Mary living in Temple?


I understand that Mary actually lived in the Temple as a child, grew up there, until she was married. I can’t imagine what she would have spent her childhood doing, other than learning the Sacred Scriptures, and learning to read and write. Was she one of several Temple Virgins? (as opposed to pagan temple prostitutes) What would she have done all day and night? I know there would have been prayer and devotion…but I just picture she was a little girl, along with possibly other little girls who would grow to become consecrated virgins, living in that grand place with bearded, robed priests. I’ve just always wondered how this kind of life would have been for her. Does anyone know? One thing I love about this forum is that there always seems to be someone who can shed light on the unknown.


Venerable Mary of Jesus of Agreta’s book, The Mystical City of God, Volume 1, Book 2, describes her private revelations concerning the Virgin Mary’s life in the temple. (Link to online flip-book) Her daily routine is described in Chapter 4, especially pages 364-365, paragraphs 470 and 472.


There is no more evidence that the BVM grew up in the Holy Temple than that she lived in Temple, TX :):slight_smile:



Yes, I must admit I was puzzled why this was being asked in the Scripture forum.


This is a very old tradition- that after Her presentation in the Temple at the age of three, Mary lived in the Temple (in fact in the Holy of Holies) for 11 years.

From a letter attributed to Evodius:

Trimula cum esset in templum praesentata , ibi in Sancto Sanctorum traduxit annos unidecim.

The story goes that she was lead in by angels, and never looked back at her parents. John Damascene and others give much the same tradition.

If you know Latin, you can read all about it in the “Exegeticon historicum Sanctae Annae” by Jacobus Polius (free at Google books), around pp.84-88.

The tradition seems to have arisen from the parallel between Anna (the mother Samuel) dedicating Samuel to the temple service, and the Anna (the mother of Mary), therefore doing the same thing.


This tradition comes from the 2nd century apocryphal Gospel of James. It is not an official teaching of the Church but has been widely believed.


IMHO, I think this is a legend.

The Temple did have an area called “The court of the Women”, but this did not mean that there were only women allowed there–it was the area where women could go no further into the temple except for sacrificial purposes. It had no living quarters.

Beyond the “Court of the Women” was “The Priests’ Court”. From what I can tell, there may have been a few living quarters in this area, but only for Priests who were serving in the Temple at the time.

As to Mary actually living in the Holy of Holies–I think this must be symbolic–perhaps that she lived, in her daily life, in the very presence of God himself–it would speak of her personal holiness. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies–and only on one day per year–on the Day of Atonement (which was just celebrated yesterday, BTW).


IMHO, I think this is a legend.

When a person first entered the temple they came in to the “Court of the Gentiles”.This Court had a few living quarters around it, but they were for the Levites serving in the temple.

The Temple did have an area called “The court of the Women”, but this did not mean that there were only women allowed there–it was the area where women could go no further into the temple except for sacrificial purposes. It had no living quarters.

Beyond the “Court of the Women” was “The Priests’ Court”. From what I can tell, there may have been a few living quarters in this area, but only for Priests who were serving in the Temple at the time.

As to Mary actually living in the Holy of Holies–I think this must be symbolic–perhaps that she lived, in her daily life, in the very presence of God himself–it would speak of her personal holiness. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies–and only on one day per year–on the Day of Atonement (which was just celebrated yesterday, BTW).

(not that I’m an expert or anything)

But this is interesting:

Maybe they lived around the temple–but I wouldn’t think within it.


To my way of thinking, it’s “details” like this - living in the Holy of Holies (when we know that only the High Priest could enter that, and only once a year - and “not looking back at her parents” - that make such stories seem so dubious, just pious traditions accreting over the years. They do not add to the glories of Mary, have nothing to do with salvation history, and in fact detract from what we know to be true about her simplicity, holiness, and perfect obedience to God’s will. As if a young girl “looking back at her parents” were some kind of moral flaw.


The Latin Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (Chapter IV) is contains a differing account. Mary was committed to a ‘contubernio virginum’ (a convent of virgins), attached to the temple. According to this source, at the age of three, she spoke with the wisdom of a person of thirty. And the angels brought her food each day.

It’s available on Google books, in the Tischendorf edition of “Evangelia Apocrypha”.

These stories are all legends- there may be elements of truth, though.


The apocryphal writings to which we referred in the last paragraph state that Mary remained in the Temple after her presentation in order to be educated with other Jewish children. There she enjoyed ecstatic visions and daily visits of the holy angels.

When she was fourteen, the high priest wished to send her home for marriage. Mary reminded him of her vow of virginity, and in his embarrassment the high priest consulted the Lord. Then he called all the young men of the family of David, and promised Mary in marriage to him whose rod should sprout and become the resting place of the Holy Ghost in form of a dove. It was Joseph who was privileged in this extraordinary way.

