Who was the young woman, Mary, who became the mother of Jesus? What would it have been like growing up in Nazareth in the years before becoming Jesus' mother? The name Mary means "wise woman" or "lady". As a Jewish peasant girl in Nazareth, a conservative Jewish town, Mary probably knew most everyone, since the population of Nazareth at that time totaled only about 400 people.
Mary's Childhood in Nazareth
Mary would have spoken Aramaic. She probably wouldn't have been able to read, since reading wasn't something that girls and women of that era needed to be able to do. Mary would have been well-versed in the Jewish scriptures however, and would have known the stories and prayers by heart. In Mary's time, these stories were not only used as religious teachings, but also were performed by the people as entertainment for their friends and families.
As a teenager, Mary was most likely around five feet tall, with black hair. The girls of this time often had a purple or red stripe of dye down the center part of their long dark hair. There's no reason to think that Mary would have been different from the other girls as far as the styles of the time.
Life as a Woman of Nazareth
Women of Nazareth usually wore loose-fitting garments that they crafted themselves from homespun linen or wool. Weaving and making garments was one of the tasks that women did for their families, along with cooking and working in the fields. Olives were the major crop of the area where Mary grew up, so pressing the oil from the olives would have been part of women's work.
In the years before becoming Mary, mother of Jesus, there were generally three social levels in Mary's area of Nazareth. These levels included:
The rich, who were landowners and/or entrepreneurs.
The poor, who worked on the land or in the trades of the time. Mary and her family fit into this level.
The destitute, who had neither land nor job and were essentially beggars.
Housing in Nazareth
Homes in the area were generally made of mud-brick and included a courtyard, a public room in the front and a more private room in the back. Most houses had an outside stairway that led to the building's flat roof where the women spent time working on their daily tasks under a protective awning of goats' hair.
Mary as the Mother of Jesus
Besides being Mary, mother of Jesus, it is believed Mary also had four younger children, all of whom would have received their initial religious training from her. As a typical Nazareth homemaker, she would have spent her life as the young mother of Jesus and his siblings caring for her family and doing the routine tasks that all women of her social status did.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was in her late 40's at the time of Christ's crucifixion. During her life she was always faithful and co-operative with what God asked of her. Today she is revered as the most important woman in the Christian Bible.