“Mary Magdalene tells us that women had a considerable place with Jesus.” “She shows that you can be Christian and feminine.” “She is the mystic, the soul of the Church.” “She is the apostle of the apostles and therefore proves that women have an apostolic vocation!” These words of those passionate about Mary Magdalene bear witness to this: women of all ages and all walks of life are today taking a close interest in the saint, studying the Gospels, the legends, writing books and opening pilgrimage routes…
A heroine in films and books
The enthusiasm seems to come, in large part, from the translation in the second half of the 20th century of the apocryphal papyri discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, including the Gospel of Mary Myriam of Magdala. These texts of gnosis, a mystical current very early opposed by the Fathers of the Church, give a large place to Mary Magdalene. She would have been the favorite of the “Teacher” (Jesus), to the chagrin of Peter, confirming the contemporary intuition that women would have been set aside by the patriarchal society of the 1st century AD.
In the aftermath, various books and films caused a stir. Among them, those of Jean-Yves Leloup, theologian and Orthodox priest, former head of Sainte-Baume, those of the novelist Jacqueline Kelen or the extravagant bestseller Da Vinci Codeby Dan Brown, adapted into a film in 2006. In the cinema, the general public is also passionate about The last temptation of Christ, by Martin Scorsese, in 1988, or The passion of Christ, by Mel Gibson, in 2004. With this sulphurous underlying question: was Mary Magdalene the companion or the wife of Jesus? Could they have had children?
Exegetes, theologians and historians respond unanimously: if Jesus had had a wife and children, it would have been written, because at the time nothing prevented a rabbi from taking a wife and having children. The same, far from esoteric or romantic rantings, study the texts, analyze the different faces given to Mary Magdalene over time. And reveal that each period, even each current of Christianity, has its own interpretation!
Three women in one
“From the first centuries, the Christian tradition confused several characters, explains Régis Burnet, historian specializing in the New Testament: Mary of Magdala (or the Magdalene), Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus) and a prostitute or sinner (without name) quoted in the Gospel of Luke.” According to the evangelists, Mary of Magdala was present at the foot of the cross, then in front of the empty tomb, where she witnessed the resurrection of Christ. She is also quoted in a passage from Luke affirming that she assisted Jesus in his steps, and that he had cured her of seven demons. “She would come from Magdala, a town near Lake Tiberias,” adds the historian.
As for Mary of Bethany – from a city very close to Jerusalem – she is known for three episodes: those of “Martha and Mary”, the resurrection of Lazarus and the anointing of Jesus with oil. “The rapprochement of Mary of Bethany with the sinner would come from the common gesture of pouring perfume on Jesus”, specifies Sylvaine Landrivon, theologian. “At the end of the 6th century, in the West – while nothing like this had happened in the East – Pope Gregory the Great therefore decided to assimilate the Magdalene woman to the sinful woman, in order to serve his theology of repentance. .” The fusion of the three Maries was done!
A saint venerated in France
In the 11th century, the cult of Marie Madeleine, a figure of repentance, gained momentum in Vézelay, in Burgundy: to consolidate the place of his abbey, the Abbé Geoffroy ensured that the burial of Marie Madeleine was within its walls. .and the pilgrimage is launched. In the 12th and 13th centuries, it was one of the most famous in Christendom, and was also the starting point for Compostela. But it is quickly competed! In 1279, Saint-Maximin, in Provence, claims the “real” burial of the saint, according to The Golden Legend (1261-1265) by Jacques de Voragine.
This famous work recounting the lives of many saints takes up and amplifies the story of Mary Magdalene. She would have landed in a place later called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (Bouches-du-Rhône), with a group of Christians, including Marie Salomé, Marie Jacobé and Lazare. In the company of Lazare, she would have evangelized the Marseillais, then continued her way to the forest, then the cave of Sainte-Baume (close to Saint-Maximin in the Var) to spend the last thirty years there as a hermit. of his life.
