Nativity of Mary

De nativitate Mariae

Standard abbreviation: Nat. Mary

Other titles: none

Clavis numbers: CANT 52; BHL 5343–5345

Category: Infancy Gospels

Related literature: Book about the Birth of the Savior, Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Protevangelium of James

Compiled by: Brandon W. Hawk, Rhode Island College (

Citing this resource (using Chicago Manual of Style): Hawk, Brandon W. “Nativity of Mary.” e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR.

Posted October 2017.


Nat. Mary is a synthesis of the canonical infancy narratives of Luke 1–2 and Matthew 1 with the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew 1–12, although it omits many details from Ps.-Mt. The narrative begins by introducing Joachim and Anna, an Israelite couple living righteously according to the Law. Joachim goes to the temple to make a sacrifice for the Feast of Dedication, but the high priest Isachar rejects the offering because Joachim and Anna have remained infertile after twenty years of marriage. Because of his shame, Joachim goes into a sort of self-exile with shepherds in the countryside. An angel appears to Joachim, however, and proclaims a lengthy annunciation speech about the conception, birth, and life of Mary, to whom his wife Anna will give birth. The same angel also appears to Anna and proclaims another annunciation speech. According to the commands of the angel, Joachim and Anna meet each other at the Golden Gate in Jerusalem, where they rejoice about the news of Anna’s conception. The author briefly relates Mary’s birth.

When Mary is three years old, Joachim and Anna take her to the temple, as they have dedicated her to the service of the Lord in a community of virgins. Mary amazes all of the people by climbing the steps of the temple mount herself, and the author also relates her virtues as she grows older. When Mary comes of age, the high priest announces that Mary will be given to a man as his wife, although Mary protests. After the high priest consults with the Lord, the people hear a plan from God himself: all of the men of Israel will bring rods to the temple, and the one belonging to the man chosen to be betrothed to Mary will blossom before the people. This man turns out to be Joseph, an older widower with his own children. Despite his reluctance to marry someone younger than his grown children, he takes Mary into his custody for marriage. Mary goes to live in Joseph’s house with seven companion virgins.

The angel Gabriel visits Mary and announces that although she will remain a perpetual virgin, she will give birth; Gabriel also proclaims a lengthy annunciation about the Messiah who will be born. Mary accepts this responsibility and offers thanks to God. Joseph, however, discovers that Mary is pregnant and considers quietly divorcing her, until an angel appears to him and declares that Mary will give birth to God’s Son, the Messiah, who will be named Jesus. According to the angel’s command, Joseph takes Mary as his wife. The story ends with a brief mention of Jesus’ birth nine months later, as related by the Evangelists of the canonical Gospels.

Named historical figures and characters: Anna (mother of Mary), Chromatius (bishop), David (king), Heliodorus (bishop), Holy Spirit, Isaac (patriarch), Isaiah (prophet), Issachar (high priest), Jacob (patriarch), Jerome, Jesse (patriarch), Joachim (father of Mary), Jesus Christ, Joseph (of Nazareth), Joseph (patriarch), Mary (Virgin), Matthew (apostle), Rachel (matriarch), Sarah (matriarch), Samson (judge), Samuel (prophet), Seleucus (Lucius).

Geographical locations: Bethlehem, Galilee, Golden Gate (Jerusalem), Israel, Jerusalem, Judea, Nazareth, temple (Jerusalem).


2.1 Art and Iconography

Hawk, Brandon W. “Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew in Images.” Since these images are derived from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and its later traditions, it is difficult to discern if they are based on the original or Nat. Mary. They are, at least, relevant to the medieval popular imagination related to this apocryphon.


3.1 Manuscripts and Editions

3.1.1 Latin

Beyers lists over 150 manuscripts in her critical edition (CCSA 10). For each textual family, I list the earliest witnesses with Beyers’s sigla.


(A1a) Chartres, Bibliothèque municipale 162 (second half of 11th cent.), now lost (destroyed in a fire in 1944)

A41 Durham, Dean and Chapter Library, A.III.29 (end of 11th cent., Durham)

A1a5 Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, lat. 3835 (11th cent., Vendôme)

A3a Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Nouv. acq. lat. 1455 (second half of 11th cent., Cluny)

A1a3 Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale, A 271 (471) (11th cent., Holy Trinity Abbey, Fécamp)

A1a1 Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale, U 36 (1390) (end of 11th cent., Saint-Aubin d’Angers)

A21 Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale, Y 109 (end of the 11th cent., Jumièges)

Ax1 Vatican, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 9668 (middle of 11th cent., Mont-Saint-Michel)

A1a4 Vendôme, Bibliothèque municipale, 42 (end of 11th cent., Trinity Abbey, Vendôme)


B1e2 Cambrai, Bibliothèque municipale, 528 (11th cent., prov. Abbey of Saint-Sépulcre, Cambrai)

B1e1 Cambrai, Bibliothèque municipale, 530 (11th cent., prov. Abbey of Saint-Sépulcre, Cambrai)

B1a1 Châlons-sur-Marne, Bibliothèque municipale, 73 (first half of 11th cent., Abbey of Saint-Pierre-aux-Monts, Châlons)

B2a1 Douay, Bibliothèque municipale, 867 (11th cent., prov. Marchiennes)

(B1a) Maredsous, Bibliothèque de l’Abbaye, 51 (beginning of the second half of the 11th cent., Abbey of Tholey sur la Sarre)

B1a4 Trèves, Stadtbibliothek, 1379/143 (early 11th cent., Abbey of Saint-Martin, Trèves)

Additional manuscripts:

A83b2 Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 19105, fols. 39v–44v (ca. 1000, Tegernsee; fols. 32-44 added in 1482)

Amann, Émil. Le Protévangile de Jacques et ses remaniements latins. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1910 (reprint and translation of Tischendorf’s text, except that he adds the preface as he found it in Chartres 162, pp. 340–64).

