Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a central figure in the Christian faith. Apart from delivering the savior of the world, Mary holds the distinction as the only biblical character to do so via a virgin birth. While the Bible has so much to say about Jesus, there’s very little about his mother and people wonder when and how she could have died. So, when did May the mother of Jesus die?
The date of Mary’s death cannot be ascertained from biblical records. As noted above, Mary gets few mentions in the bible and the time of her death might not have been an important consideration for Bible writers. In fact, except for Judas, the Bible does not specify the details of the death of the apostles of Jesus.
Mary in the Bible
The story of Mary the mother of Jesus is so familiar to all Christians that it’s hardly worth retelling. Yet, some highlights could help us come closer to a better discussion of the possible time of her death.
- She’s betrothed to Joseph
- She receives a message from an angel that she’ll conceive a child by the power of the Holy Spirit
- She conceives, gets a son, and names him Jesus, the name that the angel had given him
- She and her husband, Joseph, present Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:22)
In addition to the above major events, Mary is also present when Jesus performs his first miracle in the Canna of Galilee (when he turns water into wine) and she is also present at Jesus’ crucifixion and ascension.
Crucially, the last bible records we have of Mary are found in Acts. Acts 1:12-14 covers the period immediately after Jesus has ascended to heaven and his disciples have returned to Jerusalem. When they arrive, they go into an upstairs room and verse 14 says: They all joined together constantly in prayer along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
She’s also present in Acts 2 when she and the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
From this last mention, we have no other biblical basis to know when Mary died.
The Protestant and Catholic Views of Mary The Mother of Jesus
There are major differences in the way Catholics and Protestants view Mary. The Catholics venerate her as the “Queen of Heaven.” Alongside Mary, Catholics also venerate a host of other saints – over 4,000 of them. The Catholic saints are considered models of faith who died many years ago and can be prayed to. This kind of veneration is frowned upon by protestants who decry such acts as unbiblical.
Apart from referring to Mary as the Queen of Heaven, Catholicism asserts that Mary was assumed into heaven – that when she died, her body did not go through the physical decay that mortals go through. On the contrary, the assumption teaches that Mary’s body and soul were reunited in heaven.
The immortality that the Catholic faith gives Mary is generally unacceptable to protestants. The latter view Mary as a blessed person who performed her work to perfection but is not any different from other mortals.
The assumption of Mary has been celebrated as a holiday in several countries around the world for centuries and is an official dogma of the catholic church.
Coptic Orthodox Church View of Mary
The Coptic Orthodox Church venerates Mary in almost a similar way to the Catholics and regards her as the church’s highest saint, “higher than all the heavenly saints and any man or woman saint who ever lived.” The Coptic Church calls Mary Theotokos, the Greek word for “Mother of God.”
The end of life for Mary, as far as the Coptic Orthodox Church is concerned, is near-identical to the Catholic Assumption but the formers refer to it as the Dormition of the Mother of God.
Mary The Mother of Jesus in Culture
The views of the Catholic and the Coptic Orthodox Churches about Mary have had a profound effect on global culture. In addition to declaring her the greatest saint that ever lived, there have arisen sites where Mary is said to have appeared and which have henceforth attracted pilgrims. Some church members have shown their devotion to and faith in Mary through:
- Devotional services
Mary has also featured prominently in the arts. For centuries, there have been countless drawings of Mary either with Jesus or together with her husband, Joseph. She has also been honored with a vast number of statues outside churches. Her name has featured prominently in music as well as in film productions.
The fine artists who have tried to imagine the death of Mary all seem to have been influenced by the Catholic and Orthodox Coptic church teachings. The most famous portrayals show Mary surrounded by the disciples of Christ on her deathbed. An AD 1480 portrayal by Hugo van der Goes, for example, shows Mary surrounded by the disciples with Jesus standing above her.
From films to art and music, most artists view Mary as an immortal saint and this is the message that has been passed down over the centuries.
Apart from mainstream Christianity, it’s also important to note that Mary is viewed as a saint by religions that hold widely divergent views. In Islam, for instance, she’s considered the greatest woman that ever lived. Members of the Bahai Faith, like Christians, believe that she gave birth to Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The question of when Mary the mother of Jesus died is hard to answer. While there’s consensus amongst most believers about Mary’s virgin birth, the views among the same believers about how her life ended vary to the extreme. If we were to base our answer on what is available in the bible only, we’re forced to admit that the holy book does not give us any clue about the possible time of death.