Mary of Magdala
Date unknownPlace: possibly saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, France, or Ephesus, Asia Minor
Eastern OrthodoxyRoman Catholic ChurchAnglican CommunionLutheranismother Protestant churchesBaha'i Faith
Western: alabaster box of ointmentEastern: container of ointment (as a Myrrhbearer), or holding a red egg (symbol of the resurrection); embracing the feet of Christ after the Resurrection
Mary magdalene biography of a legend promo
Mary Magdalene ( Hebrew: מרים המגדלית, original Biblical Greek: Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνή), literally translated as Mary the Magdalene or Mary of Magdala or occasionally The Magdalene, was a Jewish woman who, according to texts included in the New Testament, traveled with Jesus as one of his followers. She is said to have witnessed Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Within the four Gospels she is named at least 12 times, more than most of the apostles.
- Mary magdalene biography of a legend promo
- Women of the Bible Mary Magdalene
- Identity Marys in the New Testament
- The composite Magdalene of the Middle Ages
- In Western art
- Medieval legends
- New Testament apocrypha and Gnostic texts
- Gospel of Mary
- Gospel of Philip
- Gospel of Thomas
- Pistis Sophia
- Eastern Orthodox tradition
- Connection with Gaul
- Apostle to the apostles
- Protestant tradition
- Tradition regarding Easter eggs
- Bah tradition
- Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John
- Conflation with Mary of Bethany
- Betrothed to John the Evangelist
- Gnostic texts
- Medieval dualism
- In historical fiction
The Gospel of Luke says seven demons had gone out of her,[Lk. 8:2] and the longer ending of Mark says Jesus had cast seven demons out of her.[Mk. 16:9] She is most prominent in the narrative of the crucifixion of Jesus, at which she was present, and the witness in all four gospels of the empty tomb, which is central to narratives of Jesus' resurrection. She was also present two days later, immediately following the sabbath, when, according to all four canonical Gospels,[Matthew 28:1–8] [Mark 16:9–10] [Luke 24:10] [John 20:18] she was, either alone or as a member of a group of women, the first to testify to the resurrection of Jesus. John 20 and Mark 16:9 specifically name her as the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection.
Ideas that go beyond the gospel presentation of Mary Magdalene as a prominent representative of the women who followed Jesus have been put forward over the centuries.
Mary Magdalene is considered to be a saint by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches—with a feast day of July 22. other Protestant churches honor her as a heroine of the faith. The Eastern Orthodox churches also commemorate her on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers, the Orthodox equivalent of one of the Western Three Marys traditions. During the Middle Ages, Mary Magdalene was regarded in Western Christianity as a repentant prostitute or promiscuous woman, claims not found in any of the four canonical gospels.
Women of the Bible: Mary Magdalene
Identity: Marys in the New Testament
Mary (Mariam in Aramaic) was a very common name in New Testament times, held by a number of women in the canonical Gospels. The reception history of Mary Magdalene has been greatly affected by different interpretations that biblical references actually refer to her, beyond those where she is identified by the additional name "Magdalene". Historically, the Greek Orthodox Church Fathers, as a whole, distinguished among what they believed were three Marys:
In addition, there were Mary, the mother of James and Mary Salome.
In the four Gospels, Mary Magdalene is nearly always distinguished from other women named Mary by adding "the Magdalene" (ἡ Μαγδαληνή) to her name. This has been interpreted to mean "the woman from Magdala", a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Luke 8:2 says that she was actually "called Magdalene". In Hebrew Migdal (מגדל) means "tower", "fortress"; in Aramaic, "Magdala" means "tower" or "elevated, great, magnificent". Interpreters since the time of Saint Jerome have suggested that Mary was called Magdalene because of her stature and faith, i.e. because she was like a tower. But some interpreters consider the name to refer to a towering hairdo, and believe that Mary Magdalen may have worked as a hairdresser. This translation stems from certain passages in uncensored versions of the Talmud, where a woman, esoterically identified as Jesus’s mother, is called "hamegadela se’ar nasha", which has been translated "Miriam, the dresser of women's hair", possibly a euphemism for "prostitute".
Mary Magdalene's name is mostly given as Μαρία (Maria), but in Matthew 28:1 as Μαριάμ (Mariam), both of which are regarded as Greek forms of Miriam, the Hebrew name for Moses' sister. The name had become very popular during Jesus' time due to its connections to the ruling Hasmonean and Herodian dynasties.
The "composite Magdalene" of the Middle Ages
Mary Magdalene has the reputation in Western Christianity as being a repentant prostitute or loose woman; however, these claims are not supported by the canonical gospels. The identity of Mary Magdalene is believed to have been merged with the identity of the unnamed sinner who anoints Jesus' feet in Luke 7:36–50. Mary Magdalene, the anointing sinner of Luke, and Mary of Bethany, who in John 11:1–2 also anoints Jesus' feet, were long regarded as the same person. Though Mary Magdalene is named in each of the four gospels in the New Testament, none of the clear references to her indicate that she was a prostitute or notable for a sinful way of life, nor link her with Mary of Bethany.
