Mary in the Temple


It just dawned on me… Mary lived in the Holy Temple, as far as I’ve always known, yet wouldn’t She have gotten her period at eleven or twelve or so? I’m assuming She was still living there by that time, and She was a woman, ordinary in that sense…Yet women were not allowed to be in the Temple during their bloodflow, considered “unclean” until their monthly was over. How would this have worked for Her, if She was living there? Was there a special exception for Her?


She was not the only consecrated virgin to have ever lived in the Temple. I’m sure there were arrangements made for this.



This subject is discussed in the Protoevangelium of James, written about 150 A.D.:
8. And her parents went down marvelling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel. And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of the priests, saying: Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord? And they said to the high priest: You stand by the altar of the Lord; go in, and pray concerning her; and whatever the Lord shall manifest unto you, that also will we do. And the high priest went in, taking the robe with the twelve bells into the holy of holies; and he prayed concerning her. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, saying unto him: Zacharias, Zacharias, go out and assemble the widowers of the people, and let them bring each his rod; and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. And the heralds went out through all the circuit of Judæa, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all ran.

  1. And Joseph, throwing away his axe, went out to meet them; and when they had assembled, they went away to the high priest, taking with them their rods. And he, taking the rods of all of them, entered into the temple, and prayed; and having ended his prayer, he took the rods and came out, and gave them to them: but there was no sign in them, and Joseph took his rod last; and, behold, a dove came out of the rod, and flew upon Joseph’s head. And the priest said to Joseph, You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the virgin of the Lord. But Joseph refused, saying: I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel. And the priest said to Joseph: Fear the Lord your God, and remember what the Lord did to Dathan, and Abiram, and Korah; Numbers 16:31-33 how the earth opened, and they were swallowed up on account of their contradiction. And now fear, O Joseph, lest the same things happen in your house. And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping. And Joseph said to Mary: Behold, I have received you from the temple of the Lord; and now I leave you in my house, and go away to build my buildings, and I shall come to you. The Lord will protect you.


Note that this work “The Protoevangelium of James” is apocryphal, not an official teaching of the Church.


Thank you for your answers on this.


I might add to PaulfromIowa’s post that, solely concerning St. Joseph: It would seem a better idea to try and not retain the image of St. Joseph presented by the The Protoevangelium of James as though it were representative of the prevalent thought of the Church.

In his Josephology-based article identifying five qualities of St. Joseph , Father John Hardon, S.J., points out that the Church proposes the portrayal of St. Joseph in a different light :

St. Joseph - Foster Father of Jesus

"Some of the apocryphal gospels picture him as an old man, even a widower. This is not the Church’s teaching.

We are rather to believe that he was a virgin, who entered into a virginal marriage with Mary. This was to protect Mary’s reputation and safeguard the dignity of her Son."

Josephology; St. Joseph - Foster Father of Jesus ; Fr. John Hardon, S.J.,


Here’s an in-depth-treatment article directly related to the topic at The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton. This site has some of the most informative material I’ve ever personally seen so far on our Blessed Mother.

It’s delicate subject matter. Some of the points in the article are quite illuminating, and this particullar article contains material from a different view submitted in reply from another author- quite comprehensive. . . an example (green bolds mine):

**A woman can most certainly become pregnant before her first period, as the first period is preceded by the first ovulation. . . **

Still, I would pay particular particular attention to the title of the article:

Where Angels Fear to Tread


Yes, and its complete tripe, and soundly rejected by the Church. People like their ears tickled anyway, so it’s hung about to mislead the :hypno:gullible for centuries.


Yet, it shows there was a devotion, and desire to know more about the Blessed Virgin, at a time when most think none existed.


Let me get one thing straight: The Protoevangelium is based on Tradition. Tradition is not based on the Protoevangelium.


The Protoevangelium is 80-90% worthless historically, that’s true. Nobody reads it to gain insights on ‘the historical Mary’ or 1st-century Palestine. However, certain stuff from it did make their way to popular Christian consciousness. That’s how influential it was. It isn’t inspired Scripture (and the Church made it clear it wasn’t), but it did leave an impact on later Christianity that we can’t simply ignore.

I mean we call Mary’s parents ‘Joachim’ and ‘Anna’ because the Protoevangelium gave them those names. St. Joseph’s staff is shown sprouting with lilies ultimately because of the Protoevangelium. Salome and the midwife are depicted in eastern icons of the Nativity because of the Protoevangelium. The Presentation of Mary - and virtually just about every other incident that supposedly happened in Mary’s early life - as we often imagine it now is ultimately shaped by the Protoevangelium’s account and all those later derivative works that used it.


Going by the logic of the Protoevangelium’s narrative, the Temple priests were concerned that Mary’s menstruation might make the Temple unclean. That’s why the priests in the story married her off.

Here’s the thing, actually. The PoJ doesn’t really state that Mary joined a group of cloistered consecrated virgins in the Temple. Quite the contrary, in the world of the PoJ’s narrative, Mary was apparently the only girl living in the Temple - that the priests had to convene a council about what to do when Mary hits puberty.

(You have to keep in mind that the PoJ used the story of Samuel as a model for its depiction of Mary: barren woman miraculously conceives a child; said child is given by its parents back to God. Heck, Mary’s mother has the same name as Samuel’s: Hannah!)

It’s only in later, Western retellings (the earliest version I’ve read is from the 6th century) that you see these other consecrated proto-nuns appear, and they made their way into the story likely under influence of the rise of monasticism in the West (courtesy of St. Benedict).

Historically speaking, it’s rather uncertain whether there were even cloistered consecrated virgins living in the Jerusalem Temple anyway.

What you do have is this group of female weavers who were part of the Temple maintenance staff and were under its payroll; a tradition found between the lines of the Mishnah (I say ‘between the lines’, because the current version of the Mishnah seems to censor out their existence; for the record, a late 1st century source, the Apocalypse of Baruch, also implies the existence of these women, so we might assume that the tradition here is historically reliable) claims that these maidens were tasked with the making of the Temple curtain and other textiles used in the Temple.

But these virgin weavers didn’t seem to live in the Temple itself (they apparently only went there for ‘work’ - just like many priests and the other staff), and it’s unclear whether there was a special dedication/consecration involved.


Thank you for this Patrick. I learned today and am in your debt.



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