24 January 2009

Mary Magdalene: Saint or Sinner?

The following excerpt is from a 2003 review of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code in TIME magazine:

. . . Three decades ago, the Roman Catholic Church quietly admitted what critics had been saying for centuries: Magdalene's standard image as a reformed prostitute is not supported by the text of the Bible. Freed of this lurid, limiting premise and employing varying ratios of scholarship and whimsy, academics and enthusiasts have posited various other Magdalenes: a rich and honored patron of Jesus, an Apostle in her own right, the mother of the Messiah's child and even his prophetic successor. The wealth of possibilities has inspired a wave of literature, both academic and popular, including Margaret George's 2002 best-selling historical novel Mary, Called Magdalene. And it has gained Magdalene a new following among Catholics who see in her a potent female role model and a possible argument against the all-male priesthood. The woman who three Gospels agree was the first witness to Christ's Resurrection is having her own kind of rebirth. . . .

In 1988, the book Mary Magdalene: A Woman Who Showed Her Gratitude, part of a children's biblical-women series and a fairly typical product of its time, explained that its subject "was not famous for the great things she did or said, but she goes down in history as a woman who truly loved Jesus with all her heart and was not embarrassed to show it despite criticism from others." That is certainly part of her traditional resume. Many Christian churches would add her importance as an example of the power of Christ's love to save even the most fallen humanity, and of repentance. (The word maudlin derives from her reputation as a tearful penitent.) Centuries of Catholic teaching also established her colloquial identity as the bad girl who became the hope of all bad girls, the saved siren active not only in the overheated imaginations of parochial-school students but also as the patron of institutions for wayward women such as the grim nun-run laundries featured in the new movie The Magdalene Sisters. In the culture at large, writer Kathy Shaidle has suggested, Magdalene is "the Jessica Rabbit of the Gospels, the gold-hearted town tramp belting out I Don't Know How to Love Him."

The only problem is that it turns out that she wasn't bad, just interpreted that way. Mary Magdalene (her name refers to Magdala, a city in Galilee) first appears in the Gospel of Luke as one of several apparently wealthy women Jesus cures of possession (seven demons are cast from her), who join him and the Apostles and "provided for them out of their means." Her name does not come up again until the Crucifixion, which she and other women witness from the foot of the Cross, the male disciples having fled. On Easter Sunday morning, she visits Jesus' sepulcher, either alone or with other women, and discovers it empty. She learns — in three Gospels from angels and in one from Jesus himself — that he is risen. John's recounting is the most dramatic. She is solo at the empty tomb. She alerts Peter and an unnamed disciple; only the latter seems to grasp the Resurrection, and they leave. Lingering, Magdalene encounters Jesus, who asks her not to cling to him, "but go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father ... and my God." In Luke's and Mark's versions, this plays out as a bit of a farce: Magdalene and other women try to alert the men, but "these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them." Eventually they came around.

Discrepancies notwithstanding, the net impression is of a woman of substance, brave and smart and devoted, who plays a crucial — perhaps irreplaceable — role in Christianity's defining moment. So where did all the juicy stuff come from? Mary Magdalene's image became distorted when early church leaders bundled into her story those of several less distinguished women whom the Bible did not name or referred to without a last name. One is the "sinner" in Luke who bathes Jesus' feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, kisses them and anoints them with ointment. "Her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much," he says. Others include Luke's Mary of Bethany and a third, unnamed woman, both of whom anointed Jesus in one form or another. The mix-up was made official by Pope Gregory the Great in 591: "She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary [of Bethany], we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark," Gregory declared in a sermon. That position became church teaching, although it was not adopted by Orthodoxy or Protestantism when each later split from Catholicism.

What prompted Gregory? One theory suggests an attempt to reduce the number of Marys — there was a similar merging of characters named John. Another submits that the sinning woman was appended simply to provide missing backstory for a figure of obvious importance. Others blame misogyny. Whatever the motivation, the effect of the process was drastic and, from a feminist perspective, tragic. Magdalene's witness to the Resurrection, rather than being acclaimed as an act of discipleship in some ways greater than the men's, was reduced to the final stage in a moving but far less central tale about the redemption of a repentant sinner. "The pattern is a common one," writes Jane Schaberg, a professor of religious and women's studies at the University of Detroit Mercy and author of last year's The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: "the powerful woman disempowered, remembered as a whore or whorish." As shorthand, Schaberg coined the term "harlotization."

In 1969, in the liturgical equivalent of fine print, the Catholic Church officially separated Luke's sinful woman, Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene as part of a general revision of its missal. Word has been slow in filtering down into the pews, however. (It hasn't helped that Magdalene's heroics at the tomb are still omitted from the Easter Sunday liturgy, relegated instead to midweek.) And in the meantime, more scholarship has stoked the fires of those who see her eclipse as a chauvinist conspiracy. Historians of Christianity are increasingly fascinated with a group of early followers of Christ known broadly as the Gnostics, some of whose writings were unearthed only 55 years ago. And the Gnostics were fascinated by Magdalene. The so-called Gospel of Mary [Magdalene], which may date from as early as A.D. 125 (or about 40 years after John's Gospel), describes her as having received a private vision from Jesus, which she passes on to the male disciples. This role is a usurpation of the go-between status the standard Gospels normally accord to Peter, and Mary depicts him as mightily peeved, asking, "Did [Jesus] really speak with a woman without our knowledge?" The disciple Levi comes to her defense, saying, "Peter, you have always been hot-tempered ... If the Savior made her worthy, who are you to reject her? Surely, the Savior loves her very well. That is why he loved her more than us."

Them's fightin' words, especially when one remembers that the papacy traces its authority back to Peter. Of course, the Gnostic Gospels are not the Bible. In fact, there is evidence that the Bible was standardized and canonized precisely to exclude such books, which the early church leaders regarded as heretical for many non-Magdalene reasons. Nonetheless, feminists have been quick to cite Mary as evidence both of Magdalene's early importance, at least in some communities, and as the virtual play-by-play of a forgotten gender battle, in which church fathers eventually prevailed over the people who never got the chance to be known as church mothers. "I think it was a power struggle," says Schaberg, "And the canonical texts that we have [today] come from the winners."

Schaberg goes further. In her book, she returns to John in light of the Gnostic writings and purports to find "fragments of a claim" that Jesus may have seen Magdalene as his prophetic successor. The position is thus far quite lonely. But it serves nicely to illustrate the way in which any retrieval of Magdalene as a "winner" inevitably shakes up current assumptions about male church leadership. After Pope John Paul II prohibited even the discussion of female priests in 1995, he cited "the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men ..." That argument would seem weakened in light of the "new" Magdalene, whom the Pope himself has acknowledged by the once unfashionable title "Apostle to the Apostles." Chester Gillis, chair of the department of theology at Georgetown University, says conventional Catholics still feel that Mary Magdalene's absence from many biblical scenes involving the male disciples, and specifically from the ordination-like ritual of the Last Supper, rule her out as a priest precedent. Gillis agrees, however, that her recalibration "certainly makes a case for a stronger role for women in the church."

Meanwhile, the combination of catholic rethinking and Gnostic revelations have reanimated wilder Magdalene speculations, like that of a Jesus-Magdalene marriage. ("No other biblical figure," Schaberg notes, "has had such a vivid and bizarre postbiblical life.") The Gnostic Gospel of Philip describes Magdalene as "the one who was called [Jesus'] companion," claiming that he "used to kiss her on her [mouth]." Most scholars discount a Jesus-Magdalene match because it finds little echo in the canonical Gospels once the false Magdalenes are removed. But it fulfills a deep narrative expectation: for the alpha male to take a mate, for a yin to Jesus' yang or, as some neopagans have suggested, for a goddess to his god. Martin Luther believed that Jesus and Magdalene were married, as did Mormon patriarch Brigham Young.