Although the notion of Mary Magdalene being a repentant sinner can be traced as far back as Ephrem the Syrian in the fourth century, the notion of her being a former prostitute or loose woman dates to a claim by Pope Gregory I ("Gregory the Great") made in an influential homily in around 591,, in which he identified Magdalene not only with the anonymous sinner with the perfume in Luke's gospel, but also with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus; this interpretation is often called the "composite Magdalene" in modern scholarship. The seven devils removed from her by Jesus "morphed into the seven capital sins, and Mary Magdalene began to be condemned not only for lust but for pride and covetousness as well."
She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. What did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? It is clear, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts. What she therefore displayed more scandalously, she was now offering to God in a more praiseworthy manner. She had coveted with earthly eyes, but now through penitence these are consumed with tears. She displayed her hair to set off her face, but now her hair dries her tears. She had spoken proud things with her mouth, but in kissing the Lord’s feet, she now planted her mouth on the Redeemer’s feet. For every delight, therefore, she had had in herself, she now immolated herself. She turned the Mass of her crimes to virtues, in order to serve God entirely in penance.
The aspect of the repentant sinner became almost equally significant as the disciple in her persona as depicted in Western art and religious literature, fitting well with the great importance of penitence in medieval theology. In subsequent religious legend, Mary's story became conflated with that of Saint Mary of Egypt, a repentant prostitute who then lived as a hermit. With that, Mary’s image was, according to Susan Haskins, author of Mary Magdalene: Myth and Metaphor, “finally settled...for nearly fourteen hundred years,” although in fact the most important late medieval popular accounts of her life describe her as a rich woman whose life of sexual freedom is purely for pleasure. This composite depiction of Mary Magdalene was carried into the Mass texts for her feast day: in the Tridentine Mass, the collect explicitly identifies her as Mary of Bethany by describing Lazarus as her brother, and the Gospel is the story of the penitent woman anointing Jesus' feet.
The "composite Magdalene" was never accepted by the Eastern Orthodox churches, who saw only Mary the disciple, and believed that after the Resurrection she lived as a companion to the Virgin Mary, and not even in the West was it universally accepted. The Benedictine Order always celebrated Mary of Bethany together with Martha and Lazarus of Bethany on 29 July, while Mary Magdalene was celebrated on 22 July. Not only John Chrysostom in the East (Matthew, Homily 88), but also Ambrose (De virginitate 3,14; 4,15) in the West, when speaking of Mary Magdalene after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, far from calling her a harlot, suggest she was a virgin. In 1518, on the brink of the Protestant Reformation, the leading French Renaissance humanist Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples wrote arguing against the conflation of Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the unnamed sinner in Luke. There was a flurry of books and pamphlets, most opposing Lefèvre d'Étaples, but others supporting him. In 1521 his views were formally condemned by the theology faculty of the Sorbonne, and debate died down, overtaken by the larger issues raised by Martin Luther. Although Protestant theologians and biblical commentators such as John Calvin rejected the composite Magdalene, for Luther and Zwingli Mary Magdalene is the composite Magdalene of medieval tradition, belief in it long survived the Reformation in much Protestant devotional literature, where the emphasis of depictions of Mary Magdalene continued to be on the penitent whose sins had been forgiven because of her love for Jesus.
From the 12th century Abbot Hugh of Semur (died 1109), Peter Abelard (died 1142), and Geoffrey of Vendome (died 1132) all referred to Mary Magdalene as the sinner who merited the title apostolorum apostola (Apostle to the Apostles), with the title becoming commonplace during the 12th and 13th centuries.
The common identification of Mary Magdalene with other New Testament figures was omitted in the 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar, with the comment regarding her liturgical celebration on 22 July: "No change has been made in the title of today's memorial, but it concerns only Saint Mary Magdalene, to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection. It is not about the sister of Saint Martha, nor about the sinful woman whose sins the Lord forgave (Luke 7:36–50)." Elsewhere it said of the Roman liturgy of 22 July that "it will make mention neither of Mary of Bethany nor of the sinful woman of Luke 7:36–50, but only of Mary Magdalene, the first person to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection". Mary of Bethany's feast day and that of her brother Lazarus is now on 29 July, the memorial of their sister Martha.
Nevertheless, the reputation still lingers. The identification of Saint Mary Magdalene as a repentant prostitute was followed by many writers and artists into the 1990s. It is reflected in Martin Scorsese's film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis's novel The Last Temptation of Christ, in José Saramago's The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, Jean-Claude La Marre's Color of the Cross and Hal Hartley's The Book of Life.
