Who was Mary, the Blessed Virgin and Mother of God? A Byzantine hagiographical narrative by the ninth-century Monk Epiphanio

Liturgical and theological celebration of Mary, the Theotokos or Mother of God, flourished in Eastern and Western Christendom from about the fourth century onward, often in connection with her important role in the incarnation of Christ. However, narratives about her earthly life and relationship with her divine son were slower to appear. The second-century Protevangelium of James provided an account of the Virgin’s birth and childhood while Syriac texts, which survive in manuscripts dating from the fifth century or later, dealt with her death and assumption into heaven. Building on narratives such as these, the ninth-century Constantinopolitan monk, Epiphanios, constructed a continuous ‘biography’ of the Virgin, covering her conception and birth through her death in Jerusalem. He used various sources, both canonical and apocryphal, but freely changed details in Mary’s story in order to provide a believable historical narrative. I will talk about Epiphanios’s Life, focusing on selected passages that reveal this author’s creative use of literary sources and theological purpose. I will also consider the audience and liturgical context for which his text was intended.