a pilgrim site for centuries.   

The Monastery of the Mother of God at the Spring near Istanbul was built at the location where Emperor Justinian erected a church to commemorate a holy fountain blessed with miraculous healing properties.  A subterranean basement with ancient reliefs was discovered underneath the structure. By the sixteenth century the church no longer existed, but people still visit the spring praying to the Mother of God for healing.