13 September 2009

Ancient synagogue found in Israel

Kevin Flower has this story at
. . . The synagogue was discovered in area called Migdal, historically an important settlement along the Sea of Galilee, which researchers say was mentioned in ancient Jewish texts as playing a prominent role during what is known as the Great Revolt, when Jews attempted to rebel against Roman rule. Migdal also figures in early Christian writings as the place where Mary Magdalene accompanied Jesus and the Apostles.

11 September 2009

Legend of Mary Magdalene

Screen capture. Hugh Montgomery, The God-Kings of Europe. Image courtesy of Google Books.

Hugh Montgomery cites this story in his God-Kings of Europe (2006:124) and also God-Kings of Outremer (2008:Appendix C).
"Now it came to pass in those days that a Priestess of the Goddess from the village of Bethany of the Tribe of Benjamin and a keeper of the Sacred Doves was affianced to a man called Jeshua for she had served her six years. Now Jeshua was of the House of David the King and they were married.

And Jeshua rebelled against the oppressors against Rome and was defeated, but many Romans were devotees of the Mother and were unwilling to kill her priestess who was with child. So Miriam took ship and was secretly smuggled into Gaul where she was delivered and there she abode many years. Now she bore a daughter who was exceedingly fair and the King of that place looked upon her and demanded that she be his wife but she was promised to the Goddess. But the King would not have it so and took her and made her his wife and she bore him a son and a daughter.

But the Goddess was exceeding wrath for his rape of her daughter and cursed him saying, 'Thy seed shall be estranged from me and thine inheritance taken from thee. Thy seed shall end by the piercing of an eye and so shall thine inheritance cease.

Yet for the sake of my priestess whom thou ravished shall I forgive thee and thy seed if they fulfil those labours which I shall give to them.

They must fight and capture that which was lost to the oppressors of thy wife though they shall not hold it for they shall suffer betrayal (as thou betrayed me). Unless one of thy seed shall end the House of their betrayers by piercing the eye of its Liege. To this family shall I award greatness if they return to me and from this time to that shall be four and one hundred generations.'"

31 August 2009

Magdalene Murals in the Chapel at St. Baume

Mary Magdalene preaching (late 1940s). Montenard. Chapel, St. Baume. Image courtesy of

Mary Magdalene with open arms (late 1940s). Montenard. Chapel, St. Baume. Image courtesy of

Mary Magdalene at the Grotto (late 1940s). Montenard. Chapel, St. Baume. Image courtesy of

Mary Magdalene raised by angels (late 1940s). Montenard. Chapel, St. Baume. Image courtesy of

27 August 2009

Saunière's Altar as it looked in the 1960s

Saunière's Altar as it looked in the 1960s. Image courtesy of Rennes-le-Château Research.

Interesting article there as well.

29 July 2009

Detail from Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity by Cagnacci

Detail from Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity (c. 1663). Guido Cagnacci. Simon Norton Museum of Art, Pasadena, CA. Image courtesy of Simon Norton Museum of Art.

Various Magdalens by Guido Cagnacci

Mary Magdalene (date unk.) Guido Cagnacci. Private Collection. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Penitent Mary Magdalene (c. 1659). Guido Cagnacci. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity (c. 1661). Guido Cagnacci. Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena, CA. Image courtesy of Best Price Art.

Description from the Norton Simon Museum website:
At center, a penitent Magdalene is rebuked by Martha. The confusion of clothes and jewels cast aside suggests her desertion of vanity. Behind them an angel (Virtue) chases out a devil (Vice). The handmaids at the door reiterate these contrasts. The crying woman represents "contrition"; the other, gesturing in annoyance, represents "vanity." This brilliant tableau combines lofty allegory with sensuous representation to create an inventive, but effective visual metaphor.

Maddalena svenuta (1663). Guido Cagnacci. Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Maddalena sollevata da un angelo (date unk.) Guido Cagnacci. Galleria Palatina. Palazzo Pitti. Florence. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

22 July 2009

Litany of St. Mary Magdalene

Margaret Starbird posted a link today on the Da Vinci Code Forum to this litany that is on the Catholic Culture website:
According to the tradition of the Western Church Mary Magdalene, who is mentioned in all four Gospels, is also identical with "the woman who was a sinner" and with the sister of Lazarus, though this identification is challenged by the Fathers of the East. She was of Magdala in Galilee, whence her name of Magdalen. Liturgical devotion, to this glorious penitent has been immemorial. This litany is mellow with age; from an old German version this was translated many years ago. Two prayers have been added from liturgical sources, the Secret and finally the Collect from the Mass of her Feast, July 22, which is duplex in Latin Church and has been since end of ninth century, commemorating the Translation of her Relics from Ephesus to Constantinople on July 22, 886.

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us. Holy Mary, Mother of God, Saint Mary Magdalene, Pray for us. Sister of Martha and Lazarus, Pray for us. Who didst enter the Pharisee's house to anoint the feet of Jesus, Pray for us. Who didst wash His feet with thy tears, Pray for us. Who didst dry them with thy hair, Pray for us. Who didst cover them with kisses, Pray for us. Who wast vindicated by Jesus before the proud Pharisee, Pray for us. Who from Jesus received the pardon of thy sins, Pray for us. Who before darkness wast restored to light, Pray for us. Mirror of penance, R Disciple of Our Lord, Pray for us. Wounded with the love of Christ, Pray for us. Most dear to the Heart of Jesus, Pray for us. Constant woman, Pray for us. Last at the Cross of Jesus, first at His tomb, Pray for us. Thou who wast the first to see Jesus risen, Pray for us. Whose forehead was sanctified by the touch of thy risen Master, Pray for us. Apostle of apostles, Pray for us. Who didst choose the "better part," Pray for us. Who lived for many years in solitude being miraculously fed, Pray for us. Who wast visited by angels seven times a day, Pray for us. Sweet advocate of sinners, Pray for us. Spouse of the King of Glory, [Emphasis added.] Pray for us.

V. Saint Mary Magdalene, earnestly intercede for us with thy Divine Master R. That we may share thy happiness in heaven.

Let us pray. May the glorious merits of blessed Mary Magdalene, we beseech Thee, O Lord, make our offerings acceptable to Thee: for Thine only-begotten Son vouchsafed graciously to accept the humble service she rendered. Who livest and reignest with Thee and the Holy Ghost, God for ever and ever. R. Amen.

May the prayers of blessed Mary Magdalene help us, O Lord : for it was in answer to them that Thou didst call her brother Lazarus, four days after death, back from the grave to life. Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, Unity in Trinity, world without end. R. Amen.

Prayer Source: Kyrie Eleison — Two Hundred Litanies by Benjamin Francis Musser O.F.M., The Magnificat Press, 1944.

See also:

07 July 2009

The world’s oldest Bible goes online

From a press release at their website:
Over 25% of Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest existing Christian Bible, becomes freely accessible on 24 July 2008 at

All pages at Leipzig University Library together with the complete Book of Psalms and Gospel of Mark held at the British Library are part of the launch.

Pages made available by the British Library and the University of Leipzig as part of a larger international collaboration.

The launch of the website is the landmark first phase of an extensive online initiative to reunite the different parts of the Bible now held in four separate institutions. In a ground-breaking collaboration between the British Library, the Monastery of St Catherine (Mount Sinai, Egypt), the University Library at Leipzig (Germany) and the National Library of Russia (St Petersburg), the full text of the manuscript will be accessible in one place for everyone to research and enjoy by the end of the project in July 2009.
SOURCE: "The world’s oldest Bible goes online," Codex Sinaiticus (Retrieved 7 July 2009).

04 July 2009

Magdalene - Artist's Impressions

This YouTube video contains a series of images of the Magdalene throughout the history of art.

Its compiler has the following companion video as well:

26 June 2009

S. Maria Magdalena by Lavers and Westlake

S. Maria Magdalena
(1902). Lavers and Westlake. Stained Glass. St. Matthews, Carver Street, Sheffield. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Recently came across this beautiful stained glass image by Lavers and Westlake so thought I would share.

25 June 2009

Edgar Cayce on Mary Magdalene

In my post on Leonardo and the Real Mary Magdalene I have a link to an article which references Edgar Cayce's reading on Mary Magdalene. Since it makes for interesting reading, particularly Cayce's claim that there was no sexual relationship, I am including it in more detail below:

"Q: Please describe the personal appearance of the body [of Mary Magdalene] at that time.

"A: This is well drawn by Da Vinci, as well as in that by Blum [Blaum?] - The Magdalene. A body five feet four inches (5'4") in height, weight a hundred and twenty-one (121) pounds - in the general. Hair almost red. The eyes were blue. The features were those impelled both from the Grecian and Jewish ancestry." (295-8)

According to Cayce's readings, the soul that was Mary Magdalene (#295 in the Cayce files) began her incarnations in this world as the princess Amliea in Atlantis, with a talent for maintaining the life force in physical bodies through magnetic treatments, presumably using the famed Atlantean crystal. In one case, she actually purified a friend's body of possession-like influences. As a result of being highborn and talented, she experienced the pomp and ceremony that came with such. But according to the Sleeping Prophet's reading, she did not handle the recognition well, becoming discontented with the people to the point that she began acting against them and their ways, taking names and holding grudges. She had the magic within her to channel the higher forces into the Earth realms yet a personality that tended toward contention and strife against any who opposed her.

