Alternate Name:
Mary, the Niece of Abraham
Death Date:
4th century
Qidun, a village outside Edessa

Mary was the niece of the recluse and holy man Abraham of Qidun. When Mary's father died, she went to live with her father's brother Abraham.


Abraham raised Mary from a young age. His Life reports that he gave Mary instruction in the Psalms and the Holy Scriptures (ch. 17).

Social Status:

Mary's father left her ample inheritance upon his death, but Abraham gave it to the poor and orphans. Mary then entered a life of renunciation with her uncle (ch. 17).

Literary Works:

Details about Mary, the niece of Abraham, are found in an excerpt from the Life of Abraham. The Life dates to the fifth century. The Life is written in Syriac and is anonymous, although later manuscripts (erroneously) attribute the Life to Ephrem, who lived in the fourth century. While Abraham appears in other Syriac texts, none except the Life of Abraham discuss his niece Mary.

The Life of Abraham was translated into Greek and Latin. In the 10th century, NULL of Gandersheim transformed the Life of Abraham into a play.

The Syrian Orthodox Festal Hymnary, or Fenqitho, contains a lament of Mary. The hymn was sung during Lent and possibly dates to the fifth or sixth century. The hymn took the form of an alphabetic acrostic: the hymn is divided into twenty-two parts, one for every letter of the Syriac alphabet.

Brief Profile:

Mary lived a life of recluse with her uncle Abraham for 20 years. When she was a young woman, one of the monks who followed Abraham fell in love with Mary. After a year of attempts, they finally had sex. The text is unclear whether or not Mary fully consented to this. Upon losing her virginity, she lamented and finally decided to strip herself of the monastic garb, move to another town, and establish herself in a tavern (ch. 18).

In a dream, Abraham realized that Mary had been taken captive by a life of sin. He searched for her for two years. When he finally heard of her whereabouts, he put on military garb, mounted a horse, and set out to the town where she resided. He entered the tavern and requested that he take a meal with her. Mary began to kiss him, but when she smelt his asceticism, she wept and lamented. They shared a lavish meal together and finally retreated to Mary's room, where Abraham revealed his true identity to Mary (ch. 19-25).

Together they returned to Qidun. Mary resided in the inner part of the house while Abraham resided in the outer part of the house in order to protect her chastity. Her uncle lived for ten more years, while Mary lived for fifteen more years (ch. 26-29).

Manuscript sources:

British Library MS Additional 14644 and British Library MS Additional 12160 contains the Life of Abraham. In the latter of the two, the life is incorrectly attributed to Ephraem. British Library MS Additional 17141 and Harvard syr. 31 contain the Lament of Mary.

Published primary sources:

For the Syriac text the life of Mary as included in the Life of Abraham, see Bibliotheca hagiographica orientalis, 16-17; Sancti Ephraem Syri hymni et sermones, vol. 4, cols. 1-84. Lamy incorrectly accepted the attribution of the text to Ephrem. A text can also be found in Acta martyrum et sanctorum, v. 6, 465-99.

Susan Ashbrook Harvey has produced the one English translation of this text. Mary, Niece of Abraham of Qidun.

The Greek translation can be found in The Life of Abraham of Qidun. An English translation has also been published of the Latin. The Life of Abraham of Qidun.

For Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim's plays, see Les drames de Hrotsvita de Gandersheim: edition critique avec introduction, traduction et notes; The plays of Roswitha.

Susan Ashbrook Harvey has also translated the Lament of Mary. The Lament of Mary.