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Feb. 10, 2016

Is this where the Annunciation took place?

Ancient artwork sheds light an old mystery about the Virgin Mary

The Annunciation, 1859 (oil on canvas), Pinchon, Auguste.

LOS ANGELES, CA- It may be the oldest depiction of the Virgin Mary, a bit of art, formerly a painting, but looking more like a line drawing by now, taken from an ancient Christian baptistery in Syria, that shows a woman, bent over a well.

The drawing is thought to be of the Virgin Mary and it may be the oldest one known, dating back to around 250 AD. It was taken from the ruins of an ancient a Christian church uncovered in 1932 in Dura (now Deir ez-Zor).

The outpost town was home to many early Christians during a time when Christians were still persecuted by law. Despite persecution, Christians in Dura built a church and within it, a baptistery, a room where people were baptized and joined the new faith.

On the wall of one such baptistery is a drawing that shows a woman leaning over a well. For decades, the depiction was thought to be of the Samaritan woman Jesus speaks to in the Gospel of John. Without much scrutiny, the painting has been left in the gallery at Yale for decades.

This painting from 250 AD may be the oldest depiction of the Virgin Mary, fetching water at the moment of the Annunciation, according to legend.

However, a fresh analysis has yielded new clues and could change the popular understanding of the Annunciation.

When most Christians think of the Annunciation, they imagine Mary indoors, possibly at night, in prayer. This popular concept comes from a great number of paintings from the Medieval and Renaissance eras. However, a simple reading of the annunciation in Luke tells us no such detail. Luke merely explains the angel Gabriel was sent to "Nazareth, where a virgin dwelt," and "Into her presence the angel came."

The description does not say anything to indicate if the Annunciation took place indoors or out. However, it is believed, at least anecdotally, that the Annunciation took place outdoors.

Other writings from the early Church, such as the Protevangelium of James, describes the Annunciation occurring while Mary was drawing water from a well.

The painting of the Virgin Mary has other clues to suggest her identity. Lines touching her back and radiating from her torso suggest something miraculous happening, within her body. Could this be the conception of Christ in the Virgin's womb?

If so, then this image is not of the Samarian woman at the well, but instead of the Virgin Mary. And if it is her, then it is also the oldest known image of the Virgin Mary.

Looking at the old in a new light tells us something important about the early Christian Church. It suggests that Mary was well known and important to the first Christians. Her appreciation is not a modern phenomenon by any means, but rather she has been venerated since the earliest times. Jesus Christ Himself respected His mother, and likewise the first Christians.

The Virgin Mary is an important role model for the world. She has been since the earliest days of the Church. It is good and right to venerate her today.


(Catholic Online)