The notion that Magdalene was pregnant by Jesus at his Crucifixion became especially entrenched in France, which already had a tradition of her immigration in a rudderless boat, bearing the Holy Grail, his chalice at the Last Supper into which his blood later fell. Several French kings promoted the legend that descendants of Magdalene's child founded the Merovingian line of European royalty, a story revived by Richard Wagner in his opera Parsifal and again in connection with Diana, Princess of Wales, who reportedly had some Merovingian blood. (The Wachowski brothers, those cultural magpies, named a villain in The Matrix Reloaded Merovingian, filming him surrounded by Grail-like chalices. His wife in that film was played by Italian actress Monica Bellucci, who will also play Magdalene in Mel Gibson's upcoming Jesus film ... Sorry, this stuff is addictive.) The idea that Magdalene herself was the Holy Grail — the human receptacle for Jesus' blood line — popped up in a 1986 best seller, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which inspired Brown's Da Vinci Code. When Brown said recently, "Mary Magdalene is a historical figure whose time has come," he meant a figure with a lot of mythic filagree. . . .
SOURCE: David van Biema, "Mary Magdalene: Saint or Sinner?" TIME (5 August 2003). Retrieved 24 January 2009.

23 January 2009

Mary Magdalene by Jan van Scorel

Jan van Scorel. Mary Magdalene (1528). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Image courtesy of Art and the Bible.

I first noticed this picture in Margaret Starbird's book, Mary Magdalene: Bride in Exile (Plate 5) where she comments on the pearl "X"s on her sleeve (symbolic of the Grail heresy and the hidden church; see Starbird's earlier book, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, 95) and the gold brocade in her lap (symbolic of the Messiah's royal bride).

Recently others have pointed out some additional interesting features in this painting. Ordained Gnostic Priest Jordan Stratford and his sister Avielah Barclay, an Orthodox Jewish scribe, noticed that there were Hebrew letters embroidered on the collar of her dress (See detail below). As far as I know, no one has been able to decipher them yet.

Detail of Mary Magdalene by Jan van Scorel. Image courtesy of Ecclesia Gnostica in Nova Albion.

Corjan de Raaf and Andrew Gough point out that the rock in the upper left hand corner resembles the Rock of the Magdalene near Rennes-le-Château as well as some other interesting features:

The dramatic rock on her left is only one of many remarkable features. There’s an old bearded man walking, reminding us of the old bearded man / woman walking across the west wall fresco over the confessional in the church of Rennes-le-Château. A man, woman and child are sitting calmly at the foot of the Rock. . . .
The Art and the Bible website adds the following description:

Italian influences are visible in the landscape and in the figure of Mary Magdalene, who resembles a Venetian courtesan. The tree springing from the decayed trunk symbolizes a new life after a bad start: Mary Magdalene has converted to become a follower of Jesus. In the background, in front of the overhanging rock, Mary is being borne up to Heaven. The top plank of this panel, with the sky and tree branches, was added in the second half of the 16th century. That part was not painted by Van Scorel.

SOURCES: Corjan de Raaf and Andrew Gough, "The Rock of the Magdalene," andrew gough's arcadia (Retrieved 23 January 2009).

"Jan van Scorel: Mary Magdalene," Art and the Bible (Retrieved 23 January 2009).

Jordan Stratford and Avielah Barclay, "Hebrew Code in 16th C. Painting of Mary Magdalene," Ecclesia Gnostica in Nova Albion (13 June 2006).

22 January 2009

Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene

Historiated Initial D with the Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene. Nuns' Prayer Book Germany, Cologne (c. 1450). Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Philadelphia, MS Codex 141, fol. 1.
Image courtesy of Leaves of Gold Gallery.

Came across this recently. The long hair covering most of her body is reminiscent of the images of Mary of Egypt:

This small prayer book was used by nuns of the Order of Saint Mary Magdalene, probably in Cologne. Depicted with long blonde hair, Mary Magdalene reaches toward an angel in the opening initial of the book. The style of the initial—with its flat forms, ropelike hair, and disparities of scale and space—is related to Nonnenarbeit (nuns' work).
SOURCE: "Univ PA Library MS Codex 141, fol. 1," Leaves of Gold Gallery (Retrieved 23 January 2009).

20 January 2009

Repentant Magdalene

Repentant Magdalene (1809). Antonio Canova. Image courtesy of Paintings of Mary Magdalene and Jesus.

One of the most beautiful sculptures of the Magdalene there is.

19 January 2009

Mary Magdalen and the Kings of France

Susan Haskins suggests that the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and Dan Brown, who famously faced each in court earlier this year, are guilty of the same thing--writing bad fiction.

WHO WERE THE MEROVINGIANS? Today, because of The Da Vinci Code, millions of people who have read Dan Brown's novel or seen the film know--or at least think they do--who this 'Dark-Age' dynasty was. And they 'know' that Mary Magdalen apparently married Jesus, and bore his child, their marrying descendants into the French royal line and, after several generations, engendering the Merovingian dynasty. (In the seventh century, according to Brown's book, the Vatican attempted to eradicate the dynasty by murdering Dagobert II, but his son Sigisbert II survived, as did his bloodline down through history, ending up with Sophie [Sophia, Greek for wisdom, and Mary Magdalen's alter ego in the Pistis Sophia, a Gnostic text], heroine of the novel.) The 'historical' aspects of this tale were first told in The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail (1982), by Michael Baigent, Richard Leith and Henry Lincoln).

According to Luke's Gospel (8:2), Mary of Magdala was the leader of the group of Jesus's women followers, and had been healed; she was present at the crucifixion and, according to John and Mark, was the first to witness the risen Christ. In the commentaries of the Early Church Fathers her gospel figure became conflated with a nameless sinner in Luke, who wept on Christ's feet, wiping them with her hair and anointing them with spikenard (7:37-50), and Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus of Bethany (John, 11-12). This composite identification was disputed by Protestants from the sixteenth century, but it was only in 1969 that the Church of Rome distinguished the three separate figures. Baigent et al retain the link between Mary of Magdala and Mary of Bethany with specious and unhistorical arguments regarding the possible wife of Jesus. She was not however a whore. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail uses the Gnostic texts of the Gospel of Mary, where Mary Magdalen is described as being loved by Jesus more than the other women and disciples, and the Gospel of Philip, which contains the symbolic imagery of the bridal chamber, to reinforce its hypothesis of a marriage between Christ and Mary Magdalen; The Da Vinci Code does the same.

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail suggests that Jesus may have survived the crucifixion, and that Mary Magdalen, pregnant at that event, may have fled to France where she was protected by a Jewish kingdom at Narbonne. It continues:

According to other accounts, [the Grail] was brought by the Magdalene to France. As early as the fourth century legends describe the Magdalene fleeing the Holy Land and being set ashore near Marseilles--where for that matter, her purported relics are still venerated.
Further, 'according to medieval legends, she carried with her to Marseilles the Holy Grail. But the early legends say that the Magdalene brought the Grail into France, not a cup. In other words, the simple association of Grail and cup was a relatively late development'. We are then tantalized by another suggestion: that 'If our hypothesis is correct', the Holy Grail would have been both 'Jesus's bloodline and descendants--the 'Sang Raal' ... of which the Templars, were ... [the] guardians; and the receptacle or vessel containing Jesus's blood, the womb of Mary Magdalen'. The Da Vinci Code is of the same view.