It was because of this association of Saint Mary Magdalene having been a prostitute that she became the patroness of "wayward women", and Magdalene asylums became established to help save women from prostitution.
In Western art
The early notion of Mary Magdalene as a sinner and adulteress was reflected in Western medieval Christian art, where she was the most commonly depicted female figure after the Virgin Mary. She may be shown either as very extravagantly and fashionably dressed, unlike other female figures wearing contemporary styles of clothes, or alternatively as completely naked but covered by very long blond or reddish-blonde hair. The latter depictions represent the Penitent Magdalene, who according to medieval legend (details in next section) had spent a period of repentance as a desert hermit after leaving her life as a follower of Jesus. Her story became conflated in the West with that of Saint Mary of Egypt, a 4th-century prostitute turned hermit, whose clothes wore out and fell off in the desert. In medieval depictions Mary's long hair entirely covers her body and preserves her modesty (supplemented in some German versions such as one by Tilman Riemenschneider by thick body hair), but from the 16th century some depictions, like those by Titian, show part of her naked body, the amount of nudity tending to increase in successive periods. Even if covered, she often wears only a drape pulled around her, or an undergarment. In particular, Mary is often shown naked in the legendary scene of her "Elevation", where she is sustained in the desert by angels who raise her up and feed her heavenly manna, as recounted in the Golden Legend (quoted below).
Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross during the Crucifixion appears in an 11th-century English manuscript "as an expressional device rather than a historical motif", intended as "the expression of an emotional assimilation of the event, that leads the spectator to identify himself with the mourners". Other isolated depictions occur, but from the 13th century additions to the Virgin Mary and John as the spectators at the Crucifixion become more common, with Mary Magdalene as the most frequently found, either kneeling at the foot of the cross clutching the shaft, sometimes kissing Christ's feet, or standing, usually at the left and behind Mary and John, with her arms stretched upwards towards Christ in a gesture of grief, as in a damaged painting by Cimabue in the upper church at Assisi of c.1290. A kneeling Magdalene by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel (c. 1305) was especially influential. As Gothic painted crucifixions became crowded compositions the Magdalene became a prominent figure, with a halo and identifiable by her long unbound blonde hair, and usually a bright red dress. As the swooning Virgin Mary became more common, generally occupying the attention of John, the unrestrained gestures of Magdalene increasingly represented the main display of the grief of the spectators.
Mary Magdalene is usually shown with long flowing hair, which she wears down over her shoulders, and may use either to cover her nakedness in the desert, or to dry Jesus's feet after washing them. The other women of the New Testament in these same depictions ordinarily have dark hair beneath a scarf, following contemporary standards of propriety by hiding their hair beneath headdresses or kerchiefs. Long hair was only worn loose in public by either prostitutes or (by the end of the Middle Ages) noblewomen; working and middle-class women were normally expected to keep their hair covered or at least bound up, with exceptions for festive occasions, in particular brides on their wedding day.
According to Robert Kiely, "No figure in the Christian Pantheon except Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and John the Baptist has inspired, provoked, or confounded the imagination of painters more than the Magdalene". Apart from the Crucifixion, Mary was often shown in scenes of the Passion of Jesus, when mentioned in the Gospels, such as the Crucifixion, Christ Carrying the Cross and Noli me tangere, but usually omitted in other scenes showing the Twelve Apostles, such as the Last Supper. As Mary of Bethany, she is shown as present at the Resurrection of Lazarus, her brother, and in the scene with Jesus and her sister Martha, which began to be depicted often in the 17th century, as in Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Velázquez.
Between the time of Pope Gregory I (590–604 AD), until Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend and Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples (Concerning Mary Magdalene) in 1519 AD, various versions of the Legend of Mary Magdalene circulated in the south of France and Germany. Odo of Cluny wrote a version in the 900s AD that described Mary's family as nobility, and in the Golden Legend they are magnates of royal descent, lords of Bethany and owning much property in Jerusalem. Her sinning is entirely non-commercial:
...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.
Most of the later legends speak of a Mary who after the Ascension of Jesus lived as a hermit in a cave for thirty years, communicating with angels. Single "portrait" figures of the Magdalene typically depicted her as the "Penitent Magdalene" in this period of her life (see above). In the words of William Caxton's English translation of the Golden Legend:
...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.
The elaborately detailed (and conflicting) legends that brought Mary to Western Europe after Jesus's life on earth were very widely accepted in the Western church, though not at all by Eastern Orthodoxy, which had her retiring with the Virgin Mary, and dying in Ephesus. In the Golden Legend the "right sharp desert" where Mary retires to repent is located near Aix-en-Provence in the South of France. These legends are covered in the section below on the Roman Catholic tradition.