In her second major incarnation, men were now ruling, unlike Atlantean times when women ruled. She was the temple musician Islta in Egypt during the time of the high priest Ra Ta (an incarnation of Edgar Cayce's soul). When the high priest was banished for his misdeeds, she counseled Pharaoh to reinstate the priest for the sake of the higher good for all. Once Ra Ta was restored, she continued her temple musician duties, which again allowed her to channel the Creative Forces to improve the vibrations in human bodies and minds. The sleeping Cayce said that many of her compositions will be recovered when the "yet uncovered" pyramids are found.

In the Egyptian incarnation, she developed a distrust of men. Also, her sense of discontent with this world and most people increased.

The next significant incarnation was as Mary Magdalene. Cayce's reading of the Akashic Record says that she did indeed become a courtesan in the Roman courts and a harlot among the men of her people. Cayce's readings also identify her as the Mary who was the sister of Martha and Lazarus and the woman who, caught in adultery and condemned to be stoned, was let go by Jesus' statement: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."

Cayce says that she was 22 when Jesus raised her brother from the tomb, causing many changes within her. Cayce goes on to explain that she and others found it strange to share life with her recently deceased brother, who once again lived among them. When she was 23, the readings state that "Christ cleansed her from seven devils: avarice, hate, self-indulgence, and those of the kindred selfishnesses; hopelessness and blasphemy."

She joined with Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the disciple John's household, which also included Elois (sister of the Mary that was the mother of John and James). There were also many visits from several of the disciples. Sadly, Martha, Lazarus, and James "the Lesser" (John's brother) had all been killed in the first wave of Roman crackdowns on followers of Jesus Christ. Cayce's readings say that the officials felt that Lazarus had to be killed because he was a walking reminder of Christ's miracles.

Cayce says that, like her brother, Mary Magdalene became a kind of "monument, as a memorial, to the activity of the Christ life upon the life of a soul" in this world because she had been a "sinner" and was purified and energized to a new way of thinking and acting. Her presence was a blessing to many, including Romans who had known her before and after the cleansing.

This little household lived in John's summer home on Lake Gennesaret, but the increasing crackdowns forced them to move north to Ephesus, and there they remained until their deaths.

When asked if Mary Magdalene had been Jesus' lover, Cayce clearly replied that she had not. Jesus wanted to be, and was, "her savior," not her lover. But this lover idea is sure selling a lot of books and resulted in a major motion picture.

The idea of that the progeny of Mary Magdalene and Jesus are living today fits nicely within our growing interest in the genetic code and its impact on future generations. Blood lines have always been a fascination for humans. But, as exciting as it may be to think that Jesus's heirs may be living quietly in Europe, it is not true according to Cayce's reading of the Akashic records.

After her life as Mary Magdalene, her next major incarnation picked up on her royal birth in Atlantis. This time she was the daughter of the last of the Louises, Louis XVI of France. Again she was facing mounting contention from the people ruled by her family. When Louis resigned and the rebellion began, she escaped the fate of the rest of her family by fleeing with great stealth to Austria and changing her name to Marie Augusta.

In her soul's next incarnation, she joined with Edgar Cayce's little band of visionaries to help build the Association for Research and Enlightenment. Her name was Mildred Davis. Her special healing talents were once again apparent, as the "sleeping" Cayce selected her to be among the seven initial members of the Glad Helpers Prayer Group. Edgar Cayce once had a dream about her in which she announced to everyone in the group that she was going to foretell what the next Cayce reading would say!

In this incarnation, the readings said that she needed to overcome her mistrust of men and her contentious spirit against people with different opinions. He also encouraged her to hold on to her deep understanding of the importance of not condemning self, which Jesus planted in her when he said, "Neither do I condemn thee."

18 June 2009

John Mirk, Sermon on St. Mary Magdalen

From the TEAMS Middle English Texts at The Camelot Project comes the following sermon by John Mirk on St. Mary Magdalen:

Gode men, suche a day . . . ye schul have the feste of Mary Magdalé, that was so holy that oure Lorde Jhesu Criste aftur Hys modur He lovid hir moste of alle wommen. Wherefore ye schal comyn to the chyrch that day to worchep God and this holy womman, for scheo was the furste in tyme of grace that dud penaunce for hyr synnes, and so recovred ageyne grace be doing of penaunce, and repentyng that scheo hadde loste be luste of the flesse and so synnyng. The wyche is made a myrroure to alle synful to schewon how alle that wollon levon hur synne, and done penaunce for hur trespace, thei schul recovre grace ageyn that thei have loste and ofte myche more. An so dude this womman, and how ye schul here.

This womman Mary Magdaleyne hadde a fadur that was a grete lorde and comyn of kyngus blode, and hadde grete lordeschep in Jerusalem, the wyche he gaf at hys dying to Lazarus hys sone. And the lordschep that he hadde in Betanye, he gaf to Martha, hys doghtor. Magdaleyn Castele wyth alle the lordschep he gaf to Mary, hys other doghtyr, of the whyche castel scheo was callyd Mary Magdaleyne, for scheo was lady therof. Than, as many bokys tellyth, whan John Evangeliste schulde have weddyd hyr, Criste hadde John sewond Hym, and lyvon in maydenhed; and so he dud. Herfore Mary was wroth and gaf hyr al to synne and namely to lechery, insomyche that scho loste the name of Magdaleyne and was kallyd the synful womman. Than, for it was often seyne that Cryste of the gresteyste synnerres He made the moste holy aftyr, wherfore whan He seygh tyme, He gaf this womman grace to knowyn hyrself and repentaunce of hur mysdedus. [More]

SOURCE: Sherry L. Reames, ed., "John Mirk, Sermon on St. Mary Magdalen," TEAMS Middle English Texts. Retrieved 17 June 2009. Originally published in Middle English Legends of Women Saints (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2003).

See also:

Early South English Legendary Life of Mary Magdalen
Legend of Mary Magdalen, Penitent and Apostle, The
Mary Magdalen, from Speculum Sacerdotale

17 June 2009

Mary Magdalen, from Speculum Sacerdotale

From the TEAMS Middle English Texts at The Camelot Project comes the following text from the Speculum Sacerdotale:

In syche a day ye schull have the feste of Seynt Marye Magdalene, whiche was the synneful womman and servyd to hure fleschely desires, and to whome God afterward gafe siche grace that sche servyd forgevenes of here synnes.

For when Crist was in the hous of Symon the Leprous, as sone as Marye herde telle of Hym, sche thought in hireself by dyvyne aspiracion and grace that it were then covenable tyme for to converte and make sorowe and penaunce of hure lyf that sche hadde ladde afore. And sche toke an oynement in a vessel and yede into the hous of Symon where Jhesu was and yede to the feet of Jhesu and wasshid hem with here teris of hure yghen and then dide wipe hem with the heeres of hire heed and anoyntyd hem then with hire oynement.

And seeynge Crist that the Pharasye Symon hadde indignacion that Crist lete siche a synful womman come so nye hym, he seide to hym thus: "Symon, sethen I come into thyn hows thou nether kyssid my feet ne wasshid hem ne anoyntid hem, but this womman hath done al this sethen sche come." And therefore seide Crist to Symon, "Propterea dimittuntur ei peccata multa quoniam dilexit multum. Therfore for hure myche love is the multitude of hure synnes forgeven." And then he seide to the womman, "Remittuntur tibi peccata tua quoniam dilexisti me. Woman, for thou hast shewyd to me love, thi synnes are forgeven. Vade, fides tua te salvam fecit. Go, thi feith hath made thee safe."

Joseph telleth us that Marie Magdalein for the grete brennyng love that sche loved God wold never have housbonde ne se man with hire yghen after the ascension of Crist. But sche yede into deserte and there sche dwellyd the space of thirty yere unknowyn to alle maner of men, ne never ete mete of man ne dronke drynke. But in yche tyme and in yche houre when that men worschipid here God, then the aungels of Hevene come to hyre and reysed hure up betwene hem into the eyre, and there sche made hire prayer with hem to God. [

SOURCE: Sherry L. Reames, ed., "
Mary Magdalen, from Speculum Sacerdotale," TEAMS Middle English Texts. Retrieved 17 June 2009. Originally published in Middle English Legends of Women Saints (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2003).