In France, Mary Magdalene therefore holds a special place: many churches, sanctuaries and patronal feasts are dedicated to her. Since the 13th century, at Sainte-Baume, the Dominican friars have been the guardians of the cave-sanctuary where they still welcome a crowd of pilgrims today. Over the centuries, the saint has inspired the greatest artists. They represent her at the foot of the cross as at the tomb, as a penitent hermit or in ecstasy, especially from the 16th century during the Counter-Reformation. It was then a question of facing the Protestants who refused confession accompanied by penance and advocated salvation by acts (symbolized by the figure of Marthe) rather than by contemplative life (advocated by Mary Magdalene). Even if he is not forgotten, his role as an apostle then takes second place. To come back strong today.
A figurehead for today’s women
According to contemporary interpretations, including in the Church, she is seen as a strong woman, who took risks to support Jesus in his teachings, far from the repentant prostitute. An image that inspires many movements for the emancipation of women. “The Gospel according to Saint John presents Mary Magdalene as the closest friend of Jesus,” insists Sylvaine Landrivon, also co-chair of the Skirt Committee, which promotes gender equality in the Church. “Friend who has all the assets to become the one who will be named as early as the 3rd century “apostle of the apostles”, a title that no theologian or pope will deny…”
In 2016, Pope Francis, taking up the title of apostle of the apostles, decided that the saint’s feast day, July 22, would officially be a liturgical feast. In France, under the impetus of enthusiasts, a Marie Madeleine pilgrimage route was opened in 2022. “It was essential to connect the Saintes-Maries sanctuary (where the relics of Marie Salomé and Marie Jacobé rest) to Saint-Maximin and the Sainte-Baume, where the relics of Mary Magdalene are found!” says Martine Guillot, secretary of the association Chemins des Saintes et Saints de Provence.
“It is to rehabilitate Mary Magdalene that I walk”, confided to us Céline Anaya Gautier who opened on April 9, Easter Sunday, the via Magdalena, an international pilgrimage route in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene. Claire Colette, her walking companion, tempered: “I walk to find the love of Christ, via Marie Madeleine.” And you, dear readers, who is Marie Madeleine for you?
The charism of transmitting
Pascale Léger, author of Marie Madeleine, love has so many faces!
“In the family home, a representation of Mary Magdalene fascinated me. After my solemn communion, I discovered the figure of the penitent sinner. Whom I forgot. She came back to me when I was the victim of a rape. Feeling dirty, I remembered that Mary Magdalene the prostitute had been raised up by Jesus. In my turn, I was not lost. Then a teacher in Catholic schools, I walked. Mary Magdalene appeared to me like a woman in search of improvement, like us; a woman who listened to the teaching of Christ, in silence. She was the first to see the Risen One and in the footsteps of Jesus, she became an apostle! She received the charism of transmit, and tells us that a true word grows in silence: it is the presence of Christ in us.”
A fiery personality
Martine Guillot, secretary of the association Chemins des Saintes et Saints de Provence
“The one who dwells in me is the Lord. That said, I have a closeness of heart with the three Marys: Marie Salomé, Marie Jacobé, Marie Madeleine. Because they loved Jesus in an extraordinary way, that they did not hesitate to follow him to listen to his Word (…) I love the fiery personality that is Mary Magdalene, burning with love for Jesus who raises her from a life that she wastes. And when she has met the one who is the image of love and her soul is fulfilled, she shows extraordinary courage and fidelity. I love this woman who contemplates, dares and acts, who advances in the understanding of the invisible. I love Marie Madeleine who accompanies me on the path of inner life, anchored in the reality of everyday life.”
Claude Matoux, perfumer and manager of a guest house in Vézelay (Yonne)
“I answered a call by moving to Vézelay in 2020, leaving my job as a trainer in Belgium to open a guest house. I had made the pilgrimage Vézelay-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer- La Sainte-Baume. For me, Mary Magdalene is infinite love, the sacred feminine. The first witness to the resurrection of Christ, she is the pivot of the Gospel and of faith. As John the Baptist baptized Jesus with water, she poured a vase of nard on her feet. This anointing of oil is found in all the sacraments! I create perfumes linked to the Bible and have a crypt where we pray. Christian more than Catholic (I’m angry with the dogmas), I pray to Mary Magdalene to inspire me for my perfumes, and to Saint Martha to help me in welcoming pilgrims.”