We have already seen that St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Germanus of Constantinople, and pseudo-Gregory Nazianzen seem to adopt these legends. Besides, the emperor Justinian allowed a basilica to be built on the platform of the former Temple in memory of Our Lady’s stay in the sanctuary; the church was called the New St. Mary’s so as to distinguish it from the Church of the Nativity. It seems to be the modern mosque el-Aksa. [47]

On the other hand, the Church is silent as to Mary’s stay in the Temple. St. Ambrose [48], describing Mary’s life before the Annunciation, supposes expressly that she lived in the house of her parents. All the descriptions of the Jewish Temple which can claim any scientific value leave us in ignorance as to any localities in which young girls might have been educated. Joas’s stay in the Temple till the age of seven does not favour the supposition that young girls were educated within the sacred precincts; for Joas was king, and was forced by circumstances to remain in the Temple (cf. 2 Kings 11:3). What 2 Maccabees 3:19, says about “the virgins also that were shut up” does not show that any of them were kept in the Temple buildings. If the prophetess Anna is said (Luke 2:37) not to have “departed from the temple, by fastings and prayer serving night and day”, we do not suppose that she actually lived in one of the temple rooms. [49] As the house of Joachim and Anna was not far distant from the Temple, we may suppose that the holy child Mary was often allowed to visit the sacred buildings in order to satisfy her devotion.


First, this is an important article on the subject:

Did Jewish Temple Virgins Exist and was Mary a Temple Virgin?
by Dr Taylor Marshall

Second, I’d like to offer my own conjecture, and I could be completely wrong on this, but here goes. In chapter 2, Luke tells us this:

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

This is from the account of Jesus’ presentation in the temple, and the event it records, the meeting with Anna, would have occurred 50 years earlier. Anna would have been long dead at the time that Luke wrote. And Jesus would have been too young to have remembered this story at all. Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father was dead. Who does that leave to tell the tale and why?

Only a mother would remember a moment like this from her son’s presentation. And how did Mary know all the details of Anna’s life? She has no other mention in the gospels, and even though she is a “prophetess” she gives no prophecy here. Only Simeon does. So, why does this woman appear at all in Luke?

It is my belief that Mary consecrated herself to God from a very early age. She took a vow of perpetual virginity, and she lived in the Temple until she reached the age of menstruation. Because this made her ceremonially unclean, she was unable to remain in the temple; it became necessary for her to be married to someone who would honor her vow of virginity. Joseph was an older man, a widower, with children by his previous wife who are known as the “brothers of Jesus”. Joseph was chosen to become Mary’s “husband”, but he was really her “protector”. He disappears from the gospels sometime after Jesus is found in the Temple at age twelve - the age at which Jesus became a man and was able to take responsibility for his mother’s care.

Now, if Mary was consecrated to God, did she live in the Temple? And if she did, who cared for this young girl all those years? Could it have been Anna, herself a widow who “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying”? I think so.

And how did Luke learn of Anna? Sure, Jesus could have heard all of this from His mom and later told it to the disciples, but is this the most likely source of the material? Jesus had other things on his mind besides telling stories about his childhood to the apostles.

I think Mary lived with Anna, a woman whom she undoubtedly loved like a mother, for many years in the Temple, and she mentioned Anna to Luke in the course of her recounting of the earliest events of Jesus’ life to him during the course of his investigations.


There may have been a few people, presumably priests, living in the Temple, just as there are a relative handful, most if not all, priests or Guardsmen, living in the Vatican; but I’d imagine that children raised in either locale would be equally rare to nonexistent.



To be perfectly honest, as a European priest and a theologian, I find statements like this off-putting in the extreme.

If a Catholic has celebrated the liturgical feast of July 26th s/he is relying on the same historical resource for the names used and the story conveyed as is the case with the life of Mary in the Temple is derived.

For those of us who teach Mariology, we are aware of not only the sub-apostolic and patristic sources concerning this but the extra-ecclesiastical sources.

As a scholar, I have absolutely the lowest of opinions for pronouncements of “no more evidence that the BVM grew up in the Holy Temple than that she lived in Temple, TX” when the pronouncement gives me no reason to think that the person has actually devoted their life, as a scholar, to being theologian. Frankly, such is formulated as an insult to the Church, an insult to the Fathers of the Church and an insult to Mariology as a contemporary field of theology.

To contrast the witness of the sub-apostolic Church and the Fathers of the Church to ascribing a residence of the Blessed Virgin to some city or town in a State of the United States is so abhorrent as to defy words.

The liturgical feast of November 21, moreover, expresses quite well the Church’s mind on this matter – that the mystery is found worthy of acceptance through the Church’s liturgical commemoration of it.


Well, you would wrong.

Some of the most delightful memories I recount involve the children, of years now so long past, who lived within the walls of the Vatican. There are those that I wished I knew what they went on to…but that is the way life is.


Your final question is an understandable one. It is one that can be answered more easily than it could be understood and appreciated by the contemporary person, if I may say.

From the perspective of latter second temple period Judaism, it is hard to overemphasise the importance of the temple. One repeatedly confronts this. So many aspects of Jewish liturgical life find a reflection in Catholic thought, in Catholic liturgics and in Catholic theology…and yet, because of the temple’s singularity (in view of the suppression of Josiah) there is something that defies translation from their circumstances to ours. There is more to it than that…but I won’t digress.