See also:

Early South English Legendary Life of Mary Magdalen
John Mirk, Sermon on St. Mary Magdalen
Legend of Mary Magdalen, Penitent and Apostle, The

16 June 2009

Early South English Legendary Life of Mary Magdalen

From the TEAMS Middle English Texts at The Camelot Project comes the following early South English text based on the life of Mary Magdalen:

Sleighe men and egleche, and of redes wise and bolde,
Lustniez nouthe to mi speche, wise and unwise, yongue and olde.
Nothing ich eou nelle rede ne teche of none wichche ne of none scolde,
Bote of a lif that may beo leche to sunfule men of herte colde.
Ich nelle eou nother rede ne rime of kyng ne of eorl, of knyght ne of swein,
Ake of a womman ich chulle ou telle that was sunful and forlein;
A swythe fol wumman heo bicam, and thorugh Godes grace heo was ibrought ageyn,
And nouthe heo is to Crist icome, the fayre Marie Maudeleyn.
Of hire ichulle yeou telle nouthe al hou and hware heo was ibore,
Yif ye to me wullez iheore and habben of God thonk tharefore.
This word "Marie" so is brightnesse and bitokne the steorre of the se,
And soruwe also and biturnesse, ase the bok tellez me;
For hwane a man fielez in is heorte that he havez muche misdo,
And him tharefore biguynnez to smeorte, that is to him bitur and wo,
He mournez and he sikez ofte. This ilke Marie fierde also,
That thing that was hire leof and softe was seththe hire fulle fo.
In the Castel of Magdalé this faire wumman was ibore;
Heo was icleoped in propre name the Maudeleyne right tharefore.
To speken of hire ich am wel fous, and it likez me ful murie.
Ire fader was hoten Sire Titus, and hire moder Dame Euchirie,
Hire brothur was cleoped Lazarus, and Martha was hire soster.
Heo was debonere and pitiuous, and heo was a seli foster.
Heore fader and heore moder bothe comen of riche kunne,
Of bolde kyngus and of quienes, men of muchele wunne, [More]

SOURCE: Sherry L. Reames, ed., "Early South English Legendary Life of Mary Magdalen," TEAMS Middle English Texts. Retrieved 17 June 2009. Originally published in Middle English Legends of Women Saints (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2003).

See also:

John Mirk, Sermon on St. Mary Magdalen
Legend of Mary Magdalen, Penitent and Apostle, The
Mary Magdalen, from Speculum Sacerdotale

15 June 2009

The Legend of Mary Magdalen, Penitent and Apostle

From the TEAMS Middle English Texts at The Camelot Project comes the following article regarding the Legend of Mary Magdalen:


The Mary Magdalen of medieval legend was a composite figure who had her origins in the Biblical passages about three different women - not just the woman explicitly called Mary Magdalen in the Gospels, but also Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, and the unnamed female sinner who washed Christ's feet with her tears. Biblical exegetes in the Latin West tended to equate the three from the time of Gregory the Great on, but the various New Testament passages about these women were first woven into a single narrative vita in a tenth-century sermon attributed to Odo of Cluny. Odo's sermon, which was subsequently used as a source of lessons in the liturgy for Mary Magdalen's feast day (July 22), relates her life up to the time of Christ's Ascension. The post-Ascension portion of the legend developed in a great variety of ways, but
the dominant version in the West was clearly the one that claimed that she journeyed to Provence in a rudderless boat, had a successful career as an apostle in Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence, and then spent thirty years alone in the wilderness nearby as a contemplative hermit.

Victor Saxer, who did most of the pioneering work on both the cult and the legend, found that the legend of Mary Magdalen in Provence has four major components, which originated separately. (1) The vita eremitica, recounting her years of solitude in the wilderness and her death, was probably borrowed in the ninth century from the Greek legend of a reformed prostitute, Mary of Egypt. As Katherine Ludwig Jansen has pointed out, the Bible never actually specifies the nature of Mary Magdalen's sins, but medieval exegetes and preachers found it natural to connect female sinfulness with prostitution (The Making of the Magdalen, pp. 146 ff.). (2) The vita apostolica, recounting Mary Magdalen's apostolic work in Provence but not the story of the prince of Marseilles, dates from around the same time in the tenth century as Odo's sermon. (3) A translation story was added in the eleventh century to explain how her body had been rediscovered in Provence some 200 years earlier and brought north - with her consent - to the abbey of Vézelay in Burgundy. (4) The story of the prince of Marseilles, which bears close resemblances to secular romance and would become a favorite part of the vernacular legends of Mary Magdalen, was added even later - probably in the twelfth century. In addition to these major components, the Provençal legend in its fully developed form often includes two other kinds of relatively late additions: brief accounts of Martha, Lazarus, and other saints who supposedly accompanied Mary to Marseilles and participated in the evangelization of France, and stories about her miraculous intercessions for believers who have prayed to her or honored her memory in other ways. [

SOURCE: Sherry L. Reames, ed., "The Legend of Mary Magdalen, Penitent and Apostle," TEAMS Middle English Texts. Retrieved 17 June 2009. Originally published in Middle English Legends of Women Saints (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2003).
See also:

Early South English Legendary Life of Mary Magdalen
John Mirk, Sermon on St. Mary Magdalen
Mary Magdalen, from Speculum Sacerdotale

14 June 2009

Leonardo and the Real Mary Magdalene

Il cenacolo. [The Last Supper]
(1495-1498). Leonardo da Vinci. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Contrary to Dan Brown, I do not believe that the figure to the Christ's right is Mary Magdalene. It was typical of Renaissance artists to depict the disciple John as young and somewhat effeminate. See also the convincing argument from Leonardo's notebooks and the Bible at Da Vinci Speaks. However, in spite of that, Leonardo may have left us an image of the Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene
(c. 1515). Recently attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Private collection. Image courtesy of Maria Madalena e o Santo Graal.

From Wikipedia:

The above painting was recently attributed as a Leonardo by Carlo Pedretti. Previously regarded as the work of Giampietrino who painted a number of similar Magdalenes.[7] Carlo Pedretti's attribution of this painting is not accepted by other scholars, e.g. Carlo Bertelli, (former director of the Brera Art Gallery in Milan), who said this painting is not by Leonardo and that the subject could be a Lucretia with the knife removed.[8]

[7]. "A lost Leonardo? Top art historian says maybe". Universal Leonardo. Retrieved on 2007-09-27.
[8]. Bertelli, Carlo (November 19, 2005). "Due allievi non fanno un Leonardo" (in Italian). Il Corriere della Sera. Retrieved on 2007-09-27.
See also:

"Unseen Da Vinci works go on show," BBC News (15 Oct 2005).
"Mary Magdalene: Edgar Cayce's Da Vinci Painting Found," Gaia Community (18 Jul 2008).

13 June 2009

La Maddalena by Francesco Furini

La Maddalena (). Francesco Furini. Museo di Stato di San Marino. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

I'm still trying to learn more about this painting, but the Magdalene does appear somewhat pregnant here.

12 June 2009

Mary Magdalene by Stodart

Mary Magdalene
. Richard Stodart. Image courtesy of Richard

Stodart captures beautifully the eyes of the Magdalene in this stunning image. The article in Wikipedia explains the tradition of the often-occuring egg in Magdalene paintings:
One tradition concerning Mary Magdalene says that following the death and resurrection of Jesus, she used her position to gain an invitation to a banquet given by Emperor Tiberius. When she met him, she held a plain egg in her hand and exclaimed "Christ is risen!" Caesar laughed, and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished speaking, the egg in her hand turned a bright red, and she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house. . . .

Another version of this story can be found in popular belief, mostly in Greece. It is believed that after the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary put a basket full of eggs at the foot of the cross. There, the eggs were painted red by the blood of the Christ. Then, Mary Magdalene brought them to Tiberius Caesar.

11 June 2009

Magdalenes by Guido Reni

The Penitent St. Mary Magdalene
(1633). Guido Reni. Image courtesy of Art / 4 / 2Day.

Description from the Art / 4 / 2Day site:
The image of the penitent Mary Magdalene enjoyed great popularity between the late sixteenth century and the first decades of the seventeenth century. Cardinal Baronius, in his hard-hitting polemics against Protestantism, employed the subject (along with that of the penitent St Peter) to emphasize the necessity and validity of penance, a sacrament discarded by the reformers. The penitent Magdalene was something of a iconographic specialty for Reni, who painted various versions to please a public that prized them and continually requested them. A splendid example of the mature style of Reni, this painting is characterized by a profound classicism in the monumental and noble figure of the saint. The refined chromatic range, lit by a cold and silvery light, is also typical of Reni's art in the 1630's.

Another version:

The Penitent St. Mary Magdalene (1635). Guido Reni. Image courtesy of Art / 4 / 2Day.

07 June 2009

Mary Magdalene in France

The following is from Dr. Barbara Thiering's website in which she answers a question that Dana Chivers asks about the Magdalene cult in Southern France.
The true facts on which the whole profitable cult of Mary Magdalene is based are, first, that two of the Herods, Archelaus and Antipas, were exiled to the south of France by the Romans, Archelaus to Vienne in 6 AD, and Antipas to Lyons in 39 AD. (Josephus, Antiquities 17, 344; 18, 252) These cities were prominent in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD as centers for Christian martyrs. Another element drew on my research, that the Christian movement had begun as a mission to the Diaspora in the courts of the Herods, that Jesus had survived the crucifixion, died in Rome in the early 70's AD, and that he had a family. His first wife was Mary Magdalene. [More]

06 June 2009

Mary Magdalene by Rossetti

Mary Magdalene leaving the house of feasting (1857). Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Tate Britain. Image courtesy of

Mary Magdalene at the door of Simon the Pharisee (1858). Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Image courtesy of The Athenaeum.