New Testament apocrypha and Gnostic texts
In apocryphal texts, she is portrayed as a visionary and leader of the early movement whom Jesus loved more than he loved the other disciples. Several Gnostic gospels, such as the Gospel of Mary, written in the early 2nd century, see Mary as the special disciple of Jesus who has a deeper understanding of his teachings and is asked to impart this to the other disciples.
Several Gnostic writings, usually dated to 2nd and 3rd centuries, paint a drastically different picture of Mary Magdalene from that of the canonical Gospels. In Gnostic writings Mary Magdalene is seen as one of the most important of Jesus' disciples, whom he loved more than the others. The Gnostic Gospel of Philip names Mary Magdalene as Jesus' companion. Gnostic writings describe tensions and jealousy between Mary Magdalene and other disciples, especially Peter.
Gospel of Mary
In her introduction in The Complete Gospels, Karen King names the manuscripts available for the Gospel of Mary. She writes that only three fragmentary manuscripts are known to have survived into the modern period, two 3rd-century fragments (P. Rylands 463 and P. Oxyrhynchus 3525) published in 1938 and 1983, and a longer 5th-century Coptic translation (Berolinensis Gnosticus 8052,1) published in 1955.
First discovered in 1896, the Gospel of Mary exalts Mary Magdalene over the male disciples of Jesus. The Gospel of Mary provides important information about the role of women in the early church, although it is missing six pages from the beginning, and four from the middle. It is usually dated to about the same period as that of the Gospel of Philip.
The identity of "Mary" appearing as the main character in this Gospel is sometimes disputed, but she is generally believed to be Mary Magdalene. The Gospel of Mary presents her as one of the disciples, says she has seen a private vision from the resurrected Jesus and describes it to other disciples:
Peter said to Mary, "Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of woman. Tell us the words of the Savior 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".
Almost all of Mary's vision is within the lost pages.
When Mary had said these things, she fell silent, since it was up to this point that the Savior had spoken to her.
Mary is then confronted by Andrew and Peter, who do not take for granted what she says, because she is a woman:
"Did he then speak secretly with a woman, in preference to us, and not openly? Are we to turn back and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?" Then Mary grieved 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 concerning the Savior?"
Mary is defended by Levi:
"But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you to reject her? Surely the Savior knew her very well. For this reason he loved her more than us".
Gospel of Philip
Gospel of Philip, dating from the 2nd or 3rd century, survives in part among the texts found in Nag Hammadi in 1945. In a manner very similar to John 19:25–26, the Gospel of Philip presents Mary Magdalene among Jesus' female entourage, adding that she was his koinônos, a Greek word variously translated in contemporary versions as partner, associate, comrade, companion.
There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, who was called his companion. His sister, his mother and his companion were each a Mary.
Others' irritation from the love and affection presented by Jesus to Mary Magdalene is claimed in the apocryphal Gospel of Philip. The text is badly fragmented, and speculated but unreliable additions are shown in brackets:
And the companion of the saviour was Mary Magdalene. Christ loved Mary more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The Saviour answered and said to them, "Why do I not love you like her?"
Gospel of Thomas
Gospel of Thomas, usually dated to the late 1st or early 2nd century, was also among the finds in the Nag Hammadi library in 1945. It has two short references to a "Mary", generally regarded as Mary Magdalene. The latter of the two describes the sentiment towards female members of the early Gnostics:
Simon Peter said to them: Let Mary go forth from among us, for women are not worthy of the life. Jesus said: Behold, I shall lead her, that I may make her male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who makes herself male shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.
When the Gospel of Thomas was written, people commonly assumed that men were superior to women.
The manuscript gives 114 "secret teachings" of Jesus. Mary is mentioned briefly in saying 21. Here, Mary asks Jesus, "Whom are your disciples like?" Jesus responds, "They are like children who have settled in a field which is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, 'Let us have back our field.' They (will) undress in their presence in order to let them have back their field and to give it back to them". Following this, Jesus continues his explanation with a parable about the owner of a house and a thief, ending with the common rhetoric, "Whoever has ears to hear let him hear".
Pistis Sophia, possibly dating as early as the 2nd century, is the best surviving of the Gnostic writings. Pistis Sophia presents a long dialog with Jesus in the form of his answers to questions from his disciples. Of the 64 questions, 39 are presented by a woman who is referred to as Mary or Mary Magdalene. Jesus says of Mary:
"Mary, thou blessed one, whom I will perfect in all mysteries of those of the height, discourse in openness, thou, whose heart is raised to the kingdom of heaven more than all thy brethren".
There is also a short reference to a person named "Martha" among the disciples, possibly the same person who is named as the sister of Mary of Bethany.
