Saint Mary of Egypt: The Reformed Prostitute

Saint Mary of Egypt was a prostitute before having a powerful conversion whilst on pilgrimage, which completely changed her life.

Feast Day: 3 April

A life of prostitution

At the age of 12, Saint Mary ran away from home to Alexandria, essentially the then equivalent of Las Vegas today. Here she became an accomplished seductress and paid her way by practicing prostitution and begging for at least 17 years.

St Mary’s life changed when she went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She did not go because she had a desire to know God, but rather because she saw in the large community of pilgrims the opportunity to make new customers.

A profound religious experience

The pilgrimage was to go and venerate the relics of the true cross and, on the journey, Mary heard enough about them that she decided she wanted to go and see these relics. When she arrived at the church, however, she had a truly profound religious experience. She found that she was physically unable to enter the church, blocked by some unseen force.

Realising that this was because of her impurity, she was struck with remorse, and upon seeing an icon of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) outside the church, she prayed for forgiveness and promised to give up the world if it would mean she was able to enter and build a relationship with God.

After a deep and remorseful confession, she found she was able to enter the church and venerated the relics of the Holy Cross. Upon leaving the church she went back to the icon of Our Lady to give thanks. She heard a voice telling her, “If you cross the Jordan, you will find glorious rest.” Immediately, she went to the monastery of St. John the Baptist on the bank of the River Jordan.

Here she received absolution and afterwards Holy Communion. The next morning, she crossed the Jordan and retired to the desert to live the rest of her life as a hermit in penitence. She took with her only three loaves of bread, and once they were gone, lived only on what she could find in the wilderness.

A life at peace

During this time, she lived a life completely at peace and full of inner spiritual joy, she met St. Zosimas of Palestine who recorded her story and brought her holy communion from time to time, and it is from his writings we have such a full account of her story.

When St Mary later died, St. Zosimas found that her body was uncorrupted when he next went to meet her. This was a big deal as only those saints who were completely pure have uncorrupted and none decaying bodies.

St Mary is patron saint of Chastity (warfare against the flesh; deliverance from carnal temptations); Demons (deliverance from); Fever; Skin diseases; Temptations of the flesh.

Why St Mary of Egypt is important

A reflection from someone in our young Catholic community

While she is quite an extreme example, St Mary shows that God is never willing to give up on us. By her own account, she was in a state of complete moral depravity before God gave a shock to her system.

While many in society would have looked down upon her God still loved her and did not turn his back upon her. Instead, the actions God took were specifically designed to help Mary understand and realise where she was going wrong. This inspires me as it shows so much of how God journeys with every individual and helps them upon their journey.


Saint Mary of Egypt, being barred from the holy relics; kneeling before a skull; naked but clothed with long hair; receiving Holy Communion from Saint Zosimus; sitting under a palm tree and looking across the Jordan; washing her hair in the Jordan; woman holding three loaves of bread; please pray for us, that we may always be pure and persevere until our dying breathe.

Saint Mary of Egypt, Pray for us. Amen.