Mary Magdalene (1877). Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE. Image courtesy of Sexual Fables.

Other Rossetti pieces with a Magdalenian flavor:

La Ghirlandata (1873). Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Guildhall Art Gallery, London. Image courtesy of The Athenaeum.

The Beloved [aka The Bride] (1865-1866). Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Tate Britain. Image courtesy of The Athenaeum.

The bride is described in the biblical Song of Solomon. Rossetti shows her at the moment she takes the veil from her face, transfixing the viewer with her direct gaze and the power of her beauty. The picture’s lush exoticism is accentuated by the flowers and the bride’s luxurious Japanese dress and Peruvian headress. Her attendants are of varying physical types and ethnic origin.

SOURCE: Tate Collection The Beloved (`The Bride') by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The Damsel of the Sanct Grael (1874). Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Private Collection. Image courtesy of The Athenaeum.

02 June 2009

Mary Magdalene by Anthony F. A. Sandys

Mary Magdalene (c. 1860). Anthony F. A. Sandys. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE. Image courtesy of Holy Mary Magdalene.

I found the image below of Sandys' Morgan-le-Fay at Bethany Magdalene's Realm and wanted to include it for its similarities to Magdalenian art as well as its unique beauty. According to the BMAG website, "Sandys met the model for Morgan-Le-Fay, Keomi, in a gypsy camp in Rome. Very little is known about her but she is believed to to have had an affair with the artist."

Morgan-le-Fay (1864). Anthony F. A. Sandys. Birmingham Art Gallery. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

01 June 2009

The Magdalen Legend

David Mycoff has an analysis of the legend of the Magdalene in the introduction to his translation of the Pseudo-Rabanus Life of St. Mary Magdalene and her sister St. Martha. I've divided the material into smaller paragraphs in the following quotation:

There are, then, five parts to this fully-developed Magdalen legend: the pre-ascension life; the story of the voyage to Marseilles; the account of the thirty-year solitude, death, and burial; and the post-burial miracles and translation of relics.

The pre-ascension life is the product of the patristic harmonizing of scattered scriptural passages which, in the view of the medieval Western Church, all pertained to Mary Magdalene. The earliest extant text that assembles these patristic motifs into a single, concise, coherent narrative appears to be a tenth-century sermon on the Magdalen attributed to Saint Odo of Cluny (BHL 5439).[7]

Close in date is a legend, titled by the prominent scholar of the Magdalen legend and cult, Victor Saxer, Vita apostolica Mariae Magdalenae, [8] which tells of the Magdalen's voyage to Marseilles and her career in Gaul, omitting the stories of the prince of Marseilles and the thirty year seclusion.

The remote source of the account of Mary's solitude is the legend of Mary of Egypt, first told in the Life of Cyriacus by Cyril of Scythopolis. [9] By the ninth century, the Egyptian's story had been adapted for Mary Magdalene in a piece titled by Saxer, Vita eremitica Mariae Magdalenae (BHL 5453-5456). [10]

The Vita apostolica and Vita eremetica were conflated into a single piece to form Vita apostolico-eremitica (BHL 5443-5448), [11] apparently in the eleventh century during the resurgence of Western eremiticism that began in northern Italy.

Another composite piece, Vita evangelico-apostolica (BHL 5450) [12] assembles the pre-ascension material of Odo's sermon with the post-ascension material of Vita apostolico-eremitica, abbreviating the account of the contemplative retreat.


[7]. Printed in Acta Sanctorum, July V: 218-221; also in PL 133: 713-721 with variants in accidentals.

[8]. Étienne-Michel Faillon, Monuments inédits sur l'apostolat de sainte Marie-Madeleine en Provence . . . , 2 vols. (Paris, 1848), calls this the 'Ancienne Vie' of Mary Magdalene and prints it in vol. II, pp. 433-436.

[9]. J. Misrahi, 'A vita Sanctae Mariae Magdalenae . . . ,' Speculum 18 (1943) 335-337 and Sr Benedicta Ward, Miracles and the Medieval Mind (Philadelphia: Univ. Penna. Press, 1982) p. 260, n. 65.

[10]. Edited by Misrahi, ibid., pp. 335-339.

[11]. Faillon considers the part drawn from Vita eremitica an addition and prints it in Mon. inéd., II; 445-451

[12]. Printed by Faillon, Mon. inéd., II; 437-445, with the title 'Vie Anonyme Sainte Marie-Madeleine'.

28 May 2009

Great Saints

Great Saints
The Holy Maries of the Sea
Heart of the Christian and Provençal tradition

The Cross of Camargue
The cross + the anchor + the heart: the 3 theological virtues

On the whole planet, every diocese, all the more its cathedral, offers the faithful its chapels and churches to accomplish their jubilee pilgrimage.In the course of the year 2000, we are going to visit some of this high ground of the faith. In the Rhône Delta, the cathedral of Aix-en-Provence diocese is the Holy Saviour's. Monseigneur Claude Feidt has chosen, as jubilee churches, Notre-Dame-de-la-Major at Arles and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer church in Camargue.

Land of tradition

Camargue, this triangle of 82,000 hectares between two arms of the Rhône, has jealously managed to keep its traditional parochialism. Paradoxically, its originality has been determined by the inhospitality of this land, basically marshy and brackish. The bull and the wild horse have found refuge here in the course of centuries while agriculture and forestry have always prevailed elsewhere. The first canal to drain the marshes was dug in the 12th century by the monks of Montmajour and the first dykes were only constructed in the 18th century. The salt and the rice _ after the vine _ have beckoned a small population to the Camarguais soil. The tourist eruption since the 1960s has not overwhelmed the Provençal tradition of which Camargue is one of the «reservoirs».

Its black bull and white horse have remained wild. The mares foal freely, outdoors. The foals are hence subjected to a harsh climate which decides their small size and remarkable resistance. The horse is broken in at the age of three, the breeding mare isn't saddled.

The bond between the small Camargue horse and its breeder is surprising. The rider leads with the left hand and holds his trident in the right hand. The sorting of bulls is done while galloping, it's an astonishing spectacle of skill and strength. This pastoral activity which would go back to the Antiquity, still exists to provide bulls for the ferias in the numerous arenas of Lower Provence and the Languedoc where passionate fans are crowding.

A horse breeder's life requires the qualities of energy, tenacity, uprightness, love of freedom as are very naturally born out of an inherited attachment to traditions. Thanks to the nacioun gardiano (the horse-breeding nation, the movement for the preserving of traditions founded in 1909 by Baroncelli), the pilgrimages to Saintes-Maries- de-la-Mer have persisted, in particular during the terrible depression of the faith from the 1960s to the 1980s. The herdsmen attended all processions, on horseback, wielding the trident, proud and smiling, paying respect to «their» Grandes Saintes. Last Christmas I saw them getting down from their mounts and going to the midnight mass, still holding the trident in their hand, and receiving Communion.

The nacioun gardiano means also the women of Arles, present at all manifestations, clad in their Provençal dress as they had been wearing until the Second World War.

The Mystery of the Saints

In the last years, the pilgrims have returned numerously (more than 40,000 last May _ estimated by the gendarmerie) including the Gypsies who had forgotten that Saint Sara has been expecting them in their sacred land by the 24th and 25th May for nearly two thousand years. The Saints without the Gypsies would be the Saints no more!

The Holy Maries (The Grandes Saintes, say the Provençaux) have always been watching over them. In the 11th century a hermit would have convinced a prince, who had arrived from Arles on a hunting trip, to build a church. It was certainlyGuillaume II, he incurred lavish expenses for the construction of a big fortress church surrounding the first oratory. At the beginning of the [20th] century, the Folco de Baroncelli were the poets and the horse breeders… Today it is Laurent Ayme, eighty-three years old, a genuine félibre,1 who liberally spends money to organize pilgrimages, to write and stage pastorals and to revive the Confraternity.

These watchers are the astonishing mystery of the Great Saints indeed, they are the embers under cold ashes. They were there at the beginning of the 19th century after the terrible Revolution, they were there during the 1920s while no Saintois soldier at all returned from the War of 1914-18… The whole Provençal tradition is steeped in the Catholic faith. The evangelization of France had started from Provence.

Who are the Saints?