Eastern Orthodox tradition
The Eastern Orthodox Church maintains that Mary Magdalene, distinguished from Mary of Bethany and the "sinful woman" who anoints Jesus in Luke,[Lk 7:36–50] had been a virtuous woman all her life, even before her conversion. They have never celebrated her as a penitent. This view finds expression both in her written life (βίος or vita) and in the liturgical service in her honor that is included in the Menaion and performed on her annual feast-day. There is a tradition that Mary Magdalene led so chaste a life that the devil thought she might be the one who was to bear Christ into the world, and for that reason he sent the seven demons to trouble her.
Mary Magdalene is honored as one of the first witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus, and received a special commission from him to tell the Apostles of his resurrection.[Jn 20:11–18] She is often depicted on icons bearing a vessel of ointment, not because of the anointing by the "sinful woman", but because she was among those women who brought ointments to the tomb of Jesus. For this reason, she is called a Myrrhbearer.
According to Eastern traditions, she retired to Ephesus with the Theotokos (Mary, the Mother of God) and there she died. Her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 and are preserved there.
Connection with Gaul
Gregory of Tours, writing in Tours in the 6th century, supported the tradition of the eastern Church that she retired to Ephesus, with no mention of any connection to Gaul. But for most of the Middle Ages, the Western church believed that, after her period as a disciple of Jesus, Mary Magdalene had travelled to the south of France and died there.
How a cult of Saint Mary Magdalene first arose in Provence has been summed up by Victor Saxer in the collection of esss in La Magdaleine, VIIIe – XIIIe siècle and by Katherine Ludwig Jansen, drawing on popular devotions, sermon literature and iconology. In Provence, Mary is said to have spent her last years alone in the wilderness, fasting and engaging in acts of penitential self-discipline, behavior that was rewarded with experiences of ecstatic union with the divine. Depictions of the Penitent Magdalen became enormously popular in preaching and art (see above).
The French tradition of Saint Lazarus of Bethany is that Mary, her brother Lazarus, and Maximinus, one of the Seventy Disciples and some companions, expelled by persecutions from the Holy Land, traversed the Mediterranean in a frail boat with neither rudder nor mast and landed at the place called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer near Arles. Mary Magdalene came to Marseille and converted the whole of Provence. Magdalene is said to have retired to a cave on a hill by Marseille, La Sainte-Baume ("holy cave" baumo in Provençal), 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 Maximinus, where she received the viaticum; her body was then laid in an oratory constructed by Saint Maximinus at Villa Lata, afterwards called St. Maximin.
Saint Mary Magdalene's relics were first venerated at the Abbey of la Madaleine, Vézelay in Burgundy from about 1050. Jacobus de Voragine gives the common account of the transfer of the relics of Mary Magdalene from her sepulchre in the oratory of Saint Maximin at Aix-en-Provence to the newly founded Vézelay; the transportation of the relics is entered as undertaken in 771 by the founder of the abbey, identified as Gerard, Duke of Burgundy. The earliest mention of this episode is the notice of the chronicler Sigebert of Gembloux (died 1112), who asserts that the relics were removed to Vézelay through fear of the Saracens.
On December 9, 1279, an excavation ordered by Charles II, King of Naples at Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, Provence, led to the discovery of another purported burial of Mary Magdalene. The shrine was found intact, with an explanatory inscription stating why the relics had been hidden. Charles II commissioned the building of a new Gothic basilica on the site and, in return for providing accommodation for pilgrims, the town's residents were exempt from taxes. Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume gradually displaced Vézelay in popularity and acceptance.
The competition between the Cluniac Benedictines of Vézelay and the Dominicans of Saint-Maxime occasioned a rash of miraculous literature supporting the one or the other site. Jacobus de Voragine, compiling his Golden Legend before the competition arose, characterized Mary Magdalene as the emblem of penitence, washing the feet of Jesus with her copious tears following the "composite" figure, protectress of pilgrims to Jerusalem, daily lifting by angels at the meal hour in her fasting retreat and many other miraculous happenings in the genre of Romance, ending with her death in the oratory of Saint Maximin, all disingenuously claimed to have been drawn from the histories of Hegesippus and of Josephus.
According to another legend, on the way they were shipwrecked on the island of Malta, where Dingli, Rabat, Madliena (Maltese for Magdalene), and Valletta all have chapels or other dedications. Madliena in Gozo also had a chapel dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene, but this was demolished.
During the Counter Reformation and Baroque periods (late 16th and 17th centuries), the cult of Mary Magdalene saw a great, new popularity as the Catholic Church publicized her as an attractive, persuasive model of repentance and reform, in keeping with the goals of the reform Council of Trent (1545–63). Numerous works of art and theater featuring the tearful penitent Magdalene appeared in the 17th century. As part of this new attention to the cult of the Magdalene, in 1600, her relics were placed in a sarcophagus commissioned by Pope Clement VIII, the head being placed in a separate reliquary. The relics and free-standing images were scattered and destroyed at the Revolution. In 1814, the church of La Sainte-Baume, also wrecked during the Revolution, was restored. In 1822, the grotto was consecrated afresh. The head of the saint now lies there and has been the centre of many pilgrimages.
