Dear Seamus —
I started a brief reply and realized I have been rambling on because this subject
is of great interest to those interested in the role of Blessed Virgin Mary.
You have identified a dilemma. Genesis shows death to be one of the punishments for
yet Mary was defined to have been:
- conceived without sin, and
- assumed bodily uncorrupted into Heaven.
In the West, we celebrate these under two Feasts, that of the Immaculate Conception
December 8th and the Assumption August 15th (although in ancient times some regions
of the Church celebrated the Feast of the Assumption on January 18th.)
The Eastern Church has a wonderful Feast day called
the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is not death in the way we would define it in the West, rather
it is the falling asleep of Mary.
An ancient Coptic tradition states that when Mary was
old and nearing this falling asleep,
Jesus appeared to
72 of the disciples. He was on the chariot of the cherubim
1000 Angels, and he told them He was to
take his Mother to himself. The disciples wept and asked
that Mary should never die, but the Lord said her time
Another tradition has the remaining Apostles gathered
around Mary in Jerusalem for her dormition.
But perhaps the most widely believed tradition is that
St. John, with whom Our Lady was believed to be living
in Ephesus, was asked by Mary to take her to Bethlehem,
and it was in Bethlehem that she fell asleep.
Only one ancient source suggests she died in Ephesus.
The reason for quoting these ancient
traditions (and they are only traditions
— venerable they may be — they are
not defined doctrine or dogma) is that they all give
credence to the concept that Mary did die.
Not the painful death of so many of mankind,
not the torments of spirit, but nevertheless
the cessation of life within the body,
which is the moment we describe when the
soul leaves the body.
If you are seriously interested, read the writings on
this subject by:
- Evodius (first Bishop of Antioch)
- Theodosius (Archbishop of Alexandria)
- the Greek narratives of St John the Divine,
- the Latin narrative of Pseudo-Melito (Bishop of Sardis), and
- Tischendorf's texts of the narrative by Joseph of
In addition to reading these, there are various Syriac
texts you may wish to read which describe Mary
leaving Jerusalem and going to Bethlehem to prepare for
She prayed that John might be sent to her,
and John came from Ephesus. The other Apostles were brought
to her. A great multitude of Angels appeared and Mary
and John were told by the Holy Spirit to return to Jerusalem
where Mary peacefully dies. Hence the confusion as to
whether Mary died in Bethlehem or Jerusalem. Certainly
not Ephesus, according to these ancient manuscripts.
You may come across a book Mary's House, by Donald
Carroll, which contains the hypothesis that after the
death of Jesus, Mary lived and died in Ephesus. He bases
his theory upon the visions of Sister Emmerich.
This subject could be the subject, not of essays, but
of entire books. I am happy to continue this dialogue
with you if you are further interested.