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A NHNE Special Feature

Marian Appearances Around the World
By Michael Donahue

Mary in the Bible
Mary in the "Lost Books of the Bible"
Mary Online
Mary in Modern Mexico


Mary, the Mother of Jesus, also known as the "Blessed Virgin Mary" among Catholics and some other Christians, and as "Mother Mary" among many who are seeking their own unique spiritual paths, seems to have suddenly increased in spiritual "relevance," or what C. G. Jung called "numinosity." There have been a sudden spate of books and articles: devotional, descriptive, critical--even empirical research on the sources of Marian devotion. In addition, The Lady seems to currently be on something like a world tour. Reports of apparitions--and followings formed around a variety of seers (primarily female)--has increased dramatically in the past ten years. In the past decade, apparitions, some of them ongoing, have been reported in Canada, Ecuador, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Northern Ireland, Switzerland, the Ukraine, Yugoslavia; in the United States in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, and more! Some reporters who go to "debunk" the sightings come back with profound religious experiences.

What is going on here? What does it all mean?

Let's talk about it. I'll start with some general background, and history (Our Lady of Guadalupe dates to the 16th century), trying to highlight common themes: who reported the apparition; how it was received; what the content of the messages was/is; whether there were "secrets" involved, and the like.

Mary in the Bible

Where does the Catholic devotion to Mary come from? How did it develop so far that while some refer to theology concerning her as "Mariology," some call it "Mariolatry" (from "idolatry"). What can we learn by going back to the source, the Bible?

Well, the first thing one learns is that controversy starts immediately. Where is the first mention of Mary? The obvious place to look would be in the first book of the Christian scriptures, the Gospel of Matthew. But, those who profess a strong devotion to Mary claim the first reference to her occurs in the first book of the Hebrew scriptures: Genesis.

After Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden of Eden, having eaten of the forbidden fruit at the bidding of the serpent, and God tells them of the hard life they will now have to endure. Then God turns to the snake, to curse it.

"Because you have done this, cursed be you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go and the dust shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her's; he will strike at your head, and you will strike at his heel." (Genesis 3: 14-15)

Because of the reference to the defeat of the snake (Satan), some say the reference here is to Christ, and that the woman, whose offspring does the crushing, is Mary. By association, this "crushing" role is sometimes passed on to her. Next time you see a statue of Mary, check out the feet: there's a good change you'll see a snake being stepped on.

Now let us go to the New Testament. Here we find that the Gospels themselves quarrel about this woman.

In Mark's Gospel (generally considered to be the earliest of the four), there is no account of Jesus' birth and infancy, and about the only mention of Mary is that Christ's mother comes with the rest of the family to see him, and are apparently rebuked, as Jesus says that those who fulfill his will are his family (Mark 3:31-35). In Mark's Gospel, Mary is also not at the foot of the cross when Jesus dies.

In contrast, in Luke, Mary plays a quite prominent role. It is here, and only here, that the most familiar scenes from the Christmas story involving Mary are found: the angel announcing Jesus' birth; the visit to Elizabeth; the circumcision and the prophecy that a sword will pierce Mary's heart; and the scene in the temple when Jesus is twelve; all in the first two chapters! This emphasis on Mary has lead some to suggest that the author of Luke's gospel may have been a woman. (None of the most ancient Gospels have "titles" with authors' names; the identity of the authors is based on ancient tradition.)

Then in the Gospel of John, Mary appears twice. Her first appearance is at the wedding feast at Cana. When the wine runs out, Jesus turns about 120 gallons of water into the finest wine. This scene begins with Mary telling Jesus that they are out of wine and Jesus' apparent rebuke: "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother then tells the servants: "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2: 4-5) The fact that Jesus apparently changes his mind when his mother makes a request of him would later develop into the theology that "praying to Mary" or rather asking Mary to pray with the worshipper to Jesus, would make prayer more effective.

Mary's second appearance in the Gospel of John is at the very foot of the cross. There, "when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, 'Woman, here is your son.' Then he said to the disciple 'Here is your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home." (John 19: 26-27)

From this simple scene, a number of Marian doctrines take root:

1. That Mary did not have any children besides Jesus, since if she had Jesus would not have been concerned about who would care for her. Therefore the "brothers of the Lord" must be cousins or others who were close to Jesus, and the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity is supported.

2. The disciple whom Jesus loved is taken as a symbol of all believers in Jesus, and here Jesus entrusts all of them to consider Mary as their mother; "Mother of the Church" as she would be called.

The last New Testament passage sometimes thought to refer to Mary is in that famous scriptural inkblot test of a book, the Book of Revelations. In chapter 12, there is an account of "a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars." Mary is sometimes thus depicted in Catholic religious art. It will also be helpful to keep this image in mind when we discuss the Marian apparitions.

As the woman enters into the travails of labor, a dragon appears, to try to devour "her son, a male child, who is to rule all he nations with a rod of iron. But the child was snatched away and taken to God and his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God." It is in this one and only book of the bible that dragons are mentioned, and that in association with Mary.