In that period, the description "penitent" was added to the indication of her name on her feast day, 22 July. It had not yet been added at the time of the Tridentine Calendar of 1569 and is no longer found in the present General Roman Calendar but, once added, it remained until the General Roman Calendar of 1960. Mary Magdalene thus became a symbol of repentance from the vanities of the world. The Gospel reading in the Tridentine Mass was Luke 7:36–50 (the sinful woman anointing the feet of Jesus), while in the present version of the Roman Rite of Mass it is John 20:1–2, 11–8 (meeting of Mary Magdalene with Jesus after his resurrection). St. Mary Magdalene was the patron of Magdalen College, Oxford, and Magdalene College, Cambridge (both colleges pronounce her name as "maudlin"). In contrast, her name was also used for the Magdalen Asylums, institutions for "fallen women".
Apostle to the apostles
Mary Magdalene, who according to John 20:17–18 and Mark 16:9–1 was commissioned by the risen Jesus to inform the disciples of his resurrection, has been merited the title "Apostle to the apostles" by the Roman Catholic Church.
Matthew 28:1–8 and Luke 24:10 speak of women (in the plural), including Mary Magdalene, carrying out this function. An early Christian commentary on the Song of Songs, perhaps by Hippolytus of Rome (170–235), has Christ speak of two women, whom it calls Mary and Martha, as apostles to the apostles: "Christ showed himself to the (male) apostles and said to them: ... 'It is I who appeared to these women and I who wanted to send them to you as apostles.'"
Use of the actual term "apostle to the apostles" or "apostle of the apostles" is first attested much later than the time of Hippolytus. According to Darrell Bock, it first appears in the 10th century, but Katherine Ludwig Jansen says she found no reference to it earlier than the 12th, by which time it was already commonplace. She mentions in particular Hugh of Cluny (1024–1109), Peter Abelard (1079–1142), and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) among those who gave Mary Magdalene the title of apostolorum apostola (apostle of the apostles). Jane Schaberg adds Geoffrey of Vendôme (c. 1065/70–1132).
It is claimed that the equivalent of the phrase apostolorum apostola appeared already in the 9th century. Chapter XXVII of the Life of Mary Magdalene claiming to be written by Rabanus Maurus (c. 780 – 4 February 856) is headed: Ubi Magdalenam Christus ad apostolos mittit apostolam (Wherein Christ sends Magdalene as an apostle to the apostles). The same chapter says she did not delay in exercising the office of apostolate with which he had been honoured (apostolatus officio quo honorata fuerat fungi non distulit). Raymond E. Brown, commenting on this fact, remarks that Rabanus Maurus frequently applies the word "apostle" to Mary Magdalene in this work. However the work is actually no earlier than the 12th Century
Because of Mary Magdalene's position as an apostle, though not one of those who became official witnesses to the resurrection, the Catholic Church honoured her by reciting the Gloria on her feast day, the only woman to be so honoured apart from Mary, the mother of Jesus.
In his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem ("On the dignity and vocation of women", parts 67–69) dated 15 August 1988, Pope John Paul II dealt with the Easter events in relation to the women being present at the tomb after the Resurrection, in a section entitled 'First Witnesses of the Resurrection':
The women are the first at the tomb. They are the first to find it empty. They are the first to hear 'He is not here. He has risen, as he said.'[Mt 28:6] They are the first to embrace his feet.[cf. Mt 28:9] The women are also the first to be called to announce this truth to the Apostles.[Mt 28:1–10] [Lk 24:–11] The Gospel of John (cf. also Mk 16:9 emphasizes the special role of Mary Magdalene. She is the first to meet the Risen Christ. [...] Hence she came to be called "the apostle of the Apostles". Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness of the Risen Christ, and for this reason she was also the first to bear witness to him before the Apostles. This event, in a sense, crowns all that has been said previously about Christ entrusting divine truths to women as well as men.
On 10 June 2016, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a decree which elevated Mary's liturgical commemoration from an obligatory memorial to a feast day, like that of most of the Apostles (Peter and Paul are commemorated with a solemnity). The Mass and Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) remained the same as they were, except that a specific preface was added to the Mass to refer to her explicitly as the "Apostle to the Apostles".
The 1549 Book of Common Prayer had on July 22 a feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, with the same Scripture readings as in the Tridentine Mass and with a newly composed collect: "Merciful father geue us grace, that we neuer presume to synne through the example of anye creature, but if it shall chaunce vs at any tyme to offende thy dyuine maiestie: that then we maye truly repent, and lament the same, after the example of Mary Magdalene, and by lyuelye faythe obtayne remission of all oure sinnes: throughe the onely merites of thy sonne oure sauiour Christ." The 1552 edition omitted the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, which was restored to the Book of Common Prayer only after some 400 years.