The veracity of these hypotheses should be taken with a large dose of salt. There are no accounts or medieval legends of the Grail being brought by Mary Magdalen to France. The earliest legend of her fleeing the Holy Land is of the thirteenth century. The earliest account of Mary Magdalen's post-Ascension life appears in an Anglo-Saxon martyrology of c. 850, in which she retires as a hermit, hidden away in sorrow and love of Christ in a desert cave, a story that derives from the legend of the fifth-century penitent harlot St Mary of Egypt, who went into the desert to repent of her sins, naked to reject her worldly life, her hair growing down to cover her. As Mary Magdalen dies, a mass-priest gives her the last rites and buries her. By the eleventh century, this legend, known later as the Vita eremitica beatae Mariae Magdalenae ('Eremitical life') had become widespread, and Mary Magdalen's legend became one of the best-known saints' vitae, after the abbey of Vezelay in Burgundy claimed to possess her relics in 1050. Monsignor Victor Saxer (b.1918), doyen of Magdalenian scholarship, has traced the development of the legends. To the question of how her body had arrived in Gaul, the faithful were informed that it had been through the love of all-powerful God. Before long, however, Vezelay had to come up with something more concrete to explain its possession of the relics: this was the classic holy theft whereby various versions told of how a monk from Vezelay had been sent to near Aix to retrieve her body where it had been buried, before the Saracens invaded, and brought it back to the abbey for safe-keeping. The next step of the story related how the body had actually come to Provence. This was the vita apostolica, or apostolic life of Mary Magdalen, elements of which have been used in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Here Mary Magdalen and various companions, including one Maximinus, landed at Marseille, where they preached the gospel. Mary Magdalen converted the local prince and his wife to Christianity, and performed miracles such as helping the previously childless couple to conceive (thus becoming a patron saint of childbearing), and restoring the princess to life after being shipwrecked. In a later version, what The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail refers to as 'according to tradition, as well as certain early Church writers' and appears to treat as fact, she is accompanied by Martha and Lazarus, having been put to flight by the Jews in a leaky and rudderless vessel, which guided by God, also, arrives at Marseille--Martha goes to Tarascon to kill the wicked dragon, while Lazarus stays to become bishop of Marseille. The story is resumed in the compilation known as the Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine of 1276. All hagiographical material issued by one small Burgundian abbey, which prompted, as intended, a massive pilgrimage industry, particularly after the invention or discovery in 1259, of heaps of feminine hair (something that would to the medieval mentality confirm that the body was indeed that of Mary Magdalen). Then, in 1279, through the intervention of Mary Magdalen herself in a dream, the monks at St Maximin in Provence 'discovered' her relics in their church, turning the steps of the credulous faithful southwards. The instigator of the discovery of the Magdalen's relics at St Maximin was Charles of Anjou and Salerno, count of Provence.

So where do the Merovingians come in? Nowhere. In The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail we learn that if our hypothesis is correct, ... after fleeing the Holy Land, Jesus's wife and offspring found a refuge in the south of France, and in a Jewish community they preserved their lineage. During the fifth century this lineage appears to have intermarried with the royal line of the Franks, thus engendering the Merovingian dynasty.

There is no footnote to this amazing leap in historical speculation, although the occasional fact is referred to such as the assassination of Dagobert II in 679, and that 'despite all efforts to eradicate it, Jesus's bloodline--or at any rate, the Merovingian bloodline--survived ... in part through the Carolingians,.... who sought to legitimise themselves by dynastic alliance with Merovingian princesses'. Hard on the heels of the The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Dan Brown follows.

Nor is there any link between Mary Magdalen and the French bloodline, as hypothesized by the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail when they state that Louis XI (r.1461-83) regarded 'the Magdalene as a source of the French royal line', citing Sainte-Marie Madeleine (1860) by the Dominican H.D. Lacordaire, an apologist for the claims of St Maximin and the veracity of Mary Magdalen's sojourn in Provence. Either their French is bad or it is yet another instance of imagination running riot, for Lacordaire merely noted that the king was an 'example of limitless veneration' for Mary Magdalen, 'treating her as a daughter of France', and endowing his descendants 'with a pilgrimage proper to the French monarchy'. While it is true that the French monarchy, from Louis IX (r.1226-70), who attended the inventions both at Vezelay and St Maximin, to Francis I (r.1515-47), in particular, down to the eighteenth century, first supported and endowed Vezelay and then did the same for the convent at St Maximin and pilgrimage site at La Ste-Baume, it was not only the French royal house that did so. Royalty and nobility, as well as humbler pilgrims, from all over Europe came to the shrine of the most popular saint of Christendom after the Virgin Mary: among them Francis I, the emperor Charles V, his daughter-in-law Beatrice of Savoy, and princes such as Isabella d'Este, while several females of dynastic descent had themselves portrayed as the penitent in her grotto, such as the Archduchess Maria Magdalena of Tuscany in 1621.

Finally, it is interesting to note that after the loss to France of the duchy of Burgundy in 1477, the Burgundian Hapsburgs used the legendary apostolic life of Mary Magdalen to claim their prior right to the duchy. A manuscript of c.1486 now in the British Library, purporting to be a history of the house of Burgundy, states that Mary Magdalen converted their forebears, the king and queen of Burgundy (altering what in the legend had been the prince and princess 'of the province', or Provence), to Christianity. With the addition at the beginning of two apocryphal names, Trophime and Etienne (the king and his son), is a genealogical list that would have done The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail proud: Chilperic I and Sigismond IV of Burgundy, Clovis I, king of the Franks, converted by his wife Clothilde (of the Burgundian house which, according to the partisan historiographer was Christian 'long before there was a Christian king in France'), and Theuderic II, ending with the Archduke (later Holy Roman Emperor) Maximilian I (r.1477-82), and his son Philip the Handsome (r.1482-1506), father of Charles V.

Baigent and Leigh's recent case in the High Court against Dan Brown failed since using material both factual and in the public domain is not plagiarism. Had they claimed the stuff of their book to have been the authors' own invention, they might have got somewhere. That the central pivot to both The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code was a fiction could well have been established by the lack of connection between Mary Magdalen, Marseilles and the Merovingians.

SOURCE: Susan Haskins, "Mary Magdalen and the Kings of France," History Today (1 August 2006). Susan Haskins is the author of Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor (HarperCollins, 1993). NOTE: All illustrations and photos have been removed from this article.

16 January 2009

Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Mary Magdalen

Reliquary with skull of Mary Magdalene. Basilica crypt, St. Maximin. Image courtesy of

Mary Magdalen was so called either from Magdala near Tiberias, on the west shore of Galilee, or possibly from a Talmudic expression meaning "curling women's hair," which the Talmud explains as of an adulteress.

In the New Testament she is mentioned among the women who accompanied Christ and ministered to Him (Luke 8:2-3), where it is also said that seven devils had been cast out of her (Mark 16:9). She is next named as standing at the foot of the cross (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56; John 19:25; Luke 23:49). She saw Christ laid in the tomb, and she was the first recorded witness of the Resurrection.

The Greek Fathers, as a whole, distinguish the three persons:

  • the "sinner" of Luke 7:36-50;
  • the sister of Martha and Lazarus, Luke 10:38-42 and John 11; and
  • Mary Magdalen.

On the other hand most of the Latins hold that these three were one and the same. Protestant critics, however, believe there were two, if not three, distinct persons. It is impossible to demonstrate the identity of the three; but those commentators undoubtedly go too far who assert, as does Westcott (on John 11:1), "that the identity of Mary with Mary Magdalene is a mere conjecture supported by no direct evidence, and opposed to the general tenour of the gospels." It is the identification of Mary of Bethany with the "sinner" of Luke 7:37, which is most combatted by Protestants. It almost seems as if this reluctance to identify the "sinner" with the sister of Martha were due to a failure to grasp the full significance of the forgiveness of sin. The harmonizing tendencies of so many modern critics, too, are responsible for much of the existing confusion.