This, then, is where it all starts. Remember the themes raised here:

We will see all these again and again.

Mary in the "Lost Books of the Bible"

One of the phenomena that has accompanied the recent widespread sense that some form of profound change is immanent has been a resurgence of interest in, and reports of, the appearance of Mary, Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother Mary; she is called by many names. And she seems to be everywhere: Medjugorje in the former Yugoslavia; Conyers, Georgia; Akita, Japan. While Mary has, in the past, been associated primarily with Roman Catholicism, today people such as Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the Church Universal and Triumphant, and self-described "New Age channeller" Ray Sanford, invoke, and even claim to speak in, her name.

This is a series of columns examining both the historic traditions concerning Mary, and the modern accounts of her presence. In a previous column, we examined her role in the events described in the New Testament, as well as passages believed to prefigure her in the Old Testament. In the process, we touched on the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. In this issue's column we will examine another set of writings: the New Testament Apocrypha.


The New Testament Apocrypha are sometimes presented as a group of alternative scriptures that were "suppressed" by the "establishment." In fact, these writings differ from the New Testament writings generally in two respects. Most were written later than the New Testament documents. Scholarly consensus (if there ever is such a thing) seems to be that most of the major documents of the New Testament were completed before the year 100 AD. Most of the Apocrypha have later dates of authorship; 50 to 100 years later. Thus, when the final "editorial" decisions were made about 400 A.D. as to what was in (the "Canon") and what was out, these writings were judged to have been written too long after the fact to be reliable. In addition, the accounts in the Apocrypha are rather different from those included in the Canon.

In the Apocrypha, both Jesus and Mary appear less as teachers and holy people than as miracle workers. The boy Jesus, for example, turns mud into birds and then strikes dumb a child who "tattles" on him for having done it. Joseph is working in the carpenter shop, cuts a board too short, and the boy Jesus makes it grow back. Jesus rises from the dead, and a talking cross comes out of his tomb to comment on the situation. In short, these accounts often were so different from what most of Jesus' followers had experienced or received in their teaching that they did not "ring the bell of the dharma" with respect to the Jesus they knew. (In case you're wondering, Revelation just barely made it.)


All of that having been said, it is interesting to note that much of what is taken as information about Mary's life, and the basis of several traditional "feast days" associated with her--the names of her parents (Joachim and Anne), her conception, nativity, presentation in the temple--all come from New Testament Apocrypha. Mary's importance and powers are emphasized in these sources. The Gospel of the Hebrews portrays the Archangel Michael being incarnated as Mary, bringing Christ with him/her. Accounts of the actual birth of Jesus, noting that the birth process did not require a midwife, and did not alter Mary's virginity, are in the Ascension of Isaiah. This (and parallel texts) are among the sources for the Catholic doctrine--still presented in the most recent Catechism of the Catholic Faith--that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after Jesus' birth (ante partum, in partu, post partum). The Gospel of Philip, one of the Nag Hammadhi documents, considers Mary the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. There are also "gospels" that focus on Jesus' nativity and infancy. In these, Mary's birth is presented like that of the Old Testament prophets: to an aged couple, in an answer to prayer. There is an account of Mary's presentation in the temple, complete with prophecies like that of Jesus. The Gospel of Nicodemus (also known as the Acts of Pilate) recounts a meeting of Mary with Jesus as he is on the way to his crucifixion. In this account, Mary faints. Note that while this incident is not in the accepted Canon of the New Testament, the meeting (but not the fainting) is included in the tradition "Stations of the Cross" depicted in every Catholic church, and ritually reenacted in them every year. The Gospel of Nicodemus also includes a soliloquy by Mary at the foot of the cross.

Thus these documents form much of the wider tradition held about Mary, and also present her as something more than human; nearly a heavenly power.


For information concerning Mary in the New Testament, I recommend:

By Protestant & Roman Catholic Scholars

This is a wonderful, scholarly, ecumenical work. Raymond E. Brown, Karl P. Dunfried, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, and John Reumann (editors). Philadelphia Fortress Press, 1978.

For the text of many of the New Testament Apocrypha, see:


For almost anything on Mary, see:

by Michael O'Carroll

Michael Glazier Books, 1982. This column relies on this source often.

Mary Online

It struck me as I was preparing the column I was going to do--on Marian apparitions between the end of the New Testament era and the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe--that I may be being too linear or "left-brained" for some of you. Wouldn't surprise me; my wife once accused me of not having a right brain. In any case, some of you may be chomping at the bit for me to "get on with it" and talk about "the juicy stuff"--current Marian apparitions. That's not going to happen right away, but I wanted to address those concerns by using this column to talk about how people can get rapid access to information on this topic; online of course!

