Apocalypse of the Virgin

Apocalypsis Mariae

Standard abbreviation: Apoc. Vir

Other titles: Apocalypse of the Theotokos, Apocalypse of Mary

Clavis numbers: CANT 327

Category: Apocalypses

Related literature: Apocalypse of Paul, Dormition of the Virgin, Ethiopic Apocalypse of the Virgin

Compiled by Tony Burke (tburke@yorku.ca), based upon work by Stephen Shoemaker

Citing this resource (using Chicago Manual of Style): Burke, Tony. “Apocalypse of the Virgin.” e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR. http://www.nasscal.com/e-clavis-christian-apocrypha/apocalypse-of-the-virgin/.

Posted September 2017.


Mary goes to Mount of Olives to pray and she meets there Michael the archangel. She asks him, “How many punishments are there, by which the human race is punished?” and says “Tell me of the things in heaven and on the earth” (1–2). The two travel to Hades and take a “tour of Hell,” viewing perpetrators of various sins suffering for their offenses in darkness, fire, and pitch. The first group are guilty of theological sinners, those who did not confess the Trinity, the Incarnation, and Mary’s role as the Theotokos (3–6). Mary and Michael move south and see a group of men and women who are punished for social and sexual transgressions—e.g., not honoring their parents, for cannibalism, usury, gossiping, and swearing false oaths (7–12). They move west and witness people who have committed ecclesiastical sins: not going to church, not standing for the priests, blasphemers, perjurers, etc. (13–17), and then punishments reserved specifically for clergy: readers who do not practice the Gospel, unworthy officials, widows of priests who remarried, and embezzlers of the church (18–23). Mary and Michael journey on to the “left parts of Paradise” where she sees what Michael calls the “great punishments” (24–26): torments reserved for the Jews, murderers, and sorcerers, and those guilty of incest and infanticide. In the same location is a river of fire where Christians are punished (27). Mary is so moved by their misery that she asks to be punished along with them (28). Michael tells her that it is not possible, so she calls upon God to have mercy upon them. She is joined by a chorus of voices: the angels, the prophets, and Christian saints (Paul and John) (29–33). After several refusals, God finally sends down his son to the sinners and allows the Christian sinners a period of respite every year during Eastertide, the 50 days from the Resurrection to Pentecost (34). The text ends with the sinners praising God for his mercy.

Named historical figures and characters: Adam (patriarch), Eve (matriarch), Gabriel (angel), Jesus Christ, John (the Baptist), John (son of Zebedee), Holy Spirit, Michael (angel), Moses (patriarch), Paul (apostle).

Geographical locations: Hades, Jordan River, Paradise.


2.1 Use in Popular Culture

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov (published 1879–1880), provides a summary of the text at the beginning of the Grand Inquisitor scene (2.5.5), where it is compared favorably with Dante.


3.1 Manuscripts and Editions

3.1.1 Armenian (BHO 646-650)

Tayest‘i, Esayi, ed. Ankanon girk‘ Nor Ktakaranats‘ (Apocryphal Books of the New Testament). 2 vols. Venice: S. Ghazar, 1898 (texts for five recensions, vol. 2, pp. 383-450).

3.1.2 Georgian

Qubaneišvili, Solomon. Żveli k‘art‘uli literaturis k‘restomat‘ia. Tbilisi: Stalinis saxelobis T‘bilisis saxelmcip‘o universitetis gamomc‘emloba, 1946 (pp. 14–19).

3.1.3 Greek

Medieval Long Versions (BHG 1050–53)

Andros, Monê Hagias (Zôodochou Pêgês), 46 (65), fols. 102–110 (15th cent.)

Athens, Ethnikê Bibliothêkê tês Hellados, 352, fols. 200–211v (17th cent.)

London, British Library, Add. 10073, fols. 50v–61v (16th cent.)

Milan, Biblioteca Abrosiana, G 63 sup. (Martini-Bassi 405), fols. 156–64 (11th/12th cent.)

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Auct. E.5.12 (Misc. 77), fols. 342–350v (11th cent.)

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, gr. 395, fols. 72–81v (15th/16th cent.) ~ incomplete

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, suppl. gr. 136, fols. 157–179v (15th cent.)

Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Ottob. gr. 1, fols. 301–306 (11th cent.)

Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, gr. VII.43 (coll. 449), fols. 441v–440v (1619)

Sub-category with “sin list,” a long catalogue of sinners in a river of blood:

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, gr. 390, fols. 168, 4, 1–3, 27 (16th cent.) ~ incomplete

Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Barb. gr. 284, fols. 25–39 (1497)

Vienna, Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Theol. gr. 333, fols. 82–93v (ca. 1300)

Later Medieval, Short Version (BHG 1054)

Athens, Ethnikê Bibliothêkê tês Hellados, 356, fols. 306–313v (1634)

Athens, Ethnikê Bibliothêkê tês Hellados, 2484, fols. 268–270v (15th cent.)

Cambridge, Trinity College, O.8.33 (1408), fols. 56v–61 (16th cent.)

London, British Library, Add. 25881, fols. 229–237v (16th cent.)

Jerusalem, Patriarchikê bibliothêkê, Hagiou Saba 373, fols. 394–399 (16th cent.)

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson G. 4, fols. 118–123v (16th cent.)

Rome, Biblioteca Casanatense, 6 (olim G.VI.1) (16th cent.)

Venice, Biblioteca del Seminario Patriarcale, 196, fols. 18v–30v (16th cent.)

Unclassified Manuscripts

Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Library, MS 41, fols. 199–205v (15th cent)

Athens, Bibliothêke tês Boules, 46, fol. 116 (17th cent.)

Athens, Ethnikê Bibliothêkê tês Hellados, Mentochion tou Panagioi Taphou 594, pp. 27–59 (15/16th cent.)

Athens, Ethnikê Bibliothêkê tês Hellados, gr. 2011 (17th cent.)

Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria, 3642, fol. 39v–64v (1598)

Budapest, Országos Széchényi Könyvtár, 8o Gr. 8 (Kubinyi 31), fols. 1–15 (1648)

Bucharest, Biblioteca Academiei Române, gr. 990, fols. 206–212 (1735)

Jerusalem, Patriarchikê bibliothêkê, Panaghiou Taphou 97, fols. 5–6v, 8–17 (16th cent.)

Meteora, Monê Hagiou Stephanou, 119, fol. 95 (1771)

Mount Athos, Monê Hagiou Panteleêmonos, 266, fols. 171–77 (16th cent.)

Palermo, Biblioteca centrale della Regione siciliana “Alberto Bombace,” III.B.25, fol. 73 (15th/16th cent.)

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, gr. 1631 (13th cent.)

Sinai, Monê tês Hagias Aikaterinês, gr. 1697, fols. 224–242 (16th cent.)

Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Vat. gr. 1190, fols. 25v–28v (1542)

Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Vat. gr. 2557, fols. 153–168 (15th cent.)

Zabordas, Monê tou hagiou Nikaneros, 117, fols. 111–121 (14th cent.)

Apokalypsis tes hagias Theotokou. Cyprus, 1898 (pamphlet in Bodleian Library with modern Greek version of the text).

Delatte, Armand. Anecdota atheniensia. 2 vols. Bibliothèque de la Faculté philosophie et lettres de l’Université de Liège 88. Liège: Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres, 1927 (editions of Athens 356, vol. 1 pp. 272–80, and 352, vol. 1 pp. 280–88).

James, Montague Rhodes. Apocrypha Anecdota: A Collection of Thirteen Apocryphal Books and Fragments Now First Edited from Manuscripts. TS 2.3. Cambridge: The University Press, 1893. (Edition and translation of Oxford, Bodleian Library, Misc. gr. 77, pp. 109–26).

Gidel, Antoine Charles. “Étude sur une Apocalypse de la Vierge Marie.” Annuaire de l’Association pour l’encouragement des études grecques en France 5 (1871): 92–113 (edition of Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, gr. 390).

Polites, N. G. Meletē epi tou biou tōn noterōn Hēllenōn. Vol. 1: Noellēnikē mythologia. Moscow, 1874 (publication of a modern print version of the text, 375–89).

Sreznevskii, Izmail Ivanovič and G. S. Destunis, eds. Drevnie pamyatniki russkago pis’ma i yazyka (X–XIV vekov). St. Petersburg: Tipografiya Imperatorskoy akademii nauk, 1863 (editio princeps based on Vienna, Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Theol. gr. 333).

Pernot, Hubert. “Descente de la Vierge aux Enfers, d’après les manuscrits de Paris.” Extrait de la revue des études grecques 13 (1900): 233–57 (editions of Paris, Suppl. gr. 136, Paris, gr. 395, and Paris, gr. 390).

Vasiliev, Athanasius, ed. Anecdota graeco-byzantina, pars prior. Moscow: Imperial University, 1893 (edition of Rome, Biblioteca Casanatense, 6, pp. 125–34.)