The first fact, mentioned in the Gospel relating to the question under discussion is the anointing of Christ's feet by a woman, a "sinner" in the city (Luke 7:37-50). This belongs to the Galilean ministry, it precedes the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and the third Passover. Immediately afterwards St. Luke describes a missionary circuit in Galilee and tells us of the women who ministered to Christ, among them being "Mary who is called Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were gone forth" (Luke 8:2); but he does not tell us that she is to be identified with the "sinner" of the previous chapter. In 10:38-42, he tells us of Christ's visit to Martha and Mary "in a certain town"; it is impossible to identify this town, but it is clear from 9:53, that Christ had definitively left Galilee, and it is quite possible that this "town" was Bethany. This seems confirmed by the preceding parable of the good Samaritan, which must almost certainly have been spoken on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. But here again we note that there is no suggestion of an identification of the three persons (the "sinner", Mary Magdalen, and Mary of Bethany), and if we had only St. Luke to guide us we should certainly have no grounds for so identifying them. St. John, however, clearly identifies Mary of Bethany with the woman who anointed Christ's feet (12; cf. Matthew 26 and Mark 14). It is remarkable that already in 11:2, St. John has spoken of Mary as "she that anointed the Lord's feet", he aleipsasa; It is commonly said that he refers to the subsequent anointing which he himself describes in 12:3-8; but it may be questioned whether he would have used he aleipsasa if another woman, and she a "sinner" in the city, had done the same. It is conceivable that St. John, just because he is writing so long after the event and at a time when Mary was dead, wishes to point out to us that she was really the same as the "sinner." In the same way St. Luke may have veiled her identity precisely because he did not wish to defame one who was yet living; he certainly does something similar in the case of St. Matthew whose identity with Levi the publican (5:7) he conceals.

If the foregoing argument holds good, Mary of Bethany and the "sinner" are one and the same. But an examination of St. John's Gospel makes it almost impossible to deny the identity of Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalen. From St. John we learn the name of the "woman" who anointed Christ's feet previous to the last supper. We may remark here that it seems unnecessary to hold that because St. Matthew and St. Mark say "two days before the Passover", while St. John says "six days" there were, therefore, two distinct anointings following one another. St. John does not necessarily mean that the supper and the anointing took place six days before, but only that Christ came to Bethany six days before the Passover. At that supper, then, Mary received the glorious encomium, "she hath wrought a good work upon Me . . . in pouring this ointment upon My body she hath done it for My burial . . . wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached . . . that also which she hath done shall be told for a memory of her." Is it credible, in view of all this, that this Mary should have no place at the foot of the cross, nor at the tomb of Christ? Yet it is Mary Magdalen who, according to all the Evangelists, stood at the foot of the cross and assisted at the entombment and was the first recorded witness of the Resurrection. And while St. John calls her "Mary Magdalen" in 19:25, 20:1, and 20:18, he calls her simply "Mary" in 20:11 and 20:16.

In the view we have advocated the series of events forms a consistent whole; the "sinner" comes early in the ministry to seek for pardon; she is described immediately afterwards as Mary Magdalen "out of whom seven devils were gone forth"; shortly after, we find her "sitting at the Lord's feet and hearing His words." To the Catholic mind it all seems fitting and natural. At a later period Mary and Martha turn to "the Christ, the Son of the Living God", and He restores to them their brother Lazarus; a short time afterwards they make Him a supper and Mary once more repeats the act she had performed when a penitent. At the Passion she stands near by; she sees Him laid in the tomb; and she is the first witness of His Resurrection--excepting always His Mother, to whom He must needs have appeared first, though the New Testament is silent on this point. In our view, then, there were two anointings of Christ's feet--it should surely be no difficulty that St. Matthew and St. Mark speak of His head--the first (Luke 7) took place at a comparatively early date; the second, two days before the last Passover. But it was one and the same woman who performed this pious act on each occasion.

Subsequent history of St. Mary Magdalen

The Greek Church maintains that the saint retired to Ephesus with the Blessed Virgin and there died, that her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 and are there preserved. Gregory of Tours (De miraculis, I, xxx) supports the statement that she went to Ephesus. However, according to a French tradition (see SAINT LAZARUS OF BETHANY), Mary, Lazarus, and some companions came to Marseilles and converted the whole of Provence. Magdalen is said to have retired to a hill, La Sainte-Baume, near by, where she gave herself up to a life of penance for thirty years. When the time of her death arrived she was carried by angels to Aix and into the oratory of St. Maximinus, where she received the viaticum; her body was then laid in an oratory constructed by St. Maximinus at Villa Lata, afterwards called St. Maximin. History is silent about these relics till 745, when according to the chronicler Sigebert, they were removed to Vézelay through fear of the Saracens. No record is preserved of their return, but in 1279, when Charles II, King of Naples, erected a convent at La Sainte-Baume for the Dominicans, the shrine was found intact, with an inscription stating why they were hidden. In 1600 the relics were placed in a sarcophagus sent by Clement VIII, the head being placed in a separate vessel. In 1814 the church of La Sainte-Baume, wrecked during the Revolution, was restored, and in 1822 the grotto was consecrated afresh. The head of the saint now lies there, where it has lain so long, and where it has been the centre of so many pilgrimages.

SOURCE: Hugh Pope, "St. Mary Magdalen," The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.) Retrieved 8 Feb. 2009 .

15 January 2009

The Golden Legend

Giotto. Mary Magdalene and Cardinal Pontano (c. 1320). Magdalen Chapel, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi. Courtesy Holy Mary Magdalene.

Mary is as much to say as bitter, or a lighter, or lighted. By this be understood three things that be three, the best parts that she chose. That is to say, part of penance, part of contemplation within forth, and part of heavenly glory. And of this treble part is understood that is said by our Lord: Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken from her. The first part shall not be taken from her because of the end, which is the following of blessedness; the second because of continuance, for the continuance of her life is continued with the contemplation of her country. The third by reason of perdurableness; and forasmuch as she chose the best part of penance, she is said: a bitter sea, for therein she had much bitterness. And that appeared in that she wept so many tears that she washed therewith the feet of our Lord. And for so much as she chose the part of contemplation withinforth, she is a lighter, for there she took so largely that she spread it abundantly. She took the light there, with which after she enlumined other, and in that she chose the best part of the heavenly glory, she is called the light. For then she was enlumined of perfect knowledge in thought, and with the light in clearness of body. Magdalene is as much as to say as abiding culpable. Or Magdalene is interpreted as closed or shut, or not to be overcome. Or full of magnificence, by which is showed what she was tofore her conversion, and what in her conversion, and what after her conversion. For tofore her conversion she was abiding guilty by obligation to everlasting pain. In the conversion she was garnished by armour of penance. She was in the best wise garnished with penance. For as many delices as she had in her, so many sacrifices were found in her. And after her conversion she was praised by overabundance of grace. For whereas sin abounded, grace overabounded, and was more, etc.

Mary Magdalene had her surname of Magdalo, a castle, and was born of right noble lineage and parents, which were descended of the lineage of kings. And her father was named Cyrus, and her mother Eucharis. She with her brother Lazarus, and her sister Martha, possessed the castle of Magdalo, which is two miles from Nazareth, and Bethany, the castle which is nigh to Jerusalem, and also a great part of Jerusalem, which, all these things they departed among them. In such wise that Mary had the castle Magdalo, whereof she had her name Magdalene. And Lazarus had the part of the city of Jerusalem, and Martha had to her part Bethany. And when Mary gave herself to all delights of the body, and Lazarus entended all to knighthood, Martha, which was wise, governed nobly her brother's part and also her sister's, and also her own, and administered to knights, and her servants, and to poor men, such necessities as they needed. Nevertheless, after the ascension of our Lord, they sold all these things, and brought the value thereof, and laid it at the feet of the apostles.


Then when Magdalene abounded in riches, and because delight is fellow to riches and abundance of things; and for so much as she shone in beauty greatly, and in riches, so much the more she submitted her body to delight, and therefore she lost her right name, and was called customably a sinner. And when our Lord Jesu Christ preached there and in other places, she was inspired with the Holy Ghost, and went into the house of Simon leprous, whereas our Lord dined. Then she durst not, because she was a sinner, appear tofore the just and good people, but remained behind at the feet of our Lord, and washed his feet with the tears of her eyes and dryed them with the hair of her head, and anointed them with precious ointments. For the inhabitants of that region used baths and ointments for the overgreat burning and heat of the sun. And because that Simon the Pharisee thought in himself that, if our Lord had been a very prophet, he would not have suffered a sinful woman to have touched him, then our Lord reproved him of his presumption, and forgave the woman all her sins.

Giotto. Raising of Lazarus (c. 1320). Magdalen Chapel, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi. Courtesy Holy Mary Magdalene.

