Skip to main content

Nativity of Mary


Sacred Scripture mentions nothing specifically about Mary's conception and birth. What is known of her nativity derives principally from the Apocryphabooks that are generally unreliable historically, but that sometimes incorporate genuine traditions, some of which have found their way into the Church's liturgy.

In the Apocrypha. The oldest (c. a.d. 150) and basic Apocryphon referring to Mary's nativity is entitled Birth of Mary: Revelation of James [Papyrus Bodmer V] or, more popularly (since Postel, 1552), Protoevangelium of James. Its anonymous and probably Judeo-Christian author, indignant at anti-Marian calumnies of the time, glorified the Virgin mother of god in what amounts to a primitive Mariology. The opening five chapters of the work describe the miraculous, though not necessarily "immaculate," conception and birth of Mary. Joachim and Anne, a wealthy couple elderly and childless, beseech God to remove the humiliation of sterility and grant them a child. Each is assured separately by an angel that their prayers had been heard, and Mary is born after seven [nine] months. Some versions and recensions of the Protoevangelium, understanding the angel's assurance to Joachim in a past tense, suggest a virginal conception in Anne's womb. Later pertinent Apocrypha (Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, probably 8th-9th centuries; Gospel of the Birth of Mary, a shortened form of Pseudo-Matthew; a Syriac-Armenian Infancy Gospel; and some Coptic Lives of the Virgin) all rest on and repeat evidence of the Protoevangelium.

Mary's Birthplace and Davidic Descent. According to Lk 1.26 Mary was living at nazareth when she conceived her divine Son. In the absence of further scriptural data, some presume that Nazareth would have been her own birthplace. In much later Apocrypha (e.g., Gospel of the Birth of Mary), Nazareth is given as the home of Joachim and Anne. The Protoevangelium of James supposes that Mary was conceived and born in Jerusalem, a tradition supported by later writers and by remnants of a small oratory (c. a.d. 300) in Jerusalem, above which the fifth-century basilica of St. Anne was built.

It is still disputed whether Mary, like Joseph, was of David's line. Some see the genealogies in Matthew ch. 1 and Luke ch. 3 as referring only to Joseph's forebears, not Mary's. They point out that Elizabeth, Mary's relative, was of Aaronitic descent (Lk 1.5), which might indicate that Mary too was of a priestly family. However, a tradition going as far back as Ignatius of Antioch (Eph. 18.2; 20.2; Rom. 7.3; Smyrn. 1.1) and Justin Martyr (1 Apol. 32; Dial. 43.45, 100, 120), based on New Testament texts that seem to refer to Christ's descent from David according to the flesh [Lk 1. (27), 32, 69; Rom1.3], testify to Mary's Davidic lineage; cf. also Tertullian De carne Christi 22; Augustine Cons. Evang. 2.2.4; Pseudo-James; and Pseudo-Matthew. More probably, then, Mary's parents were descendants of David, and Mary's Son was the Son of David according to the flesh, not merely legally through the putative fatherhood of Joseph.

See Also: anne and joachim, ss.; immaculate conception; mary, blessed virgin, articles on.

Bibliography: m. lindgren-tridell, "Der Stammbaum Maria aus Anna und Joachim," Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft 1112 (193839) 289308. a. merk, "Das Marienbild des Neuen Bundes," in Katholische Marienkunde, ed. p. strÄter, 3 v. (Paderborn 194751) 1:4484. o. cullmann, "In-fancy Gospels," in New Testament Apocrypha, ed. e. hennecke et al. (Philadelphia 1963) 1:363. a. rush, "Mary in the Apocrypha of the N.T.," j. b. carol ed., Mariology 3 v. (Milwaukee 195461) 1:156184. Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928) 4:780781.

[e. may]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nativity of Mary." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . 20 Mar. 2019 <>.

"Nativity of Mary." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . (March 20, 2019).

"Nativity of Mary." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved March 20, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.