The Blessed Virgin or the Samaritan woman at the well? Ancient painting may be the oldest surviving image of the Holy Virgin
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A team of Yale University archaeologists excavated a site at Dura-Europos in the 1920 and discovered what is now known as the oldest existing Christian Church in the world. What they found there changed everything.
Have archaeologists uncovered the oldest painting of the Virgin Mary?
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The team discovered a painting of a woman leaning over a well.
Believing it was just another piece of art, the team took the painting and it has been kept in the Yale University Museum ever since.
Most believe the painting is a reference to the Samaritan woman who speaks to Jesus at the well, a story which can be found in John 4:1-42, but the Biblical Archaeology Review scholar Mary Joan Winn Leith believes the image is something very different.
Leith reviewed scholar Michael Peppard's argument that the portrait is that of the Virgin Mary at the moment of the Annunciation, when Gabriel tells her she will bear the Son of God.
Peppard originally stated the wall painting is actually a depiction of Mary looking to see where the angel Gabriel's voice was coming.
Leith backs the hypothesis with examples of other images of the time depicting the Virgin Mary.
This wall painting was thought to depict the woman at the well from John 4, but it may in be the earliest-surviving image of the Virgin Mary (Yale University Museum).
Leith explained: "Among the puzzles is how Christians viewed Jesus' mother Mary in the earliest centuries of Christianity. Mary's status in Christianity only became official in 431 when the Council of Ephesus awarded her the title Theotokos, 'the one who gives birth to God.'
"Information about Mary's significance before then, whether visual or textual, is surprisingly sparse, but archaeology has supplied some helpful clues."
Looting by bandits over the centuries and, more recently, ISIS and other terrorists destroying ancient holy sites, have made it difficult for institutions to save priceless artwork such as this image.
"The Christians at Dura-Europos still have secrets to reveal about early Christianity in the East," Peppard wrote in America, adding the looting and chaos "changes to access their particular form of Christian identity are slipping away."
The painting of a woman at a well is one such secret about early Christianity. Thankfully, it is safe in the U.S., where people can see for themselves if it could be Mary or the Samaritan woman.
Some even say the faint lines surrounding the woman at the well is the moment Jesus was delivered to her womb. What do YOU think?
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