And this is she, that same Mary Magdalene to whom our Lord gave so many great gifts. And showed so great signs of love, that he took from her seven devils. He embraced her all in his love, and made her right familiar with him. He would that she should be his hostess, and his procuress on his journey, and he ofttimes excused her sweetly; for he excused her against the Pharisee which said that she was not clean, and unto her sister that said she was idle, unto Judas, who said that she was a wastresse of goods. And when he saw her weep he could not withhold his tears. And for the love of her he raised Lazarus which had been four days dead, and healed her sister from the flux of blood which had held her seven years. And by the merits of her he made Martelle, chamberer of her sister Martha, to say that sweet word: Blessed be the womb that bare thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But, after St. Ambrose, it was Martha that said so, and this was her chamberer.

Giotto. "Noli me tangere" (c. 1320). Magdalen Chapel, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi. Courtesy Holy Mary Magdalene.

This Mary Magdalene is she that washed the feet of our Lord and dried them with the hair of her head, and anointed them with precious ointment, and did solemn penance in the time of grace, and was the first that chose the best part, which was at the feet of our Lord, and heard his preaching. Which anointed his head; at his passion was nigh unto the cross; which made ready ointments, and would anoint his body, and would not depart from the monument when his disciples departed. To whom Jesu Christ appeared first after his resurrection, and was fellow to the apostles, and made of our Lord apostolesse of the apostles, then after the ascension of our Lord, the fourteenth year from his passion, long after that the Jews had slain St. Stephen, and had cast out the other disciples out of the Jewry, which went into divers countries, and preached the word of God.

Giotto. Voyage to Marseilles (c. 1320). Magdalen Chapel, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi. Courtesy Mary Magdalen: Later Life in Provence.


There was that time with the apostles St. Maximin, which was one of the seventy-two disciples of our Lord, to whom the blessed Mary Magdalene was committed by St. Peter, and then, when the disciples were departed, St. Maximin, Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus her brother, Martha her sister, Marcelle, chamberer of Martha, and St. Cedony which was born blind, and after enlumined of our Lord; all these together, and many other Christian men were taken of the miscreants and put in a ship in the sea, without any tackle or rudder, for to be drowned. But by the purveyance of Almighty God they came all to Marseilles, where, as none would receive them to be lodged, they dwelled and abode under a porch tofore a temple of the people of that country.

And when the blessed Mary Magdalene saw the people assembled at this temple for to do sacrifice to the idols, she arose up peaceably with a glad visage, a discreet tongue and well speaking, and began to preach the faith and law of Jesu Christ, and withdrew from the worshipping of the idols. Then were they amarvelled of the beauty, of the reason, and of the fair speaking of her. And it was no marvel that the mouth that had kissed the feet of our Lord so debonairly and so goodly, should be inspired with the word of God more than the other.


And after that, it happed that the prince of the province and his wife made sacrifice to the idols for to have a child. And Mary Magdalene preached to them Jesu Christ and forbade them those sacrifices. And after that a little while, Mary Magdalene appeared in a vision to that lady, saying: Wherefore hast thou so much riches and sufferest the poor people our Lord to die for hunger and for cold?

And she doubted, and was afraid to show this vision to her lord. And then the second night she appeared to her again and said in likewise and adjousted thereto menaces, if she warned not her husband for to comfort the poor and needy, and yet she said nothing thereof to her husband.

And then she appeared to her the third night, when it was dark, and to her husband also, with a frowning and angry visage like fire, like as all the house had burned, and said: Thou tyrant and member of thy father the devil, with that serpent thy wife, that will not say to thee my words, thou restest now enemy of the cross, which hast filled thy belly by gluttony, with divers manner of meats and sufferest to perish for hunger the holy saints of our Lord. Liest thou not in a palace wrapped with clothes of silk. And thou seest them without harbour, discomforted, and goest forth and takest no regard to them. Thou shalt not escape so ne depart without punishment, thou tyrant and felon because thou hast so long tarried.

And when Mary Magdalene had said thus she departed away. Then the lady awoke and sighed. And the husband sighed strongly also for the same cause, and trembled. And then she said: Sir, hast thou seen the sweven that I have seen?

I have seen, said he, that I am greatly amarvelled of, and am sore afraid what we shall do.

And his wife said: It is more profitable for us to obey her, than to run into the ire of her God, whom she preacheth.

For which cause they received them into their house, and ministered to them all that was necessary and needful to them.

Then as Mary Magdalene preached on a time, the said prince said to her: Weenest thou that thou mayst defend the law that thou preachest?

And she answered: Certainly, I am ready to defend it, as she that is confirmed every day by miracles, and by the predication of our master, St. Peter, which now sitteth in the see at Rome.

To whom then the prince said: I and my wife be ready to obey thee in all things, if thou mayst get of thy god whom thou preachest, that we might have a child.

And then Mary Magdalene said that it should not be left, and then prayed unto our Lord that he would vouchsafe of his grace to give to them a son. And our Lord heard her prayers, and the lady conceived. Then her husband would go to St. Peter for to wit if it were true that Mary Magdalene had preached of Jesu Christ. Then his wife said to him: What will ye do sir, ween ye to go without me? Nay, when thou shalt depart, I shall depart with thee, and when thou shalt return again I shall return, and when thou shalt rest and tarry, I shall rest and tarry.

To whom her husband answered, and said: Dame, it shall not be so, for thou art great, and the perils of the sea be without number. Thou mightest lightly perish, thou shalt abide at home and take heed to our possessions.

And this lady for nothing would not change her purpose, but fell down on her knees at his feet sore weeping, requiring him to take her with him. And so at last he consented, and granted her request. Then Mary Magdalene set the sign of the cross on their shoulders, to the end that the fiend might not empesh ne let them in their journey. Then charged they a ship abundantly of all that was necessary to them, and left all their things in the keeping of Mary Magdalene, and went forth on their pilgrimage.

And when they had made their course, and sailed a day and a night, there arose a great tempest and orage. And the wind increased and grew over hideous, in such wise that this lady, which was great, and nigh the time of her childing, began to wax feeble, and had great anguishes for the great waves and troubling of the sea, and soon after began to travail, and was delivered of a fair son, by occasion of the storm and tempest, and in her childing died.

And when the child was born he cried for to have comfort of the teats of his mother, and made a piteous noise. Alas! what sorrow was this to the father, to have a son born which was the cause of the death of his mother, and he might not live, for there was none to nourish him. Alas! what shall this pilgrim do, that seeth his wife dead, and his son crying after the breast of his mother? And the pilgrim wept strongly and said: Alas! caitiff, alas! What shall I do? I desired to have a son, and I have lost both the mother and the son.

And the mariners then said: This dead body must be cast mto the sea, or else we all shall perish, for as long as she shall abide with us, this tempest shall not cease.

And when they had taken the body for to cast it into the sea, the husband said: Abide and suffer a little, and if ye will not spare to me my wife, yet at least spare the little child that cryeth, I pray you to tarry a while, for to know if the mother be aswoon of the pain, and that she might revive.

And whilst he thus spake to them, the shipmen espied a mountain not far from the ship. And then they said that it was best to set the ship toward the land and to bury it there, and so to save it from devouring of the fishes of the sea. And the good man did so much with the mariners, what for prayers and for money, that they brought the body to the mountain. And when they should have digged for to make a pit to lay the body in, they found it so hard a rock that they might not enter for hardness of the stone. And they left the body there lying, and covered it with a mantle.
And the father laid his little son at the breast of the dead mother and said weeping: O Mary Magdalene, why camest thou to Marseilles to my great loss and evil adventure? Why have I at thine instance enterprised this journey? Hast thou required of God that my wife should conceive and should die at the childing of her son? For now it behoveth that the child that she hath conceived and borne, perish because it hath no nurse. This have I had by thy prayer, and to thee I commend them, to whom I have commended all my goods. And also I commend to thy God, if he be mighty, that he remember the soul of the mother, that he by thy prayer have pity on the child that he perish not.