The origin of this pilgrimage could be written as a Gospel sequel but it would be apocryphal as there is no historic source written on its origin. No need to be radical though, as the essence of the pre-12th century history is archaeological, and nowadays historians have gone as far as asserting that «a bundle of converging testimonies exceeds in historic value a document often subject to caution».2

In the year 44, following the death of Herod Agrippa, Judaea passed under direct Roman authority. The disciples of Jesus multiplied their numbers but the priests of the Sanhedrin, afraid of the Romans looking after public order, dared not eliminate them brutally and preferred to expel them. The witnesses to the life of Jesus were able to depart to evangelize Gaul: Lazarus the resurrected man, the sisters Martha and Mary the Magdalene, Maximinus, the blind-born man Sidonius who had been healed by Jesus, Mary Jacoby, Mary Salome… «Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.» (Mark 14, 16).

The latter would have been put in a barque, without provisions… and abandoned to the sea. A pious legend maintains that Sara, their maidservant who had been left on the beach, wanted to join them. Salome threw out her shawl to help her swimming (another legend has it that she would have welcomed them on their landing in Gaul).The barque ran aground on the Isle of Camargue. They would have made there a small altar of kneaded clay mentioned in the manuscripts of Gervais of Tilbury in 1212 and of Monseigneur Durand, the bishop of Mende, in the late 13th century. The altar was discovered again during the 1448 diggings.

_ Mary Jacoby is called, in the Gospels, Mary of Cleophas (John 19,25) or Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses (Mark 15, 40), or Mary the mother of James (Luke 24, 10). Her kinship with the Virgin cannot be established, John (19, 25) gives her as her sister but the Hebrews only had got, in their vocabulary, the words brother and sister to describe close kinship including all the cousins. She married Cleophas (also known as Alpheus), the brother of Saint Joseph, and they had 4 sons: James, Jude (or Thaddeus), Joseph (or Joses), Simeon (or Simon) and many daughters. With his brother Thaddeus, James the Less was called to the apostolate, he benefitted of a particular appearance of Christ (1 Co 15,7) after his resurrection. Saint Jerome associates him to the Church of Jerusalem, the apostles made him her bishop, he died as a martyr.

– Mary Salome is the wife of Zebedee, her sons are James the Greater and John, one of the Gospel writers. She would have been, with the Blessed Virgin and Mary the Magdalene, at the foot of the Calvary.Pious tales say their fellow travellers were Lazarus who went on to evangelize Marseille; Maximinus who went to Aix; Mary the Magdalene who followed her brother to Marseille, then set off for Aix and the cave of Sainte-Baume (see Chrétiens Magazine, January 1987); Martha who saved the dwellers of the banks of the Rhône by slaying Tarasque at Tarascon; Sidonius who became the bishop of Aix.The two Maries, elderly already, with Sara's help, settled down in the Isle of Camargue, near a source of fresh water they had found.

The cult of the Saints

Undoubtedly, they evangelized all the inhabitants they had found upon landing in Camargue. They were buried there after their death. Their tomb was soon paid worship, the pious legend speaks of many miracles.It was certainly a place already visited because of a pagan temple dedicated to Mithra or Diana of Ephesus (some remains have been preserved like an altar of marble that can be seen in the crypt of the present church). The Good Word is soon more easily spread in the whole countryside. Since this epoch, the nomadic tribes of the Bohemians, Gypsies and Caraques come to worship the relics of the saints and of Sara who, they say, was one of theirs and whom they make their patroness.

The first church was erected in the 4th century, called Sainte-Maria-de-Ratis (Sainte-Marie- de-la-Barque), surrouning the primitive oratory that certainly had been their abode.

In the 4th century Bishop Saint Caesarius of Arles installs a religious community there, the offshoot of the monastery he had founded at Arles in 512 with his sister Saint Caesaria.

There were Saracen invasions from the 8th to the 10th centuries. The best protection was the fortress. Thence the construction of the characteristic fortress church that protected the precious relics too. It has been rebuilt many times but the overall look that is preserved, is peculiar to the military buildings of the 8th century.

In the 12th century the first name of the church fell in oblivion to the benefit of Sancta-Maria- de-Mari (Saint Mary of the Sea) which has been preserved in the plural.

Throughout the Middle Ages, many princes of the blood and princes of the Church undertook a pilgrimage, alongside the crowds, to les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Many prayers were granted.

In 1332, the bishop of Saint-Pol-de- Léon, Pierre de Nantes, for many years paralyzed, implored the protection of the Saintes and took the oath to visit their church if they obtained his healing. He was healed, complied, composed a hymn in their honour in Latin verse and dedicated three altars to them.

The invention of the relics

The relics remained buried in the church, with no indication of the precise location. In order to give them a pride of place, in the 15th century, the pious prince René d'Anjou (the count of Provence, the king of Sicily and Jerusalem) intends to look for them. Pope Nicholas V gives him the authorization by a bull dated to the 3rd August 1448.

The whole matter was conducted following canonical rules, in an exemplary manner. Among else, there were gathered all the historic pieces of the legend, the liturgical name of the life of a Saint _ read at the mass of his feast _, always written with caution and rigour.

The exact and important diggings brought to daylight the canal of the freshwater source, then a man's head bandaged with lead (the head of Saint James the Greater), a cavity containing bowls of clay, charcoal and ashes (the humble abode of the two Saintes). Underneath the choir of the church, there was found a hillock of kneaded clay in which was discovered a small column of white stone topped by a small piece of marble, the whole forming an altar. Taking the diggings to the left, the workers discovered a perfectly preserved human body spreading a very pleasant sweet scent, its head was resting on a marble stone on which was engraved Hic jacet sancta Maria Jacobi (Here rests Saint Mary Jacoby3).3 The diggings to the right uncovered another body in the same position that emitted the same good odour, on a marble stone was engraved Hic jacet sancta Maria Salomi (Here rests Saint Mary Salome).

Other diggings to the left side of the oratory showed 3 children's heads, laid out in a triangle, these are the heads of three of the Holy Innocents.

Among the attributes of the portrayals of the Saintes Maries, they are seen bearing an urn each in which they had put, upon leaving Palestine, the heads of Saint James the Greater and of the Holy Innocents. It is remarkable these remains would have been preserved during more than fourteen hundred years in marshy and brackish soil.

Note also that immediately since the time of Christ's eyewitnesses, the relics (corporeal remains of the martyrs) had their importance. The relics are no more than remembrance attached to a venerable person, their presence in the churches is necessary, among else in the altar stone.

No other bodies were found, proving the respect paid by the Church to the Saintes.

The legate of the Pope, after having washed the relics carefully, put them in two wooden caskets. Numerous ceremonies were held that day in front of an immense and enthusiastic crowd that had flooded from all Provence. The relics were exposed to everybody's veneration under a canopy, surrounded by the royal court of Provence and the authorities of the Church. In a bronze reliquiary were deposited the heads of Saint James and of the Holy Innocents as well as the remains of Sainte Sara (let's remember that she has never been canonized but is considered a Saint by the power of the vox populi).

After the closing of the caskets containing the relics of the saints, they were solemnly raised in the chapel constructed above the choir where they still are. Since this time many miracles have been recorded, they have, in the course of centuries, not benefited of canonical inquests but they couldn't be ignored, so numerous they were, except the very last years. A nun, an old friend of mine, encountered at the last October pilgrimage, from whom I enquired, answered with much good sense: «The faithful are told no more that God works miracles, then they forget to present their sufferings to Him, they deprive themselves of the greatest graces God is ready to grant, they still must ask him through the intercession of the saints. A little child knows very early that it can get candy by insisting very loudly on its parents. Our great saintes are ready to do much for us but they must be asked. I come every year with all the intentions confided to me. This year, moreover, I have come to say thanks.»

The Revolution

1793: the consequences of the iniquitous decisions of the Convention break over a France already in pain. The victims of the guillotine are abundant. The priests refusing to take the oath are imprisoned unless they have chosen the exile. A destructive storm hits the churches and chapels. God is expelled to be replaced by a stupid idol to whose adoration the people are pushed. Armed men from Arles, after having threatened the people, broke in the Saintes church and seized furniture and valuable objects, including two silver reliquiaries in the form of hands. But they ignored the caskets.

In the night of the 22nd October, Abbé Abril and one of his parishioners, M. Molinier, removed some of the remains of the saints from the caskets and hid them in a shed near the cemetery.

On the 5th May 1794 the despicable persons reappeared and sacked the church. They encountered no resistance. They took the caskets down, took the votive gifts out, removed the reliquiary of Sainte Sara and burnt everything while dancing a fiendish saraband. The profaners _ all had come from Arles and were known to the Saintois _ would tragically die in two years, I was told in my childhood by an old damsel who held the key of the door leading to the roof of the church (can still be visited today).

Early in 1797: the Directory votes many laws restoring national peace, including the abolition of the laws against the Church. France, exhausted, aspires to peace and many ardently desire the return of religion. Two pious Saintois give the new curate the remains of Sainte Sara that had been saved from the flames of 1794. An administrator of the district of Arles returns one of the two reliquiary hands discovered in an office of his administration. It would be the one containing a relic of Saint Martha. M. Molinier, after long hesitations due to fear of reprisals, points out the hiding place of the relics of the Saintes. Pious history reports that he would have been saved from a shipwreck by imploring the Grandes Saintes and he would have taken the oath to dedicate himself to the renewal of the pilgrimages.