The bulk of this column comes from the "frequently asked questions" (FAQ) file for APAR-L, a mailing list for people who want to discuss Marian apparitions. They regularly post the latest message from a wide variety of "non-disapproved" Marian apparitions. "Non-disapproved" apparition (my term, not their's) is (and here I quote from the FAQ document) "any apparitions either approved by the Catholic Church, or not contrary to or condemned by the Catholic Church." That list is far, far longer than I expected. Here are a few of the "acceptable apparitions" the list includes:

The mailing list is "edited" to the degree that people are expected to be fairly polite (flaming is not allowed) and if the owners haven't "cleared" the apparition, they won't post the message. The messages make interesting reading, as we will see in later columns, but be warned that most of the traffic on the list is, of course, between members. It consists mainly of personal laments on the declining state of the Catholic church, a growing apostasy (perhaps the "Falling Away" prophesied for the last days), and also requests for prayers about health concerns. But if you're still interested, you can subscribe to the mailing list by sending e-mail to:


In the body of your e-mail note type:

SUBSCRIBE APAR-L [First Name] [Last Name]

It is also true that any number of current apparition sites have their own mailing lists, for example:

The Conyers Apparitions (Nancy Fowler, Conyers, Georgia, USA) maintains a mailing list at:


On AOL, you can go to the Main Menu, click Internet Connection, click on the file for mailing lists, and then search for the particular name of the apparition you're interested in. If you're not on AOL, you can search the LISTSERV database for mailing lists like this:

Send a piece of e-mail to:


In the body of your e-mail type the following:


On the World Wide Web, you can go to:

This site will give you access to tons of stuff. Encyclicals, Vatican II documents, news, lists of Latin masses, canticles, Bibles, early writings, virtual tours, and links to many sites, including:

Apparitions - Apparitions of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary:

And, of course, you can always use a web browser to search for "apparitions" and "Mary." Better use both if that's what you're interested in, otherwise you'll get about 3 times as much stuff as you want.

Mary in Modern Mexico

At the end of October, I had the pleasure of attending the convention for THE SOCIETY FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION in St. Louis. While there, I heard a presentation that I felt would be of considerable interest to readers of this column. The author, Dr. Miguel Leatham of TEXAS A & M, has kindly agreed to let me share his research with you. It has to do with a Marian apparition site in Mexico called "New Jerusalem."

In 1973, the Mary appeared to a 50-year-old peasant woman named Gabina Romero. Appearing as the "Virgin of the Rosary," Mary announced that the world was about to end, and that the Catholic church had "fallen from the faith." She said she had chosen a local priest, Fr. Nabor Cardenas, as her prophet.

Over the next 8 years, a chapel, convent, and monastery grew up in the village that Mary had chosen. Mary directed the formation of the community by speaking through Gabina. Fr. Nabor made clear that these statements are the latter-day "Gospel of the Virgin" and has condemned the changes brought about by Vatican II (the church council that resulted in having the Catholic Mass "modernized").

Gabina died in 1981, and a new seer received messages until 1989. Since then, Fr. Nabor has taken center stage, receiving messages from various souls in Heaven and Purgatory. The group believes before the year 2,000 the world will come to a cataclysmic end. The group also believes that they will be protected by being taken into the air (a "Marian Rapture") and that they then will live on in an earthly paradise.

Dr. Leatham's presentation went on to compare the similarity between New Jerusalem and a variety of similar Marian/apocalyptic communities which he says "exist in countries as disparate as Japan ("True Catholic Apocalyptic Kingdom of the Virgin," on Honshu), Nigeria (in Anambra State, followers of the "Servant of Mary"), Australia ("Our Lady of the Ark," in Nowra), Canada ("The Apostles of Infinite Love," in Quebec), and the U. S. ("Our Lady, Queen of the Everlasting Hills," in North Dakota)." These communities tend to form around dissident priests, perhaps because of the strongly priest-centered religion of conservative Catholics. These communities all share three major traits:

1. A "cult of personality" around a prophet-founder, destined for greater authority in the future (both the Australian and North Dakota priest/leaders are said to be destined to become "Pope Peter II").

2. An account of an apparition to a person with a history of personal suffering that starts a long series of messages, which direct the founding of a Marian community.

3. Further messages make clear a plan to save either the community or the world from coming disaster. For these people, the Virgin is their Church, their faith.

Interestingly, American members of the community tend to be those (currently only three) who have made their way there after association with similar movements in the U. S. (e.g., "Our Lady of the Roses," Bayside, New York, headed by Veronica Leuken), and are intensely, traditionally Catholic (to the point of leaving the Catholic church over "modern errors"). In contrast, members who originated from that area of Mexico cite solving personal problems (addiction, physical abuse) as reasons for their interest in the community; they were not conventionally religious before their association with the group.

Thus, these "Marian apocalyptic groups" seem to be those who have given up on much of the rest of humanity, closed in on themselves as a community of "the saved" and await their rescue from a fallen world.

Michael Donahue is a social psychologist and psychologist of religion. If you have questions or comments about Marian apparitions, we encourage you to visit BeliefNet.


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