Then covered he the body all about with the mantle, and the child also, and then returned to the ship, and held forth his journey. And when he came to St. Peter, St. Peter came against him, and when he saw the sign of the cross upon his shoulder, he demanded him what he was, and wherefore he came, and he told to him all by order. To whom Peter said: Peace be to thee, thou art welcome, and hast believed good counsel. And be thou not heavy if thy wife sleep, and the little child rest with her, for our Lord is almighty for to give to whom he will, and to take away that he hath given, and to reestablish and give again that he hath taken, and to turn all heaviness and weeping into joy.

Then Peter led him into Jerusalem, and showed to him all the places where Jesu Christ preached and did miracles, and the place where he suffered death, and where he ascended into heaven. And when he was well-informed of St. Peter in the faith, and that two years were passed sith he departed from Marseilles, he took his ship for to return again into his country.

And as they sailed by the sea, they came, by the ordinance of God, by the rock where the body of his wife was left, and his son. Then by prayers and gifts he did so much that they arrived thereon. And the little child, whom Mary Magdalene had kept, went oft sithes to the seaside, and, like small children, took small stones and threw them into the sea. And when they came they saw the little child playing with stones on the seaside, as he was wont to do. And then they marvelled much what he was. And when the child saw them, which never had seen people tofore, he was afraid, and ran secretly to his mother's breast and hid him under the mantle. And then the father of the child went for to see more appertly, and took the mantle, and found the child, which was right fair, sucking his mother's breast. Then he took the child in his arms and said: O blessed Mary Magdalene, I were well happy and blessed if my wife were now alive, and might live, and come again with me into my country. I know verily and believe that thou who hast given to me my son, and hast fed and kept him two years in this rock, mayst well re-establish his mother to her first health.

And with these words the woman respired, and took life, and said, like as she had been waked of her sleep: O blessed Mary Magdalene thou art of great merit and glorious, for in the pains of my deliverance thou wert my midwife, and in all my necessities thou hast accomplished to me the service of a chamberer.

And when her husband heard that thing he amarvelled much, and said: Livest thou my right dear and best beloved wife?

To whom she said: Yea, certainly I live, and am now first come from the pilgrimage from whence thou art come, and all in like wise as St. Peter led thee in Jerusalem, and showed to thee all the places where our Lord suffered death, was buried and ascended to heaven, and many other places, I was with you, with Mary Magdalene, which led and accompanied me, and showed to me all the places which I well remember and have in mind. And there recounted to him all the miracles that her husband had seen, and never failed of one article, ne went out of the way from the sooth.

And then the good pilgrim received his wife and his child and went to ship. And soon after they came to the port of Marseilles. And they found the blessed Mary Magdalene preaching with her disciples. And then they kneeled down to her feet, and recounted to her all that had happened to them, and received baptism of St. Maximin. And then they destroyed all the temples of the idols in the city of Marseilles, and made churches of Jesu Christ. And with one accord they chose the blessed St. Lazarus for to be bishop of that city.

And afterward they came to the city of Aix, and by great miracles and preaching they brought the people there to the faith of Jesu Christ. And there St. Maximin was ordained to be bishop.

Giotto. Mary Magdalen taken up in the air (c. 1320). Magdalen Chapel, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi. Courtesy Mary Magdalen: Later Life in Provence.


In this meanwhile the blessed Mary Magdalene, desirous of sovereign contemplation, sought a right sharp desert, and took a place which was ordained by the angel of God, and abode there by the space of thirty years without knowledge of anybody. In which place she had no comfort of running water, ne solace of trees, ne of herbs. And that was because our Redeemer did do show it openly, that he had ordained for her refection celestial, and no bodily meats. And every day at every hour canonical she was lifted up in the air of angels, and heard the glorious song of the heavenly companies with her bodily ears. Of which she was fed and filled with right sweet meats, and then was brought again by the angels unto her proper place, in such wise as she had no need of corporal nourishing.

A Priest is Granted a Vision of St. Mary Magdalene

It happed that a priest, which desired to lead a solitary life, took a cell for himself a twelve-furlong from the place of Mary Magdalene. On a day our Lord opened the eyes of that priest, and he saw with his bodily eyes in what manner the angels descended into the place where the blessed Magdalene dwelt, and how they lifted her in the air, and after by the space of an hour brought her again with divine praisings to the same place. And then the priest desired greatly to know the truth of this marvellous vision, and made his prayers to Almighty God, and went with great devotion unto the place.

And when he approached nigh to it a stone's cast, his thighs began to swell and wax feeble, and his entrails began within him to lack breath and sigh for fear. And as soon as he returned he had his thighs all whole, and ready for to go. And when he enforced him to go to the place, all his body was in languor, and might not move.

And then he understood that it was a secret celestial place where no man human might come, and then he called the name of Jesu, and said: I conjure thee by our Lord, that if thou be a man or other creature reasonable, that dwellest in this cave, that thou answer me, and tell me the truth of thee.

And when he had said this three times, the blessed Mary Magdalene answered: Come more near, and thou shalt know that thou desirest.

And then he came trembling unto the half way, and she said to him: Rememberest thou not of the gospel of Mary Magdalene, the renowned sinful woman, which washed the feet of our Saviour with her tears, and dried them with the hair of her head, and desired to have forgiveness of her sins?

And the priest said to her: I remember it well, that is more than thirty years that holy church believeth and confesseth that it was done.

She Sends the Priest to St. Maximin

And then she said: I am she that by the space of thirty years have been here without witting of any person, and like as it was suffered to thee yesterday to see me, in like wise I am every day lift up by the hands of the angels into the air, and have deserved to hear with my bodily ears the right sweet song of the company celestial. And because it is showed to me of our Lord that I shall depart out of this world, go to Maximin, and say to him that the next day after the resurrection of our lord, in the same time that he is accustomed to arise and go to matins, that he alone enter into his oratory, and that by the ministry and service of angels he shall find me there.

And the priest heard the voice of her, like as it had been the voice of an angel, but he saw nothing; and then anon he went to St. Maximin, and told to him all by order.

St. Maximin’s Vision of St. Mary Magdalene

Then St. Maximin was replenished of great joy, and thanked greatly our Lord. And on the said day and hour, as is aforesaid, he entered into his oratory, and saw the blessed Mary Magdalene standing in the quire or choir yet among the angels that brought her, and was lift up from the earth the space of two or three cubits. And praying to our Lord she held up her hands, and when St. Maximin saw her, he was afraid to approach to her. And she returned to him, and said: Come hither mine own father, and flee not thy daughter.

And when he approached and came to her, as it is read in the books of the said St. Maximin, for the customable vision that she had of angels every day, the cheer and visage of her shone as clear as it had been the rays of the sun.

Her Soul is Taken to Heaven

And then all the clerks and the priests aforesaid were called, and Mary Magdalene received the body and blood of our Lord of the hands of the bishop with great abundance of tears, and after, she stretched her body tofore the altar, and her right blessed soul departed from the body and went to our Lord.

And after it was departed, there issued out of the body an odour so sweet-smelling that it remained there by the space of seven days to all them that entered in. And the blessed Maximin anointed the body of her with divers precious ointments, and buried it honourably, and after commanded that his body should be buried by hers after his death.

The Witness of Hegesippus and Josephus

Hegesippus, with other books of Josephus accord enough with the said story, and Josephus saith in his treatise that the blessed Mary Magdalene, after the ascension of our Lord, for the burning love that she had to Jesu Christ and for the grief and discomfort that she had for the absence of her master our Lord, she would never see man. But after when she came into the country of Aix, she went into desert, and dwelt there thirty years without knowing of any man or woman. And he saith that, every day at the seven hours canonical she was lifted in the air of the angels. But he saith that, when the priest came to her, he found her enclosed in her cell; and she required of him a vestment, and he delivered to her one, which she clothed and covered her with. And she went with him to the church and received the communion, and then made her prayers with joined hands, and rested in peace.