The relics were found to be tied up with strips provided with 1709 and 1710 seals of authentification. On the 25th May 1797 they were solemnly installed in the upper chapel to the sound of Te Deum, in the midst of joyous ovations.

The 23rd May the following year, when the caskets were being taken own, Antoine Gousty, seriously ill, was suddenly healed. The crowd carries him in triumph before the exposed Holy Sacrament while singing at the top of their voice the hymn of the action of grace. The long list of healings was resumed. One of the church walls is covered with naïve votive paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The pilgrimages

The two main yearly pilgrimages:

– The 24th and 25th May (feast of Saint Mary Salome). It is also the pilgrimage of the Sons of the Wind, the Gypsies arriving from all of France, Italy, Spain, Ireland but also South Africa and India. While they come for the Saintes Maries, above all they worship their patroness Saint Sara.

– The Saturday and Sunday following the 15th October (feast of Saint Mary Jacoby).

– And the pilgrimage of the Saturday and Sunday after the 3rd December, reserved to the Saintes (but open to all). No procession but the caskets are taken down. 19th-century narratives describe enthusiastically the crowds of pilgrims who had arrived on foot, by carriage or by boat while Mistral arrived from Maillane in a wagon driven by horses. The crowds increased since October 1892 thanks to the small train departing from Arles, inaugurated in August.

One must make at least once in his lifetime the pilgrimage of the Saintes, steeped in this very Southern hot atmosphere. The May one is the more vivid because of the presence of the Gypsies, with an excessive but very sincere expression of faith! How not to be touched by seeing them delve in prayer, face covered with tears, at the feet of Sainte Sara? One remark peculiar to our time: there are seen more and more people in prayer than I can recall seeing just a few years ago. It is not only the Gypsies, more and more people are seen in our churches at weekly masses, including those under thirty.

Do not miss the casket ceremony in Saturday afternoon. For many centuries, they are taken down, by a winch, from the upper chapel above the altar. All along the ropes, bouquets of flowers and votive gifts are fixed by the pilgrims. Those present chant an old Provençal song whose rhythm reminds one of the waves of the sea. As soon as the descent starts, out of a sudden, all the believers, a lit candle in their hand, raise their arms and jubilantly exclaim: «Vive les Saintes, vive les Saintes…» Many weep with joy. In some year a priest gives a homily in lango nostro. The believers can pray near the caskets. Some touch and kiss them.

The next day, after the high mass, there is the pilgrimage to the beach. The procession is opened by herdsmen riding on horseback, wielding the trident, wearing a black vest and a coloured shirt made of Indian fabric (a Provençal specialty since the 17th century, resumed thirty years ago with designs and colours attesting to good taste). At the head of the procession walk the clergy, including a priest carrying the reliquiary hand, followed by costumed women of Arles, the tambourinaires (musicians striking the tambourine with their left hand and playing the flute with the right hand).

The members of the Confraternity are surrounding and carrying the ship with the Saints. In May, the Gypsies are following them while carrying the statue of Sainte Sara, around which the sons of the wind press themselves to touch and kiss it and to lay a bunch of flowers at its feet.

When the cortège arrives to the beach, herdsmen wade in the sea up to the chest of their horses and form a half-circle. In their turn the bearers of the Saintes and of Sainte Sara march in water followed by some believers. The bishop goes into a barque lying on the beach and blesses, with the reliquiary hand, the statues, the pilgrims and the sea. The church bells are pealing out. The statues are brought back to the church, greeted on their arrival by the Magnificat. They are then taken back to the upper chapel. The ceremony ends with the regional hymn: Provencaou et catouli (Provençal and Catholic) that everyone sings at the top of his voice, proud of his race, as Mistral said.

Christian Ravaz

1 - Félibrige: an academic organization founded in 1854 by Frédéric Mistral for the creation of a «literary Provençal», still active. The members are called the félibres.

2 - Les Saintes Maries de Provence - Chanoine J.-M. Lamoureux _ reprint of a book of 1908 (the only work available on the history of the Saintes) _ Editions Bélisane _ 16x24 _ 294 pages _ 160 F.

3 - One of the stones of white marble has been walled in a column of the church, to the right of the nave on the edge of which are put the statues of the two Maries. This stone is much worn because of touches of the pilgrims attributing it curative powers.

SOURCE: Andreas (trans.), "Great Saints," Da Vinci Code Forum (Retrieved 28 May 2009).

Grandes Saintes

Grandes Saintes
coeur de la tradition chrétienne et provençale

La croix de Camargue
la croix + l'ancre+ le coeur: les 3 vertus théologuales

Sur toute la planète, chaque diocèse, en plus de sa cathédrale, propose aux fidèles des sanctuaires et des églises pour accomplir leur pèlerinage jubilaire.

Au cours de l’année 2000, nous visiterons quelques-uns de ces hauts lieux de la foi. Dans les Bouches-du-Rhône, la cathédrale du diocèse d’Aix-en-Provence est Saint-Sauveur. Monseigneur Claude Feidt a choisi comme églises jubilaires Notre-Dame-de-la-Major à Arles et l’église des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, en Camargue.

Terre de tradition

La Camargue, ce triangle de 82 000 hectares entre les deux bras du Rhône, a su garder jalousement ses particularismes traditionnels. Paradoxalement, c’est l’inhospitalité de cette terre, essentiellement marécageuse et saumâtre, qui a déterminé son originalité. Le taureau et le cheval sauvage, au fil des siècles, y avaient trouvé un refuge, alors que l’agriculture et l’exploitation forestière s'étendaient toujours plus ailleurs. La première roubine (canal) pour assécher les marais a été creusée au xiie siècle par les moines de Montmajour et ce n’est qu’au xviiie siècle que les premières digues ont été construites. Le sel et le riz – après la vigne – ont accroché au sol camarguais une petite population. La déferlante touristique, qui a débuté dans les années soixante, n’a pas submergé la tradition provençale dont la Camargue est l’un des « réservoirs ».

Son taureau noir et son cheval blanc sont restés sauvages. Les juments mettent bas librement, en plein air. Les poulains subissent ainsi un climat sévère qui détermine leur petite taille et leur résistance remarquable. Le cheval est dressé à l’âge de trois ans, la jument réservée à la reproduction n’est pas montée.

La complicité du petit cheval Camargue et de son gardian est surprenante. Le cavalier mène de la main gauche et tient son trident de la main droite. Le tri des taureaux se fait au plein galop, c’est un spectacle étonnant fait d’agilité et de force. Cette activité pastorale, qui doit remonter à l’Antiquité, existe encore pour fournir en taureaux les ferias dans les nombreuses arènes de basse Provence et du Languedoc où se pressent les foules d’aficionados.

La vie du gardian réclame des qualités d’énergie, de ténacité, de droiture, de liberté qui engendrent tout naturellement un attachement inné aux traditions. C’est grâce à la nacioun gardiano (nation gardiane, mouvement de sauvegarde des traditions fondé en 1909 par Baroncelli) que les pèlerinages des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer ont perduré, en particulier pendant la terrible dépression de la foi des décennies 60 à 80. A toutes les processions les gardians étaient là, sur leurs chevaux, trident en main, fiers et souriants, encadrant « leurs » Grandes Saintes. A Noël dernier, je les ai vus descendre de leurs montures et se rendre à la messe de minuit, toujours le trident à la main, et communier.

La nacioun gardiano ce sont aussi les Arlésiennes, présentes dans toutes les manifestations, vêtues de leurs costumes provençaux qui ont été portés jusqu’à la Seconde Guerre mondiale.

Le mystère des Saintes

Ces dernières années, les pèlerins sont revenus en grand nombre (plus de 40 000 en mai dernier – chiffre de la gendarmerie) dont les gitans, qui avaient oublié que Sainte Sara les attend sur leur terre sacrée les 24 et 25 mai, depuis près de deux mille ans. Les Saintes sans les gitans ne seraient plus les Saintes!

Les Saintes Maries (les Grandes Saintes disent les Provençaux) ont toujours eu leurs veilleurs. Au xie siècle un ermite aurait convaincu un prince, venu d’Arles pour chasser, de construire une église. Ce fut certainement Guillaume II, il se lança dans de folles dépenses pour la construction d’une grande église-forteresse englobant le premier oratoire. Au début du siècle, c’étaient les folco de Baroncelli, qui furent des poètes et des manadiers… Aujourd’hui c’est Laurent Ayme, quatre-vingt-trois ans, authentique félibre1, qui se dépense sans compter pour animer les pèlerinages, écrire et mettre en scène des Pastorales et redonner vie à la Confrérie (voir encadré).

Ces veilleurs sont bien l’étonnant mystère des Grandes Saintes, ils sont la braise sous les cendres froides. Ils étaient là au début du xviiie siècle après la terrible Révolution, ils étaient là dans les années vingt alors que pas un seul soldat saintois n’était revenu de la guerre 14-18…
Toute la tradition provençale est imprégnée de la foi catholique. C’est de la Provence qu’est partie l’évangélisation de la France.