Among the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, for Luther and Zwingli, Mary Magdalene is the composite Magdalene of medieval tradition, but Calvin distinguishes between her, Mary of Bethany, and the sinful woman.
Modern Protestants honor her as a disciple and friend of Jesus. Anglican Christians refer to her as a saint and may follow her example of repentance; While some interpret the Thirty-Nine Articles as forbidding them to call upon her for intercession, other Anglicans, citing the Episcopal burial service, say they can ask the saint to pray for them. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America honors Mary Magdalene on July 22 as an Apostle, albeit as a Lesser Festival. The rationale for this change versus the previous worship book of the ELCA is not explained, nor is it clear that an authoritative council of the ELCA approved this change in any organized fashion, other than by adopting the new worshipbook.
Tradition regarding Easter eggs
For centuries, it has been the custom of many Christians to share dyed and painted eggs, particularly on Easter Sunday. The eggs represent new life, and Christ bursting forth from the tomb. Among Eastern Orthodox Christians this sharing is accompanied by the proclamation "Christ is Risen!"
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 the Roman Emperor Tiberius. When she met him, she held a plain egg in her hand and exclaimed, "Christ is risen!" The Emperor 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.
There are many references to Mary Magdalene in the sacred writings of the Bahá'í Faith, where she enjoys an exalted status as a heroine of faith and the "archetypal woman of all cycles". `Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, said that she was "the channel of confirmation" to Jesus' disciples, a "heroine" who "re-established the faith of the apostles" and was "a light of nearness in his kingdom". `Abdu'l-Bahá also wrote that "her reality is ever shining from the horizon of Christ", "her face is shining and beaming forth on the horizon of the universe forevermore" and that "her candle is, in the assemblage of the world, lighted till eternity". `Abdu'l-Bahá considered her to be the supreme example of how women are completely equal with men in the sight of God and can at times even exceed men in holiness and greatness. Indeed he claimed that she surpassed all the men of her time, and that "crowns studded with the brilliant jewels of guidance" were upon her head.
The Bahá'í writings also expand upon the scarce references to her life in the canonical Gospels, with a wide array of extra-canonical stories about her and sayings which are not recorded in any other extant historical sources. `Abdu'l-Bahá claimed that Mary traveled to Rome and spoke before the Emperor Tiberius, which is presumably why Pilate was later recalled to Rome for his cruel treatment of the Jews (a tradition also attested to in the Eastern Orthodox Church). According to the memoirs of Juliet Thompson, `Abdu'l-Bahá also compared Mary to Juliet, one of his most devoted followers, claiming that she even physically resembled her and that Mary Magdalene was Juliet Thompson's "correspondence in heaven".
Bahá'ís have noted parallels between Mary Magdalene and the Babí heroine-poet Tahirih. The two are similar in many respects, with Mary Magdalene often being viewed as a Christian antecedent of the latter, while Tahirih in her own right could be described as the spiritual return of the Magdalene; especially given their common, shared Attributes of "knowledge, steadfastness, courage, virtue and will power", in addition to their importance within the religious movements of Christianity and the Bahá'í Faith as female leaders.
The name Mary occurs numerous times in the New Testament. There are several people named Mary in the Gospels. There also are several unnamed women who seem to share characteristics with Mary Magdalene. At different times in history, Mary Magdalene has been confused or misidentified with almost every woman in the four Gospels, except the mother of Jesus.
"Beloved Disciple" in the Gospel of John
In 1998, Ramon K. Jusino proposed an unprecedented argument that the "beloved disciple" of the Gospel of John is Mary Magdalene. Jusino based his argument largely on the Nag Hammadi Gnostic books, rejecting the view of Raymond E. Brown that these books were later developments, and maintaining instead that the extant Gospel of John is the result of modification of an earlier text that presented Mary Magdalene as the Beloved Disciple. Richard J. Hooper does not make the Jusino thesis his own, but says: "Perhaps we should not altogether reject the possibility that some Johannine Christians considered Mary Magdalene to be 'the disciple whom Jesus loved'." Esther A. de Boer likewise presents the idea as "one possibility among others", not as a definitive solution to the problem of the identity of the anonymous disciple. A theological interpretation of Mary as the Magdala, The Elegant Tower and certain churches honor her as a heroine of the faith in their teachings.
Conflation with Mary of Bethany
In the Western "composite" tradition, Mary of Bethany was identified with Mary Magdalene. In the Eastern Orthodox traditions, they always were considered separate persons.