Tischendorf, Constantin. Apocalypses apocryphae Mosis, Esdrae, Pauli, Johannis, item Mariae dormito: additis evangeliorum et actuum apocryphorum supplementis. Maiximam partem nunc primum. Leipzig: H. Mendelssohn, 1866 (excerpts from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Auct. E.5.12 (Misc. 77), Vienna, Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Theol. gr. 333, Paris, gr. 1631, and Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, gr. VII.43, pp. xxvii–xxix).

Syrtsova, Olena. Apokryfična apokaliptyka: filosofs’ka ekzeheza i tekstolohiya z vydannyam hrestskoho tekstu Apokalipsysa Bohorodyytsi za rukopysom XI stolittya Ottobonianus, hr. 1: Textologia antiquae et midiae aetatis. Kiev: KM Academia, 2000 (edition and Ukrainian translation based on Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Ottoboni 1 and initial mention of Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, gr. 1190).

3.1.4 Slavonic

Hasdeu, Bogdan Petriceicu. Cuvente den bătrâni: limba română vorbită între 1550–1600 : studiu paleografico-linguistic. 3 vols. Directiunea Generală a Archivelor Statului. Publicatiuni istorico-filologice. Bucharest: Societatii Academice Romane, 1878–1881 (synopsis of Romanian, Slavonic, and Greek versions).

Santos Otero, Aurelio de. Die handschriftliche Überlieferung der altslavischen Apokryphen. 2 vols. PTS 20 and 23. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1978 and 1981 (vol. 1, pp. 188–95).

3.2 Translations

3.2.1 English

Baun, Jane. Tales from Another Byzantium: Celestial Journey and Local Community in the Medieval Greek Apocrypha. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006 (includes a new English translation of Oxford, Bodleian Library, Misc. gr. 77, pp. 391–400).

James, Montague Rhodes. The Apocryphal New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon, 1924; 2nd ed. 1953 (summary, pp. 563-64).

Rutherford, Andrew, trans. “The Apocalypse of the Virgin.” Pages 167–74 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 9: Additional Material. Edited by Allan Menzies. New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1896 (translation of James’s edition).

Shoemaker, Stephen. “The Apocalypse of the Virgin: A new translation and introduction.” Pages 492–509 in New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Vol. 1. Edited by Tony Burke and Brent Landau. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016 (translation of Syrtsova’s edition of Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, gr. 1190).

3.2.2 Italian

Erbetta, Mario. Gli apocrifi del Nuovo Testamento. 3 vols. in 4. Turin: Marietti, 1966-1981. (Italian translation in vol. 3, pp. 447–54.)

Moraldi, Luigi. Apocrifi del Nuovo Testamento. 2 vols. Classici delle religioni, Sezione quarta, La religione cattolica 24. Turin: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 1971 (Italian translation in vol. 1, pp. 901–26).

3.2.3 Polish

Starowieyski, M., “Traduction polonaise de l’Apocalypse de Marie (paléoslave).” Pages 107–17 in Stowo o Bogu i czlwieku. Edited by Ryszard. Luzny. Cracovie: Polska Akademia Umiejetnosci, 1995.

3.3 General Works

Bauckham, Richard. “The Conflict of Justice and Mercy: Attitudes to the Damned in Apocalyptic Literature.” Apocrypha 1 (1990): 181–96.

__________. “Virgin, Apocalypses of the.” Pages 854–56 in volume 6 of Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by David Noel Freedman. 6 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

__________. “The Four Apocalypses of the Virgin Mary.” Pages 332–62 in The Fate of the Dead: Studies on Jewish and Christian Apocalypses. Supplements to Novum Testamentum 93. Leiden: Brill, 1998.

Elliott, J. K. The Apocryphal New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993 (pp. 686–87).

Himmelfarb, Martha. Tours of Hell: An Apocalyptic Form in Jewish and Christian Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983.

Mimouni, Simon C. “Les Apocalypses de la Vierge: État de la question.” Apocrypha 4 (1993): 101–12.

Shoemaker, Stephen J. Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

__________. “Mary in Early Christian Apocrypha: Virgin Territory.” Pages 175–90 in Rediscovering the Apocryphal Continent: New Perspectives on Early Christian and Late Antique Apocryphal Texts and Traditions. Edited by Pierluigi Piovanelli and Tony Burke. WUNT 349. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015.

Syrtsova, Olena. “L’Apocalypse de la Théotokos dans l’histoire de la pensée.” Page 6113 in Byzantium. Identity, Image, Influence. Abstracts of Communications. XIXth International Congress of Byzantine Studies. Copenhagen, 18-24 August 1996. Edited by Karsten Fledelius. Copenhagen: Eventus, 1996.