Qui sont les Saintes?

L’origine de ce pèlerinage pourrait être écrit comme un post-Evangile, mais il serait apocryphe, car il n’y a aucune source historique écrite sur ses origines. Cependant il ne faut pas être trop radical, car l’essentiel de l’histoire antérieure au xiie siècle est archéologique, et de nos jours les historiens vont jusqu’à affirmer « qu’un faisceau de témoignages convergents dépasse en valeur historique un écrit souvent sujet à caution2 ».

En l’an 44, à la mort d’Hérode Agrippa, la Judée est passée sous l’autorité directe des Romains. Les disciples de Jésus se multipliaient, mais les prêtres du Sanhédrin, craignant les Romains qui veillaient à l’ordre public, n’osèrent pas les éliminer brutalement et ont préféré les expulser. C’est ainsi que des témoins de la vie de Jésus sont venus évangéliser la Gaule : Lazare le ressuscité, Marthe et Marie-Madeleine ses sœurs, Maximin, Sidoine l’aveugle de naissance guéri par Jésus, Marie Jacobé, Marie Salomé… « Allez par tout le monde et prêchez la bonne nouvelle à toute la création » (Marc 14, 16).

Ces derniers auraient été mis dans une barque, sans provisions… et jetés à la mer. Une pieuse légende affirme que Sara, leur servante, qui avait été laissée sur la plage, a voulu les rejoindre. Salomé lui a jeté son châle qui lui servit de radeau (une autre légende affirme qu’elle les aurait accueillis à leur accostage en Gaule).

La barque s’est échouée sur l’île de Camargue. Elles y ont construit un petit autel de terre pétrie mentionné dans des manuscrits de Gervais de Tibury en 1212, et de Monseigneur Durand, évêque de Mende à la fin du xiiie siècle. L’autel sera retrouvé lors des fouilles de 1448.

– Marie Jacobé est appelée dans les Evangiles Marie de Cléophas (Ja 19, 25), ou Marie mère de Jacques et de Joseph (Marc 15, 40), ou Marie mère de Jacques (Luc 24, 10). Sa parenté avec la Vierge ne peut pas être établie, Jean (19, 25) la donne comme sœur, mais les Hébreux n’avaient dans leur vocabulaire que frère et sœur pour désigner la parenté proche qui englobait tous les cousins. Elle se maria à Cléophas (appelé aussi Alphée) frère de Saint Joseph, et ils eurent 4 fils : Jacques, Jude (ou Thaddée), Joseph (ou José), Siméon (ou Simon) et plusieurs filles. Avec son frère Thaddée, Jacques dit le Mineur a été appelé à l’apostolat, il avait profité d’une apparition particulière du Christ (1 Co 15, 7) après sa résurrection. Saint Jérôme lui a recommandé l’église de Jérusalem, les apôtres en ont fait l’évêque, il est mort martyr.

– Marie Salomé est l’épouse de Zébédée, ses fils sont Jacques dit le Majeur et Jean, l’un des auteurs des Evangiles. Elle sera avec la Sainte Vierge et Marie-Madeleine au pied du Calvaire.
De pieuses histoires nous disent qu’elles avaient comme compagnons de voyage Lazare, qui est allé évangéliser Marseille ; Maximin, qui s’est rendu à Aix ; Marie-Madeleine, qui a suivi son frère à Marseille, puis à rejoint Aix et la grotte de la Sainte-Baume (voir Chrétiens Magazine de janvier 1987) ; Marthe, qui a sauvé les habitants des bords du Rhône en éliminant la Tarasque à Tarascon ; Sidoine, qui sera évêque d’Aix.

Les deux Maries, déjà âgées, avec l’aide de Sara, se sont installées dans l’île de Camargue, près d’une source d’eau douce qu’elles auraient découverte.

Le culte des Saintes

A n’en pas douter, elles ont évangélisé les habitants qu’elles avaient trouvés en accostant en Camargue. Elles y ont été enterrées à leur mort. Rapidement leur tombe a été vénérée, la pieuse légende parle de nombreux miracles. C’était certainement un lieu déjà visité pour un temple païen dédié à Mithra ou à Diane d’Ephèse (quelques restes ont été conservés dont un autel de marbre que l’on peut voir dans la crypte de l’église actuelle). La Bonne Nouvelle s’est d’autant plus facilement répandue dans toute la contrée. Dès cette époque, les tribus nomades des bohémiens, tziganes, caraques sont venues vénérer les reliques des saintes et de Sara qu’ils disent être l’une des leurs et dont ils ont fait leur patronne.

La première église a été construite au ive siècle sous le vocable de Sainte-Maria-de-Ratis (Sainte-Marie-de-la-Barque) englobant l’oratoire primitif qui était certainement leur maison.
Au ive siècle Saint Césaire, évêque d’Arles, y a installé une communauté de religieuses, émanation du monastère qu’il avait fondé à Arles en 512 avec sa sœur Sainte Césarie.
Du viiie au xe siècle ce furent les invasions des Sarrasins. La meilleure protection était la forteresse. D’où la construction de l’église-forteresse si caractéristique qui protégeait aussi les précieuses reliques. Elle a été plusieurs fois reconstruite, mais l’appareil général qui a été conservé est propre aux ouvrages militaires du viiie siècle.

Au xiie siècle le premier vocable de l’église était tombé en désuétude au profit de Sancta-Maria-de-Mari (Sainte-Marie-de-la-mer) qui a été conservé en le pluralisant.

Tout au long du Moyen Age une multitude de princes de sang et de princes de l’Eglise ont pèleriné avec les foules aux Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. De nombreuses prières ont été exaucées.
En 1332, l’évêque de Saint-Pol-de-Léon, Pierre de Nantes, paralysé depuis plusieurs années, implore la protection des Saintes et fait le vœu de visiter leur église si elles obtiennent sa guérison. Il guérit, s’exécuta, composa à leur gloire un hymne en vers latins et leur consacra trois autels.

L’invention des reliques

Les reliques demeuraient enfouies dans l’église, sans aucune indication de l’endroit précis. Pour leur donner une place d’honneur, au xve siècle, le pieux prince René d’Anjou (comte de Provence, roi de Sicile et de Jérusalem) projette de les faire rechercher. Le Pape Nicolas V lui en donne l’autorisation par une bulle datée du 3 août 1448.

Toute l’affaire a été menée selon les règles canoniques, d’une façon exemplaire. Entre autres, ont été rassemblées toutes les pièces historiques de la légende, nom liturgique de la vie d’un Saint – lue à l’office de sa fête – toujours rédigée avec prudence et rigueur.

Les fouilles minutieuses et importantes ont mis à jour le canal de la source d’eau douce, puis une tête d’homme enveloppée dans une bandelette de plomb (c’est le chef de Saint Jacques le Majeur), une cavité renfermant des écuelles en terre, du charbon de bois et des cendres (c’est l’humble demeure des deux Saintes). Au fond du chœur de l’église a été trouvé un monticule de terre pétrie dans lequel a été découvert une petite colonne de pierre blanche surmontée d’une petite pierre de marbre, le tout formant un autel. En poussant les fouilles sur la gauche, les ouvriers dégagèrent un corps humain parfaitement conservé qui exhala une odeur suave très agréable, la tête reposant sur une pierre de marbre sur laquelle était gravé Hic jacet sancta Maria Jacobi (Ici repose sainte Marie Jacobé3). Les fouilles sur le côté droit découvrirent un autre corps dans la même position qui dégageait la même bonne odeur, sur une pierre de marbre était gravé Hic jacet sancta Maria Salomi (Ici repose sainte Marie Salomé).

D’autres fouilles du côté gauche de l’oratoire ont fait apparaître 3 têtes d’enfants, disposées en triangle, ce sont les chefs de trois des saints Innocents.

Dans les attributs des représentations des Saintes Maries on voit qu’elles portent chacune une urne dans lesquelles elles avaient placé en partant de Palestine les chefs de Saint Jacques le Majeur et des saints Innocents.

Il est remarquable que ces restes se soient conservés pendant plus de mille quatre cents ans dans une terre marécageuse et saumâtre.

A noter aussi que dès le temps des témoins directs du Christ, les reliques (restes corporels des martyrs) avaient leur importance. Les reliques ne sont pas qu’un souvenir attachant d’un être vénéré, leur présence dans les églises est nécessaire, entre autres dans la pierre d’autel.
aucune autre dépouille n’a été retrouvée prouvant le respect qu’a porté l’Eglise aux Saintes.

Le légat du Pape, après avoir soigneusement lavé les reliques, les plaça dans deux châsses de bois. De nombreuses cérémonies se déroulèrent ce jour-là devant une foule immense et enthousiaste accourue de toute la Provence. Les reliques ont été exposées à la vénération de tous sous un baldaquin, entourées de la cour royale de Provence et des autorités de l’Eglise. Dans un reliquaire de bronze on été déposées les têtes de saint Jacques et des saints Innocents, ainsi que les ossements de Sainte Sara (rappelons qu’elle n’a jamais été canonisée, mais qu’elle est considérée comme Sainte par le pouvoir de la vox populi).