It was also a very different society and a different culture. Even if one is not a subscriber to J,E,P, and D, the strata of the sacred texts indicate that whether the temple is the residence of a fullness of the Divine Presence, the Shekinah, or the place where the Name of the Lord will reside, to be associated with it intimately was a privilege that it would be hard to find a contemporary comparison or analogy.

Recently, we had the Olympics. I was watching young girls, gymnasts, whose youth was devoted to and focused upon this achievement…years of work, years of sacrifice, all the effort necessary to be in this inner cadre of a small team chosen for the Olympics. A success will put them in a singular place. I still remember American gymnasts and ice skaters from half a century ago.

Joachim and Anne would have seen such dedication and sacrifice – and a reward of medals – as vain and empty in comparison to an association with the Temple of the Living God. I don’t know if that offers you any insight.

The same is true in subsequent centuries in the early and not so early Church with the oblati…the children who were oblates in a monastery for some number of years. I think most parents today would find it unimaginable to give their young children to this purpose in view of how we see life, how we see childhood, how we see growing up, how we see progression to adulthood. and to a career and “life.”

But the views and expectations in each of these points were different for parents in “the Age of Faith,” when this occurred…in a way not dissimilar to Joachim and Anne.

These were children who resided in the one great center of culture and repository of human learning and knowledge in their whole sphere of lived experience…the monastery. Architecturally splendid, technically superb, self-contained and self-sustaining. It would give them remarkable human opportunities, yes. But much more than human excellence, it was the school of saints.

And that, after all, was what mattered most in life in that era – and what everything else in life was about attaining. Learning and education – such as it was before the advent of the colleges and universities and even before the cathedral schools – was oriented toward the sacred sciences.

These children, for this opportunity, would know the faith better, the language of prayer better, the practical path to holiness better by this providential good fortune to live as an oblate in the monastery. Perhaps the child and the monastery might even ultimately decide that the monastic life was even the child’s vocation.

How would Joachim and Anne and Mary have seen the experience? Well, to understand it, you would have to have their mind and worldview and you would have to look at it through the lenses by which they understood and processed human life, humanity, religion and what was of value and significance…as opposed to what wasn’t.


All of the insight was interesting to read. I especially liked the thought that the Prophetess Anna might have raised Her in the Temple. I know all of this is speculation and stories, and no one can really know.


My two cents.

As far as we can tell from the available historical data, we do have some evidence that the Temple staff who were on the payroll of the institution included maidens / young girls whose job was to weave for the Temple. (This itself isn’t unique to the Jerusalem Temple; many religious institutions in antiquity usually employed female weavers and seamstresses - weaving was pretty much considered a woman’s job, so by default most weavers then would be women.) But these girls AFAIK were not permanent residents; they came to the Temple, did their job, was paid for it (“from the contribution of the chamber,” Mishnah Sheqalim 2.6). But otherwise, they lived with their families. Come to think of it, even the priests only stayed in the Temple when they on duty.

I think we should differentiate between the version of the story as contained in the Protoevangelium of James and in later apocrypha. In the Protoevangelium only Mary is said to be the child that lived in the Temple a la Samuel in Shiloh. That’s why in the Protoevangelium her coming-of-age was such a big deal. It was only in the (much) later apocryphal literature that she began to be envisioned as joining a kind of community of proto-nuns. And IMHO using these later texts to prove that there was a community of consecrated virgins in Herod’s Temple that Mary might have joined (which is a different matter from trying to prove that Mary either literally stayed in the Temple Mount compound or was dedicated to God by her parents in some way and was connected to the Temple) would be shaky at best.

It’s even rather historically suspect, these later apocrypha, since they were written at just around the same time monasticism was beginning to be popular in Christianity thanks to the efforts of people like St. Benedict.


I actually addressed Dr. Marshall’s article in a past thread. In a nutshell, my main problem here would be the line of Dr. Marshall’s argument - I think he skips all over the place just to find supposed evidence for cloistered virgins in the Temple - and his choice of prooftexts.

At least two or three of them (the Mishnah, the Apocalypse of Baruch / 2 Baruch) do open the possibility that there were historically young female weavers who were working for Herod’s temple and were under the temple’s payroll - just like the bakers and the incense makers. This at least has something going for it. But while Dr. Marshall sees these as proof for his theory that there were ‘consecrated virgins’ in 1st century Judaism, even his prooftexts doesn’t say anything about these young girls being specially ‘dedicated’ or living (even for a time) at the Temple. He’s reading something that isn’t there.

This is what I was talking about in the past post: the whole matter of whether there were some kind of proto-monastic women living in Herod’s Temple in the 1st century is a different issue from whether the popular belief in Mary’s stay in the Temple has a historical basis. Dr. Marshall, IMHO, is mistakenly conflating them together.


Your timing is somewhat out- since the Evangelium of Pseudo-Matthew (referring to a community of virgins), was in existence long before Benedict.

Explicit evidence of consecrated women living in the Temple is found in the Gospel- namely, Anna (of Luke 2), who never left the temple, serving God with prayers day and night.

There is another tradition in the Church (little known now, I suspect), that Mary was the very first person ever to make a vow of Virginity to God. From memory, you will find in in St. Ildephonsus’ writings.

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