Mary of Bethany is referred to simply as "Mary" both in Luke 10:38–42 and the Gospel of John. Jesus seems to know her family well,[Jn 11:3] and is described as visiting them several times.[Jn 11:17] [12:1] In John 12:3–8 Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume and wipes his feet with her hair, at which Jesus says that it was intended that "she should save this perfume for the day of my burial". Following this, Mary of Bethany disappears from the narrative, while Mary Magdalene, already described not as receiving Jesus on his visits to Bethany in Judea, but as travelling about in Galilee with Jesus and the Twelve and with many other women, two of whom are named,[Luke 8:2–4] emerges at Jesus' crucifixion, finding later his tomb empty and being the first to see him after the Resurrection. In the Gospels, Mary Magdalene is referred to simply as "Mary" only in John 20:11 and 20:16.
The Gnostic texts commonly refer to Mary Magdalene as Mary.
Betrothed to John the Evangelist
The monk and historian Domenico Cavalca (c. 1270–1342), citing Jerome, suggested that Mary Magdalene was betrothed to Saint John the Evangelist: "I like to think that the Magdalene was the spouse of John, not affirming it... I am glad and blythe that St Jerome should say so". They were sometimes thought to be the couple at the Wedding at Cana, though the Gospel accounts say nothing of the ceremony being abandoned. The Dominican friar Jacobus de Voragine (c. 1230–1298) in his Golden Legend dismisses talk of John and Mary being betrothed and that John had left his bride at the altar to follow Jesus.
In 1449 King René d'Anjou gave to Angers Cathedral the amphora from Cana in which Jesus changed water to wine, acquiring it from the nuns of Marseilles, who told him that Mary Magdalene had brought it with her from Judea, relating to the legend where she was the jilted bride at the wedding after which John the Evangelist received his calling from Jesus.
The Gospel of Philip describes Mary's relation to Jesus by Coptic variants of the Greek κοινωνός (koinōnos). That work uses cognates of koinōnos and Coptic equivalents to refer to the literal pairing of men and women in marriage and sexual intercourse, but also metaphorically, referring to a spiritual partnership, and the reunification of the Gnostic Christian with the divine realm. Mary Magdalene is mentioned as one of three Marys "who always walked with the Lord" and as his companion (Philip 59.6–11). The work also says that the Lord loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often (63.34–36). Author John Dickson argues that it was common in early Christianity to kiss a fellow believer by way of greeting,[1 Pet. 5:14] thus such kissing would have no romantic connotations. Kripal writes that "the historical sources are simply too contradictory and simultaneously too silent" to make absolute declarations regarding Jesus' sexuality. Bart Ehrman concludes that historical evidence tells us nothing at all about Jesus' sexuality—"certainly nothing to indicate that Jesus and Mary had a sexual relationship of any kind". Ehrman (a scholar of the Greek New Testament and Early Christianity) says that the question people ask him most often is whether Mary Magdalene and Jesus of Nazareth married each other.
The "Gospel of Jesus' Wife", a Coptic papyrus fragment unveiled in 2012, presents Jesus as speaking of his wife: "My wife ... she will be able to be my disciple." If genuine, it appears to date to around the 6th to 9th centuries AD, and would suggest that some Egyptian Christians of that period believed that Jesus was married. Although it does not contain the name of Mary Magdalene, there has been speculation that she is the woman referred to. However, there is substantial scholarly concern about the fragment's authenticity, with a number of scholars regarding it as a modern forgery.
The 13th-century Cistercian monk and chronicler Peter of Vaux de Cernay claimed it was part of Catharist belief that the earthly Jesus Christ had a relationship with Mary Magdalene, described as his concubine:
Further, in their secret meetings they said that the Christ who was born in the earthly and visible Bethlehem and crucified at Jerusalem was "evil", and that Mary Magdalene was his concubine – and that she was the woman taken in adultery who is referred to in the Scriptures; the "good" Christ, they said, neither ate nor drank nor assumed the true flesh and was never in this world, except spiritually in the body of Paul. I have used the term "the earthly and visible Bethlehem" because the heretics believed there is a different and invisible earth in which – according to some of them – the "good" Christ was born and crucified.
A document, possibly written by Ermengaud of Béziers, undated and anonymous and attached to his Treatise against Heretics, makes a similar statement.
Also they [the Cathars] teach in their secret meetings that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Christ. She was the Samaritan woman to whom He said, "Call thy husband". She was the woman taken into adultery, whom Christ set free lest the Jews stone her, and she was with Him in three places, in the temple, at the well, and in the garden. After the Resurrection, He appeared first to her.
In historical fiction
Edgar Saltus's historical fiction novel Mary Magdalene: A Chronicle (1891) depicts her as a heroine living in a castle at Magdala, who moves to Rome becoming the "toast of the tetrarchy", telling John the Baptist she will "drink pearls... sup on peacock's tongues".
Ki Longfellow's novel The Secret Magdalene (2005) draws on the Gnostic gospels and other sources to portray Mary as a brilliant and dynamic woman who studies at the fabled library at Alexandria, and shares her knowledge with Jesus.