Beyers, Rita, ed. Libri de nativitate Mariae: Libellus de nativitate sanctae Mariae, textux et commentarius. CCSA 10. Turnhout: Brepols, 1997 (the only modern critical edition of Nat. Mary, based on 93 manuscripts of the A-text, accompanied by a textual apparatus, translation into French, biblical references, and commentary).

Fabricius, Johann Albert, ed. Codex apocryphus Novi Testamenti. 2 vols. Hamburg: Benjamin Schiller, 1703 (the editio princeps apart from those printings of Nat. Mary among Jerome’s letters, although it is uncertain which manuscripts he used; also includes the first commentary on Nat. Mary, at the foot of the page; vol. 1, pp. 19–38).

Jones, Jeremiah. A New and Full Method of Settling the Canonical Authority of the New Testament. 3 vols. London: J. Clark and R. Hett, 1722 (Fabricius’s text with translation, vol. 2, pp. 69–81).

Thilo, Johann Karl, ed. Codex apocryphus Novi Testamenti. Leipzig: Vogel, 1832 (largely reliant upon Fabricius’s text, with some variants, but it is uncertain which manuscripts he used; he also relies on Fabricius’s commentary and expands on it, pp. 317–36).

Tischendorf, Constantin von, ed., Evangelia Apocrypha. Leipzig: Hermann Mendelsohn, 1853 (largely reliant upon Fabricius’s text, although he makes six changes; he notes that two of these come from Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Gaddianus 208 [not in Beyers’s list of manuscripts], but it is uncertain which other manuscripts he used. In the second edition, Tischendorf makes fourteen additional changes to the text, relying on a certain codex Parisiensis that remains unidentified; pp. 106–14). 2d ed., 1876 (pp. 113–21).

3.2. Concordances and Synopses

Elliott, J. K. A Synopsis of the Apocryphal Nativity and Infancy Narratives. NTTS 34. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006; 2nd ed. 2016.

3.3 Modern Translations

3.3.1 English

Cowper, B. Harris. The Apocryphal Gospels and Other Documents Relating to the History of Christ. 7th ed. London: David Nutt, 1910 (pp. 84–98, based on Tischendorf’s text).

Hone, William. The Apocryphal New Testament. London: William Hone, 1820 (pp. 17–24, reprinted from Jones).

Jones, Jeremiah. A New and Full Method of Settling the Canonical Authority of the New Testament. 3 vols. London: J. Clark and R. Hett, 1722 (see above; vol. 2, pp. 69–81, based on Fabricius’s text).

3.3.2 French

Amann, Émil. Le Protévangile de Jacques et ses remaniements latins. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1910 (pp. 340–64, based on Tischendorf, except for the preface, based on Chartres 162).

Beyers, Rita, trans. “Livre de la Nativitaté de Marie.” Pp. 141–61 in vol. 1 of Écrits apocryphes chrétiens. Ed. François Bovon and Pierre Geoltrain. Paris: Gallimard, 1997 (based on her own edition in progress).

3.3.3 Italian

Erbetta, Mario, ed. Gli Apocrifi del Nuovo Testamento, Vol. I.2: Vangeli: Infanzia e passione di Cristo, Assunzione di Maria. Turin: Casale Monferrato, 1981 (pp. 71–77, based on Tischendorf’s text).

Moraldi, Luigi, trans. Apocrifi del Nuovo Testamento. 2 vols. Turin: Piemme, 1971 (vol. 1, pp. 95–104, based on Tischendorf’s text).

3.3.4 Spanish

Bergua, Juan Bautista, and Edmundo González-Blanco, ed. and trans. Los Evangelios Apocrifos, Tomo 1. Madrid: Ediciones Ibéricas, 2012 (pp. 414–23, based on Tischendorf’s text).

De Santos Otero, Aurelio, trans. Los Evangelios apócrifos. 6th ed. Madrid: Editorial Católica, 1988 (pp. 243–58, based on Tischendorf’s text).

3.4 General Works

Beyers, Rita. “De nativitate Mariae. Problèmes d’origine.” Revue de théologie et de philosophie 122 (1990): 171–88.

__________. “La réception médiévale du matériel apocryphe concernant la naissance et la jeunesse de Marie: Le Speculum historiale de Vincent de Beauvais et la Legenda aurea de Jacques de Voragine.” Pages 179–200 in Marie dans les récits apocryphes chrétiens, Tome 1: Communications présentées à la 60e session de la Société Française d’Etudes mariales: Sanctuaire Notre-Dame-du-Chêne, Solesnes 2003. Edited by Édouard Cothenet et al. Paris: Médiaspaul, 2004.

__________. “The Transmission of Marian Apocrypha in the Latin Middle Ages.” Apocrypha 23 (2012): 117–40.

Dzon, Mary. The Quest for the Christ Child in the Later Middle Ages. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.

Fassler, Margot. “Mary’s Nativity, Fulbert of Chartres, and the Stirps Jesse: Liturgical Innovation circa 1000 and Its Afterlife.” Speculum 75 (2000): 389–434.

__________. The Virgin of Chartres: Making History Through Liturgy and the Arts. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Lambot, Cyrille. “L’homélie du pseudo-Jérôme sur l’Assomption et l’Evangile de la Nativité de

Marie d’après une lettre inédite d’Hincmar.” Revue bénédictine 46 (1934): 265–82.