As August is devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it reminds us that she really is the embodiment of grace. In fact, looking at images of the Blessed Mother, it makes it difficult to think of her leading the life of a busy housewife going about daily chores while bringing up her young son.
It’s obviously impossible to know exactly what Mary’s chores would have been, and how Jesus and Joseph helped her out, but we can surmise through the architecture and general practices of the time how the Virgin Mary cared for her family — and any guests who knocked at the door.
While today we have so many possessions, Mary would not have had to spend much time putting things away or doing big annual sort outs. The few items people possessed would be kept in wooden chests — even kitchen utensils — so if friends were coming over it wouldn’t have taken long to get things stashed away.
No need to wash lots of throws and pillows; bed-making at the time of Jesus would have been a far simpler affair. Modest families would roll out a mat on the bare floor and use their own cloaks to keep them warm at night. While it might not have been as comfy as today’s beds, it certainly would have been quick to shake out the mats each morning, roll them up, and store them away.
One thing that might have made Mary’s chores a little unpleasant was that among poorer families, animals would often sleep in the house during the night. This would have meant that the floors made of pounded earth would need a thorough sweep on a regular basis.
Cleaning the dishes
While there were a minimum of dishes to clean, water wasn’t in an abundant supply. It was often drained off the flat roofs for families to store, especially in the hotter months. So no doubt the Blessed Virgin would have had to make do with a wooden trough filled with a small amount of water to get things cleaned up. She would have used and conserved water carefully.
One of the biggest time savers in household chores today has to be the washing machine. However, at the time of Jesus cleaning clothes required substantial scrubbing, especially to get all the dust out, and this would have been done away from the family home so the water wouldn’t run back into the house.
To add more pressure to the cleaning process, there was a lot of importance placed on having clean clothes at that time, as can be seen in the Bible on a number of occasions, such as in Revelation 22:14: “Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates.”
According to The Times of Israel, neter (a sort of sulphur) and borit (a plant-based product) were used to remove hardcore stains, although what they were composed of exactly is disputed.
What is probable is that Mary would have hung the family’s clothes out to dry on a flat roof, if they had one, or in the courtyard, where they would have dried quickly in the hot sun.
With no complicated appliances or kitchen gadgets, cooking the family’s meals would have been a simple affair; probably done in a fire pit outside the house. Only richer families would have had a type of oven inside the home.
This means Mary wouldn’t have had to scrub down a greasy oven, but she probably had to clear out the fire pit on a regular basis.