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I have heard that the legal age of marriage was quite young in Jewish culture at the time of Christ. I believe young girls at the age of twelve could marry. However, I find it difficult to imagine Mary as young as thirteen years years old around the time of her giving birth, because of the maturity of her words that are found in the gospels.

Is there any tradition that would place a more realistic age of Mary? Or is this just completely unknown even when guessing?

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I've also heard she was about 12-14 but I can not give you any source for that.. – 2pietjuh2 Dec 25 '12 at 11:57
Why based on the maturity of her words? Which words? What about the words? – svidgen Dec 25 '12 at 13:45
@svidgen - It is only my gut feel when reading Luke 1, Mary's prayer. I just feel that someone older than twelve expresses all the whole range of emotions in the prayer. I am not saying it is not possible that Mary was as young as was legally allowed, I just get the feel that 16-18 might be more realistic. I really do not know if there is anything that would suggest to us an acceptable age range that would still consider a woman as a young virgin. Curious if there is any ancient tradition about it. – Mike Dec 25 '12 at 15:09
Catholic Canonic law might be related to this question, but I'm not sure, so I started a related question. – Pavel Dec 27 '12 at 12:36
This question may have been asked on Christmas day, but it shouldn't ask about Christmas day because it is well accepted that that was not actually the day of Jesus' birth. – curiousdannii Aug 26 '15 at 1:48
up vote 9 down vote accepted

She was probably between 13 and 14 years old according to the Catholic Encyclopedia in the section entitled "Mary's pregnancy becomes known to Joseph":

From the age at which Hebrew maidens became marriageable, it is possible that Mary gave birth to her Son when she was about thirteen or fourteen years of age. No historical document tells us how old she actually was at the time of the Nativity.

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+1 - I think its safe to say nobody knows then. If there is no tradition in the Catholic church other than an educated guess, then I doubt there is any tradition to be found anywhere. – Mike Dec 26 '12 at 1:26
@mike There's plenty of tradition regarding Mary's pre-annunciation youth in the Catholic Church, but nothing that one is required to believe. Excepting that she was immaculately conceived and did not sin. – Peter Turner Dec 26 '12 at 15:11
@Andrew That sounds pretty terrible. Would God really have a 13 or 14 year-old girl deliberately go through giving birth? I don't believe so. It just seems wrong. – jlaverde Aug 26 '15 at 20:14
@jlaverde In the ancient world, childbirth typically took place in the early teen years. It was not seen horrible. Additionally, if a woman didn't give birth by late teens, she could be considered damaged. "As boys and girls reached their teens, marriage was often considered as the next step in their lives. Boys would have been circumcised sometime after they reached the age of ten, and girls were often considered marriageable by thirteen. Once a young man and woman married, the cycle of life would begin again. Read more: – Andrew Aug 26 '15 at 20:26

The Magificat or the Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-56) mirrors Hannah's prayer 1 Samuel 2:1-10 so closely that one would have to think that Mary found her words in through reflecting on scripture.

And Hannah prayed:                             And Mary said:
My heart exults in the LORD,                   “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; 
my horn is exalted by my God.                  my spirit rejoices in God my savior  
                                               For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
                                               behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.  
                                               The Mighty One has done great things for me,
                                               and holy is his name
                                               His mercy is from age to age
                                               to those who fear him.
I have swallowed up my enemies;
I rejoice in your victory.
There is no Holy One like the LORD;
there is no Rock like our God.
Speak boastfully no longer,
Do not let arrogance issue from your mouths.
For an all-knowing God is the LORD,
a God who weighs actions.
“The bows of the mighty are broken,            He has shown might with his arm,               
while the tottering gird on strength.          dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,    He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
                                               but lifted up the lowly
while the hungry no longer have to toil.       The hungry he has filled with good things;
                                               the rich he has sent away empty 
The barren wife bears seven sons,
while the mother of many languishes.
“The LORD puts to death and gives life,
casts down to Sheol and brings up again.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich,
humbles, and also exalts.
He raises the needy from the dust;
from the ash heap lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles
and make a glorious throne their heritage.
“For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and he has set the world upon them.
He guards the footsteps of his faithful ones,  He has helped Israel his servant,
                                               remembering his mercy,
but the wicked shall perish in the darkness;
for not by strength does one prevail.
The LORD’s foes shall be shattered;
the Most High in heaven thunders;
the LORD judges the ends of the earth.
May he give strength to his king,
and exalt the horn of his anointed!”
                                                according to his promise to our fathers,
                                                to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

That scripture, which would have been burned in to her Immaculate Heart, by means of a singular grace would have certainly been with her at a young age when she would be betrothed. One tradition (not Sacred Tradition), which is mostly forgotten by popular imagery, is in that Catholic Encyclopedia article Drew linked to which says that Mary was a consecrated virgin raised in the temple, that her parents Anne and Joachim prayed for her and when they got her, gave her up to the temple where she would have been able to absorb scripture like Anna (Luke 2:36-38), who would have certainly known all about her if that were the case.

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Hi Peter! This is a good an interesting article, but bears very little on the actual question :) That's my only reason for a downvote. – Affable Geek Dec 26 '12 at 16:35
@AffableGeek Merry Christmas! well, I think the reason for the question was "if she was 13 years old, she wouldn't have said all that stuff." All I'm saying is, "yes, she certainly could have said all that stuff because it was second nature." – Peter Turner Dec 26 '12 at 17:11

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