This summer, the York St John Literature programme invited students and staff to read and respond to Colm Tóibín’s 2012 novella The Testament of Mary, a study of the mother of Jesus of Nazareth as she comes to terms with her son’s crucifixion at hands of the Roman Empire. Building upon Adam’s post yesterday, here Nicoletta Peddis explores the power of testament to subvert and undermine our perception of a major biblical character.
By Nicoletta Peddis
Testament (n.) late 13c.: “last will disposing of property,” from Latin testamentum “a last will, publication of a will,” from testari “make a will, be witness to,” from testis “witness.” Used in reference to the two divisions of the Bible (early 14c) (…) subsequently was interpreted as Christ’s “last will.” (from Online Etymology Dictionary).
In the Gospels, the Virgin Mary is the personification of grace and suffering, the mater dolorosa who is largely voiceless. We know little about her, except for her virginity and her grief. Colm Tóibín’s short novel The Testament of Mary gives voice to Mary, subverting the traditional representation of Jesus’s mother and at the same time expanding the definition of the term testament. The Testament of Mary is her giving witness to, her attestation; “I was there,” she says. The fictional portrait that Tóibín creates of Mary breaks with tradition to deepen her humanity and to bring her down to earth, trying to understand her as a suffering woman and as a mother afflicted with a difficult son. Continue reading