The Duke of Burgundy and the Translation of Her Relics

In the time of Charles the great, in the year of our Lord seven hundred and seventy-one, Gerard, duke of Burgundy might have no child by his wife, wherefore he gave largely alms to the poor people, and founded many churches, and many monasteries. And when he had made the abbey of Vesoul, he and the abbot of the monastery sent a monk with a good reasonable fellowship into Aix, for to bring thither if they might of the relics of St. Mary Magdalene.

And when the monk came to the said city, he found it all destroyed of paynims. Then by adventure he found the sepulchre, for the writing upon the sepulchre of marble showed well that the blessed lady Mary Magdalene rested and lay there, and the history of her was marvellously entailed and carved in the sepulchre. And then this monk opened it by night and took the relics, and bare them to his lodging. And that same night Mary Magdalene appeared to that monk, saying: Doubt thee nothing, make an end of the work. Then he returned homeward until he came half a mile from the monastery. But he might in no wise remove the relics from thence, till that the abbot and monks came with procession, and received them honestly. And soon after the duke had a child by his wife.

The Pilgrim Knight Revived

There was a knight that had a custom every year to go a pilgrimage unto the body of St. Mary Magdalene, which knight was slain in battle. And as his friends wept for him Iying on his bier, they said with sweet and devout quarrels, why she suffered her devout servant to die without confession and penance. Then suddenly he that was dead arose, all they being sore abashed, and made one to call a priest to him, and confessed him with great devotion, and received the blessed sacrament, and then rested in peace.

The Mother Saved from Shipwreck

There was a ship charged with men and women that was perished and all to-brake, and there was among them a woman with child, which saw herself in peril to be drowned, and cried fast on Mary Magdalene for succour and help, making her avow that if she might be saved by her merits, and escape that peril, if she had a son she should give him to the monastery. And anon as she had so avowed, a woman of honourable habit and beauty appeared to her, and took her by the chin and brought her to the rivage all safe, and the other perished and were drowned. And after, she was delivered and had a son, and accomplished her avow like as she had promised.

The Story of Mary Magdalene and St. John

Some say that St. Mary Magdalene was wedded to St. John the Evangelist when Christ called him from the wedding, and when he was called from her, she had thereof indignation that her husband was taken from her, and went and gave herself to all delight, but because it was not convenable that the calling of St. John should be occasion of her damnation, therefore our Lord converted her mercifully to penance, and because he had taken from her sovereign delight of the flesh, he replenished her with sovereign delight spiritual tofore all other, that is the love of God. And it is said that he ennobled St. John tofore all other with the sweetness of his familiarity, because he had taken him from the delight aforesaid.

She Helps a Blind Man See Her Church

There was a man which was blind on both his eyes, and did him to be led to the monastery of the blessed Mary Magdalene for to visit her body. His leader said to him that he saw the church. And then the blind man escried and said with a high voice: O blessed Mary Magdalene, help me that I may deserve once to see thy church. And anon his eyes were opened, and saw clearly all things about him.

The Man Whose Sins Were Erased

There was another man that wrote his sins in a schedule and laid it under the coverture of the altar of Mary Magdalene, meekly praying her that she should get for him pardon and forgiveness, and a while after, he took the schedule again, and found all his sins effaced and struck out.

The Man in Debtors’ Prison

Another man was holden in prison for debt of money, in irons. And he called unto his help ofttimes Mary Magdalene. And on a night a fair woman appeared to him and brake all his irons, and opened the door, and commanded him to go his way; and when he saw himself loose he fled away anon.

The Sinful Clerk of Flanders

There was a clerk of Flanders named Stephen Rysen, and mounted in so great and disordinate felony, that he haunted all manner sins. And such thing as appertained to his health he would not hear. Nevertheless he had great devotion in the blessed Mary Magdalene and fasted her vigil, and honoured her feast.

And on a time as he visited her tomb, he was not all asleep nor well awaked, when Mary Magdalene appeared to him like a much fair woman, sustained with two angels, one on the right side, and another on the left side, and said to him, looking on him despitously: Stephen, why reputest thou the deeds of my merits to be unworthy? Wherefore mayst not thou at the instance of my merits and prayers be moved to penance? For sith the time that thou begannest to have devotion in me, I have alway prayed God for thee firmly. Arise up therefore and repent thee, and I shall not leave thee till thou be reconciled to God.

And then forthwith he felt so great grace shed in him, that he forsook and renounced the world and entered into religion, and was after of right perfect life. And at the death of him was seen Mary Magdalene, standing beside the bier with angels which bare the soul up to heaven with heavenly song in likeness of a white dove.

Then let us pray to this blessed Mary Magdalene that she get us grace to do penance here for our sins, that after this life we may come to her in everlasting bliss in heaven. Amen.

SOURCE: Jacobus de Voragine, "The Life of St. Mary Magdalene," The Golden Legend (c. 1275). Englished by William Caxton, 1st Ed., (1483). From the Temple Classics, Edited by F.S. Ellis (1900).

This text was taken from the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use. E-text © Paul Halsall, September 2000.

11 January 2009

Homily 33

Pope Gregory I declared in 591 that:
She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? … It is clear, brothers, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts.

Gosple of Phillip

The following excerpts are from two translations of the Gospel of Phillip.

There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary. . . .

And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples [...]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The Savior answered and said to them,"Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.

SOURCE: Wesley W. Isenberg, trans., "
The Gospel of Phillip," The Nag Hammadi Library (Retrieved 8 June 2009).


36. There were three Mariams who walked with the Lord at all times: his mother and [his] sister and (the) Magdaleneº— this one who is called his Companionº. Thus his (true¹) Mother and Sister and Mate is (also called) ‘Mariam’. (¹i.e. the Sacred Spirit; Mk 3:35, Th 101, Ph 59; hyperlinear) . . .

59. The wisdom which (humans) call barren is herself the Mother of the Angels. (Pro 8:12+32, Lk 7:35!!,
Ph 40) And the Companion of the [Christ] is Mariam the Magdalene. The [Lord loved] Mariam more than [all the (other)] Disciples, [and he] kissed her often on her [mouth].¹ The other [women] saw his love for Mariam,² they say to him: Why do thou love [her] more than all of us? The Saviorº replied,² he says to them: Why do I not love you as (I do) her? (¹Pro 24:26, S-of-S 1:2 6:9, Ph 35 36 40; ²asyndeton; Th 61b; hyperlinear)

Companion (36 59); Greek ΚΟΙΝΩΝΟΣ (associate, partner; NB plural at Lk 5:10!); see Mate; the feminine of this Greek word does not mean ‘wife’; moreover, contrary to the claim made in the popular novel The Da Vinci Code (2003), neither does the underlying Aramaic, rbx (khaver: female companion), mean ‘spouse’; regarding Leonardo's famous painting, in his own highly secretive Notebooks I.665 he unambiguously refers to that figure as a male!: ‘Notes on the Last Supper’; see also the video presentation.

Magdalene (36 59): Hebrew ldgm (migdal: watchtower) Pro 18:10, Isa 5:1-2, Mic 4:8, Lk 8:2, Jn 20:1-18; it should be noted that ΑΠΤΩ in Jn 20:17 means not merely ‘touch, cling to’ but also ‘kindle, ignite’ (as in Lk 8:16) and thus ‘caress’, as also in Lk 7:39.

Mate (30 36 64 65 80 86 87 89 119 120 131 134 142): Coptic 6wtr (C726b) = Greek ΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΑ (common-being); sexual union; cp. Israelite ‘concubinage’, non-marital sexual union (in which any offspring do not inherit), as Abraham with Hagar and Ketura (Gen 16 & 25:1-6) or King David (II-Sam 15:16)— forbidden neither by the Torah nor by Christ (Ex 20:14, Lev 20:10, Mt 5:28 refer only to the wife of another man, not to an unmarried woman or a widow); see Companion, Prostitution, Sacrament and Unite.

SOURCE: Paterson Brown, trans., "
The Gospel of Phillip," Metalogos: The Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Truth (Retrieved 8 June 2009).

