The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

Some readers may find this book offensive because Colm Toibin tells his own version of Mary after the death of Jesus. He shows her as a tortured woman, feeling guilt that she left the scene of the crucifixion before Jesus died. It was expected that relatives would collect the body and prepare it for burial in a tomb. It was too dangerous to do this because to show love for Jesus could mean death, so she left.

It begins, and returns frequently, to her current situation where she is constantly being questioned but it is not explained who the interrogators are.

Mary remembers aspect of her life and the most haunting is how much she used to love the Sabbath when Jesus was a child. It was a very special, family day and the description is beautiful.

It contrasts with cruel scenes, like the wedding, when she hopes to be able to speak to Jesus and persuade him to stop preaching and healing, to save his life, but Jesus does not appear to recognise his mother.

Lazarus is at the wedding but his raising from the dead is not the miracle as suggested by the Bible. She shows him, as very weak, ill and unable to understand anything.

Mary is greatly disturbed by talk of her son’s power. ‘he could end the world if he wanted to or make things grow to twice their size.’ There was always a feeling of danger with talk of spies and the threat of the strangler.

The build up from the moment she is told, by Marcus, what is to happen to Jesus is well managed. Great tension is created and, again, sadness because the reader knows she can’t save him. The actual details of crucifixion were graphic and very difficult to read, knowing it was his mother watching and describing the scene.


The tone of the book was ethereal, her memory of everything merging with her desire for it to have been different. It was all the more powerful because it was written in the first person.


It was an excellent book for a reading group because there was so much to discuss but we would not recommend it to be read for pleasure!







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