Après la fermeture des châsses contenant les reliques des saintes, on les éleva solennellement dans la chapelle construite au-dessus du chœur où elles sont toujours. Depuis cette époque de nombreux miracles ont été consignés, ils n’ont pas profité au cours des siècles d’enquêtes canoniques, mais on ne peut pas les ignorer, tellement ils sont nombreux, sauf ces dernières années. Une vieille amie religieuse, rencontrée au dernier pèlerinage d’octobre, auprès de qui je m’en inquiétais, m’a répondu avec bon sens : « On ne dit plus aux fidèles que Dieu fait des miracles, alors ils oublient de lui remettre leurs souffrances, ils se privent des plus grandes grâces que Dieu est prêt à donner, encore faut-il le lui demander en faisant intervenir l’intercession des saints. Un petit enfant sait très tôt que c’est en insistant très lourdement auprès de ses parents qu’il obtiendra un bonbon. Nos grandes saintes sont prêtes à faire beaucoup pour nous, mais il faut le leur demander. Je viens chaque année avec toutes les intentions que l’on me confie. Cette année, en plus, je suis venue remercier. » Qu’on se le dise.

La Révolution

1793 : les conséquences des décisions iniques de la Convention s’abattent sur la France déjà agonisante. La guillotine multiplie ses victimes. Les prêtres qui refusent de prêter serment sont emprisonnés quand ils n’ont pas choisi l’exil. Une tempête destructrice va s’abattre sur les églises et les sanctuaires. Dieu est chassé pour être remplacé par une idole stupide à l’adoration de laquelle on poussera la population. Venus d’Arles, des hommes en armes, après avoir menacé la population, s’introduisent dans l’église des Saintes et s’emparent des meubles et objets de valeur, dont deux reliquaires d’argent en forme de bras. Mais ils ignorent les châsses.

Dans la nuit du 22 octobre, l’Abbé Abril et un de ses paroissiens, M. Molinier, retirent des châsses une partie des ossements des saintes et les cachent dans un hangar près du cimetière.

Le 5 mai 1794, les infâmes réapparaissent et saccagent l’église. Rien ne leur résiste. Ils descendent les châsses, décrochent les ex-voto, sortent le reliquaire de Sainte Sara et brûlent l’ensemble en dansant une sarabande satanique. Les profanateurs – tous venus d’Arles et connus des Saintois – seraient morts tragiquement dans les deux ans, m’avait raconté dans mon enfance la vieille demoiselle qui détenait la clé de la porte qui conduit au toit de l’église (toujours visitable aujourd’hui).

Début 1797 : le Directoire vote plusieurs lois qui rétablissent la paix nationale, dont l’abolition des lois contre l’Eglise. La France exsangue aspire à la paix et beaucoup désirent ardemment le retour de la religion.

Deux pieuses Saintoises remettent au nouveau curé des ossements de Sainte Sara, sauvés des flammes de 1 794. Un administrateur du district d’Arles rend l’un des deux bras reliquaires découvert dans un bureau de son administration. Ce serait celui contenant une relique de Sainte Marthe. M. Molinier, après avoir hésité longtemps, par peur des représailles, indique la cache des reliques des Saintes. L’histoire pieuse rapporte qu’il avait été sauvé d’un naufrage en implorant les Grandes Saintes et qu’il avait fait le vœu de se consacrer au renouveau des pèlerinages.

Les reliques ont été retrouvées serrées dans des bandes munies de sceaux d’authentification de 1709 et 1710. Le 25 mai 1797, elles étaient solennellement installées dans la chapelle haute, au chant du Te Deum, au milieu de joyeuses ovations.

L’année suivante, le 23 mai, à la descente des châsses, Antoine Gousty, parvenu à la dernière extrémité, est soudainement guéri. La foule le porte en triomphe devant le Saint-Sacrement exposé en chantant à tue-tête l’hymne d’action de grâces. La longue liste des guérisons reprenait. Sur l’un des murs de l’église sont exposées des peintures naïves d’ex-voto des xviiie et xixe siècle.

Les pèlerinages

Les deux pèlerinages annuels principaux :

– Les 24 et 25 mai (fête de Sainte Marie Salomé). C’est aussi le pèlerinage des Fils du vent, les gitans qui viennent de toute la France, d’Italie, d’Espagne, d’Irlande, mais aussi d’Afrique du Sud et d’Inde. S’ils viennent pour les Saintes Maries, ils vénèrent surtout leur patronne Sainte Sara.

– Le samedi et le dimanche qui suivent le 15 octobre (fête de Sainte Marie Jacobé).

– Et le pèlerinage du samedi et du dimanche après le 3 décembre, réservé aux Saintes (mais ouvert à tous). Pas de procession, mais descente des châsses.

Des récits du xixe siècle décrivent avec enthousiasme les foules de pèlerins venus à pied, en charrette ou en bateau dont Mistral arrivé de Maillane en voiture à cheval. Les foules ont grossi à partir d’octobre 1892 grâce au petit train venant d’Arles, inauguré en août.

Il faut avoir fait au moins une fois dans sa vie le pèlerinage des Saintes, imprégné de cette ambiance chaleureuse toute méridionale. Celui de mai est d’autant plus animé par la présence des gitans, à l’expression de foi débordante mais si sincère ! Comment ne pas être touché en les voyant s’abîmer dans la prière, le visage couvert de larmes, aux pieds de Sainte Sara ? Une remarque propre à notre temps : on y voit de plus en plus d’hommes en prière, alors que je ne me souviens pas en avoir vu, il y a seulement quelques années. Cela n’est pas propre aux gitans, on voit de plus en plus d’hommes dans nos églises aux messes de semaine, dont des moins de trente ans.

Ne manquez pas la cérémonie des châsses le samedi après-midi. Depuis plusieurs siècles, elles descendent par un treuil de la chapelle haute, au-dessus de l’autel. Tout au long des cordages seront accrochés des bouquets et des ex-voto remis par les pèlerins. L’assemblée entonne un vieux chant provençal, rythmé à l’instar des vagues de la mer. Dès que la descente est amorcée, tout à coup, tous les fidèles, un cierge allumé en main, lèvent les bras, entrent liesse en s’écriant : « Vive les Saintes, vive les Saintes… » Beaucoup pleurent de joie. Certaines années un prêtre prononce l’homélie en lango nostro. Les fidèles peuvent venir se recueillir près des châsses. Certains les touchent et les embrassent.

Le lendemain, après la grand-messe, c’est le pèlerinage sur la plage. La procession est ouverte par les gardians à cheval, trident en main, vêtus de leur veste noire et d’une chemise colorée faite de toile indienne (spécialité provençale depuis le xviie siècle, relancée ces trente dernières années avec des dessins et coloris de bon goût). En tête du cortège le clergé, dont l’un des prêtres porte le bras reliquaire, suivi des Arlésiennes costumées, des tambourinaires (musiciens frappant de la main gauche sur le tambourin et jouant de la flûte de la main droite). Entourant et portant la nef avec les Saintes, les membres de la Confrérie. En mai, les gitans suivent en portant la statue de Sainte Sara, autour de laquelle se bousculent les fils du vent pour la toucher, l’embrasser, déposer un bouquet à ses pieds.

Lorsque le cortège arrive sur la plage, les gardians rentrent dans la mer jusqu’au poitrail de leurs montures et forment un demi-cercle. A leur tour les porteurs des Saintes et de sainte Sara marchent dans l’eau suivis de quelques fidèles. L’évêque monte dans une barque échouée sur la plage et bénit, avec le bras reliquaire les statues, les pèlerins et la mer. Les cloches de l’église sonnent à toute volée. Les statues sont ramenées à l’église, accueillies à leur entrée par le Magnificat. Elles sont alors remontées dans la chapelle haute. La cérémonie se termine par l’hymne régional : Provencaou et catouli (Provençal et catholique) que chacun chante à tue-tête, fier de sa race, ainsi que le disait Mistral.

Christian Ravaz

1 - Félibrige : organisme académique fondé en 1854 par Frédéric Mistral pour la création d’un « provençal littéraire », toujours actif. Les membres s’appellent les félibres.
2 - Les Saintes Maries de Provence - Chanoine J.-M. Lamoureux - Reprint d’un livre de 1908 (seul ouvrage disponible sur l’histoire des Saintes) - Editions Bélisane - 16x24 - 294 pages - 160 F.
3 - L’une des pierres de marbre blanc a été maçonnée dans une colonne de l’église, à droite de la nef à bord de laquelle ont été placées les statues des deux Maries. Cette pierre est fortement usée par l’attouchement des pèlerins qui lui prêtent des vertus curatives.

SOURCE: Christian Ravaz, "Grandes Saintes: Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, coeur de la tradition chrétienne et provençale," Chrétiens Magazine 127 (Janvier 2000). Retrieved 28 May 2009.