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Biography of Saint Mary

What did the Virgin Mary look like?

vladimirskaya icon

Mary of Nazareth was born around the year 14 BC in present-day Israel. From her womb would come the incarnate Logos, who would change the course of human history forever. For this, she is glorified among all women.

We also know that she spoke Aramaic and was anywhere between 12 and 14 years old at the time of the Annunciation.

But how much do we really know about her as a human being?

We see many icons of the Mother of Gods, but do we know what she actually looked like? We read the Gospel and find out about her life, but can we guess what she was like?

Let us try to answer these questions by diving a little bit deeper into the life of our beloved Theotokos as well as some historical and cultural aspects.

ancient icons of the Virgin Mary

Ancient icons of the Virgin Mary

What did the Mother of God look like?

The earliest depictions of the Virgin Mary date back to the third century AD. In Orthodoxy, we have different icons of the Mother of God, many of which are wonderworking. If we look at some of them, we can notice that Mary looks completely different in each one.

monastic E-cookbook

An icon must not be a perfect representation of what a certain saint looked like. It is especially true with the saints, who lived in the first centuries AD because it is impossible to find out about their physical appearance. Regardless of that, the Orthodox have always wanted to venerate these saints by painting their icons.

The people of modern-day Eastern Europe would often depict the Virgin Mary as a blond-haired and blue-eyed woman because of their cultural context. People could identify with such an image and relate to it more. On the other hand, the Orthodox believers from Egypt would depict the Theotokos as a dark-skinned lady with black hair for the same reasons.

But can we guess what The Mother of God actually looked like?

We know that Mary was a Jewish girl living in Nazareth. According to many kinds of research and DNA testing, the closest descendants of the Jews living on that territory are modern-day people of Lebanon and Iraq. However, she could have had blood, mixed with that of the people of Egypt and Africa in general.

This tells us that she most probably had brown or olive skin, as well as dark hair and eyes, just like the people of the Middle-Eastern ethnicity nowadays. We also know that at that time people were generally shorter than the average human height today, This means that Mary could be anywhere from 145 to 155 cm (4.7 to 5 ft) tall.

ancient icon of the Virgin Mary

Icon "Protectress of the Roman People" – 5th century

Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, who saw the Virgin Mary, left us a description of her:  "Her whole appearance testifies that she is indeed the Mother of God."

According to Tradition, that from the compiler of Church history Nicephorus Callistus (fourteenth century), the Mother of God “was of average stature, or as others suggest, slightly more than average; Her hair golden in appearance; Her eyes bright with pupils like shiny olives; Her eyebrows strong in character and moderately dark, Her nose pronounced and Her mouth vibrant bespeaking sweet speech; Her face was neither round nor angular, but somewhat oblong; the palm of Her hands and fingers were longish…

In conversation with others She preserved decorum, neither becoming silly nor agitated, and indeed especially never angry; without artifice, and direct, She was not overly concerned about Herself, and far from pampering Herself, She was distinctly full of humility. Regarding the clothing which She wore, She was satisfied to have natural colors, which even now is evidenced by Her holy head-covering. Suffice it to say, a special grace attended all Her actions.”

What was she like as a person?

Mary is somebody that we can really learn from. There are so many qualities that she had, so many wonderful characteristics she exhibited. Here are just some of them: 

4 Characteristics of the Virgin Mary:

  1. She was a woman of tremendous faith. Culturally, she would have been around 12 to 14 years old when archangel Gabriel came and told her that she would be the one to give birth to the Messiah, to which she answered:

    “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

    Only a person of great faith could trust God so much to say that.

    She was so faithful to the Lord, that she stood and watched her own Son being crucified because she believed in God's promise. It was probably torture for her as a Mother, but she had the strength to believe that this was necessary in order to save mankind and have victory over death.

  2. She was brave, even to the point that she accepted God’s will when it seemed completely contrary to everything around her. She accepted the fact that she will conceive the Savior of mankind miraculously. When she heard the news, she was probably very confused and even scared. She did not know how God could make her conceive if she was a Virgin:

    "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34)

    She knew that people would notice that she was pregnant and would ask her questions. She knew that she would probably have to explain what had happened to Joseph, her husband. But she was courageous enough to say yes anyway.

  3. She was definitely a woman of humility. She was humble enough to submit to the will of the Lord from the very beginning. She was humble enough to let her beloved Son follow His path full of hardships and pain.
  4. Apart from those three essential traits, she was also wise. She knew the Scripture and the Law of Moses very well and even the Apostles respected and trusted her a lot.

Icon of The Mother of God the Unfading Bloom

Unfading Flower Icon of the Mother of God painted in St Elisabeth Convent 

One of the biggest lessons that we can learn from Mary’s story, is that God took an ordinary girl from the city of Nazareth and called her to do an extraordinary thing.

The same is true for us. God takes us, ordinary people, and invites us to become extraordinary by doing extraordinary things. Sometimes there are things that we may not have wished on ourselves, but, by doing them and going through changes, we become better.

PS - If you would like to send us a prayer request, you can do so by clicking on this link. The community of Saint Elisabeth would be delighted to pray for you to the Mother of God.

April 06, 2022
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3 years ago

the monk Father Simeon

3 years ago
Dear Sister Anastasia.

A few years go I had the amazing good fortune to come and stay in the guest house there connected with the Holy Convent of St. Elizabeth with my traveling companion of Father Raphael Vereshack from Canada. I am a monk at St. Isaac of Syria Skete in Boscobel, Wisconsin in the U.S.A.

I was very touched by my visit at both all of the outward and varied outreach to the poor, disadvantaged, and ill people that your whole sisterhood make and also the monks and nuns and priests who are connected with your whole brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ. You live in a holy place while still in the modern secular world too.

Some months ago I had a very vivid dream in which I was asked by some elders to give alms from my small personal means to help the poor, and have been praying now since then to see just whom to give this to so that it would in particular be used to touch the lives of the poor in an Orthodox context, and realized in thinking so fondly of my visit and your great generous work there that you would be the best people to do this. It is just a small amount of $360 but it was to affect like the widow's mite 100 times that much if possible of touching those poor who like us need so much help..

How is is possible for me to send you this in the easiest way from our American dollars to you there in Belarus? Please let me know so I can fulfill what I was asked to do. I love the poor, and have outreached here at our little Skete when I could, but your work would reach far more there.

Please ask Father Andrei to remember me and the monk Father Anthony in his prayers. I did have a few moments to speak with him when with you all and also had a wonderful guide given to us to take us around and see all that you have done there. It is quite inspiring.

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr was a part of my own conversion to Orthodoxy as I first venerated here relics at the Convent in Gethsemane in 1971 while sill a young man, and was later given part...


She wasn’t 12-14 at the annunciation. Proof that she was 14-16. Quoting from the Catholic encyclopedia: “ Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place. ”

It said she was engaged at 12-14, but the annunciation took two years later. Next time read the whole thing before posting false information.