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
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
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
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
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.