Gospel of Mary

In this gnostic gospel, Mary Magdalene appears as a disciple, singled out by Jesus for special teachings. In this excerpt, the other disciples are discouraged and grieving Jesus' death. Mary stands up and attempts to comfort them, reminding them that Jesus' presence remains with them. Peter asks her to tell them the words of Jesus which she remembers. To his surprise, she does not reminisce about past conversations with Jesus, but claims that Jesus spoke to her that very day in a vision.

But they were grieved. They wept greatly, saying, "How shall we go to the gentiles and preach the gospel of the kingdom of the Son of Man? If they did not spare him, how will they spare us?" Then Mary stood up, greeted them all, and said to her brethren, "Do not weep and do not grieve nor be irresolute, for His grace will be entirely with you and will protect you. But rather let us praise His greatness, for He has prepared us and made us into men." When Mary said this, she turned their hearts to the Good, and they began to discuss the words of the [Saviour].

Peter said to Mary, "Sister, we know that the Saviour loved you more than the rest of women. Tell us the words of the Saviour which you remember - which you know (but) we do not, nor have we heard them." Mary answered and said, "What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you." And she began to speak to them these words: "I," she said, "I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to him, 'Lord, I saw you today in a vision.' He answered and said to me, 'Blessed are you that you did not waver at the sight of me. For where the mind is, there is the treasure.' I said to him, 'Lord, how does he who sees the vision see it through the soul or through the spirit?' The Saviour answered and said, 'He does not see through the soul nor through the spirit, but the mind which [is] between the two - that is [what] sees the vision...'

(the mid-section of the original text is missing)

"[S] it. And desire that, 'I did not see you descending, but now I see you ascending. Why do you lie, since you belong to me?' The soul answered and said, 'I saw you. You did not see me nor recognise me. I served you as a garment, and you did not know me.' When it had said this, it went away rejoicing greatly.

"Again it came to the third power, which is called ignorance. It (the power) questioned the soul saying, 'Where are you going? In wickedness are you bound. But you are bound; do not judge!' And the soul said, 'Why do you judge me although I have not judged? I was bound though I have not bound. I was not recognised. But I have recognised that the All is being dissolved, both the earthly (things) and the heavenly'.

When the soul had overcome the third power, it went upwards and saw the fourth power, (which) took seven forms. The first form is darkness, the second desire, the third ignorance, the fourth is the excitement of death, the

fifth is the kingdom of the flesh, the sixth is the foolish wisdom of flesh, the seventh is the wrathful wisdom. These are the seven [powers] of wrath. They ask the soul, "Whence do you come, slayer of men, or where are you going, conqueror of space?" The soul answered and said, "What binds me has been slain, and what surrounds me has been overcome, and my desire has been ended and ignorance has died. In a [world] I was released from a world, [and] in a type from a heavenly type, and (from) the fetter of oblivion which is transient. From this time on will I attain to the rest of the time, of the season, of the aeon, in silence."

When Mary had said this, she fell silent, since it was to this point that the Saviour had spoken with her. But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, "Say what you (wish to) say about what she has said. I at least do not believe that the Saviour said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas." Peter answered and spoke concerning these same things. He questioned them about the Saviour: "Did He really speak with a woman without our knowledge (and) not openly? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?"

Then Mary wept and said to Peter, "My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Saviour? Levi answered and said to Peter, "Peter, you have always been hot - tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Saviour made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Saviour knows her very well. That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect man and acquire him for ourselves as He commanded us, and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Saviour said." ... and they began to go forth [to] proclaim and to preach.

From The Nag Hammadi Library in English, J M Robinson, Harper Collins. See also: PBS' "From Jesus to Christ: The Gospel of Mary."

10 January 2009

The Woman with the Alabaster Jar

Margaret Starbird, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co., 1993).

The previous six posts contain the only Biblical mentions of Mary Magdalene. But in Mark 14: 1-9, an unnamed woman with precious nard in an alabaster vial comes to the house of Simon the leper in Bethany in order to anoint Jesus:
1 Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread was two days off, and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth, and kill Him;

2 for they were saying, "Not during the festival, lest there be a riot of the people."

3 And while He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head.

4 But some were indignantly remarking to one another, "Why has this perfume been wasted?

5 "For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they were scolding her.

6 But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me.

7 "For the poor you always have with you, and whenever you wish, you can do them good; but you do not always have Me.

8 "She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.

9 "And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her."

SOURCE: Alfred Marshall, trans. "Mark 14: 1-9," The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), pp. 147-148. NASB version.

The corresponding passage in Luke occurs in chapter 7 before the Magdalene is introduced:

36 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him. And He entered the Pharisee's house, and reclined at the table.

37 And behold, there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume,

38 And standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet, and anointing them with the perfume.

39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner."

SOURCE: Alfred Marshall, trans. "Luke 7: 36-39," The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), pp. 188-189. NASB version.

Then Jesus proceeds to tell the Parable of the Two Debtors and forgives the woman's sins. In Matthew 26 we have the following version:

6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper,

7 a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it upon His head as He reclined at the table.

8 But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, "Why this waste?

9 "For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor."

10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.

11"For the poor you have with you always; but you do not always have Me.

12 "For when she poured this perfume upon My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.

13 "Truly I say to you, whereever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her."

SOURCE: Alfred Marshall, trans. "Matthew 26: 6-13," The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), p. 86. NASB version.

Following this episode we have the betrayal of Judas. How did the sinner get to be associated with the Magdalene? Susan Haskins (1993: 17-18) states that:

It may have been because the sinner rushed into the Pharisee's house with her alabastron to ask forgiveness for her sins and to anoint Christ in gratitude that she was associated with the female disciple who had seven devils cast from her, and who went to anoint Christ in his death. That the second woman, Mary Magdalen, is first described by Luke immediately after the scene in the Pharisee's house may have given rise to the idea that they were one and the same woman, and the fact that she was also numbered amongst the women "healed of evil spirits and infirmities" could have reinforced her identification with a sinner, despite the fact that possession by evil spirits is nowhere else equated with sin. It is because Mary Magdalen went to anoint Christ that she is also associated, as we shall see, with Mary of Bethany.

06 January 2009

John 20: 1-18

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.

2 And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him."

3 Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they were going to the tomb.

4 And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first;

5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in.

6 Simon Peter therefore also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there,

7 and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.

8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed.

9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes.

11 But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;

12 and she beheld two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.

13 And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him."

14 When she had said this, she turned around, and beheld Jesus standing there, and did not know it was Jesus.

15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away."

16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

17 Jesus said to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'"

18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and that He had said these things to her.

SOURCE: Alfred Marshall, trans. "John 20: 1-18," The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), pp. 331-333.

05 January 2009

John 19: 25-27

25 Therefore the soldiers did these things. But there were standing by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

26 When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!"

27 Then He said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household.

SOURCE: Alfred Marshall, trans. "John 19: 25-27," The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), pp. 329-330.

04 January 2009

Luke 24: 1-10

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, bringing spices which they had prepared.

2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,

3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

4 And it happened that while they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling apparel;

5 and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead?

6 "He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee,

7 saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again."

8 And they remembered his words,

9 and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.

10 Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles.

SOURCE: Alfred Marshall, trans. "Luke 24: 1-10," The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), pp. 255-256. NASB version.

03 January 2009

Luke 8: 1-3

1 And it came about soon afterwards, that He began going about from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God; and the twelve were with Him,

2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary, who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,

3 and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.

SOURCE: Alfred Marshall, trans. "Luke 8: 1-3," The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), p. 190. NASB version.

02 January 2009

Mark 15:40-16:11

40 There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome.

41 When He was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and minister to Him; and there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.

42 When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath,

43 Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.

44 Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead.

45 And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.

46 Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.

47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid.

Mark 16

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him.

2 Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

3 They were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?"

4 Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.

5 Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed.

6 And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.

7 "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'"

8 They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

9 Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons.

10 She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping.

11 When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.

SOURCE: Alfred Marshall, trans. "Mark 15: 40-16: 11," The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), pp. 156-157. NASB version. NOTE: Some of the oldest manuscripts do not contain vs. 9-20.