Marie Madeleine, patroness of Vézelay

Marie Madeleine, patroness of Vézelay

“Mary Magdalene did not immediately have a great aura in the history of the Church. It was not until the 7th and 8th centuries that she began to be favored in monastic circles, where the the emphasis is on repentance and forgiveness by welcoming sinners in. The life of the saint – a sinner who became an ascetic – then merges with the traditions concerning the life of Mary the Egyptian, a prostitute of the first centuries who would have does penance in the desert, on the other side of the Mediterranean.

In the 11th century, the monasteries, under the influence of the order of Cluny, took on social and economic importance. There is also a tremendous cult around all kinds of relics brought back from the Holy Land or purchased in Constantinople. At Vézelay, in Burgundy, a small monastery is headed by Abbé Geoffroy (1037-1052), a friend of the pope, ambitious and close to princes. Wishing to promote his abbey, Geoffroy “discovered” (“invented” is the term used) and exhibited the relics of Mary Magdalene. Pilgrims flock.

Over the 11th and 12th centuries, the abbey, many times enlarged and rebuilt, became a magnificent sanctuary, with splendid Romanesque portals, an important stopover on the way to Compostela. Placed under the protection of the powerful dukes of Burgundy, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preached the second crusade there, on March 31, 1146, led by Louis VII.

Opposite this masculine and princely sanctuary will develop, in Provence, another sanctuary dedicated to Mary Magdalene, during the 12th and 13th centuries, more popular and oriented towards women, in Saint-Maximin and Sainte-Baume. Here too relics have been “invented”.

Interview by Muriel Fauriat

In the footsteps of Mary Magdalene

Since April 9, Céline Anaya Gautier and Claire Colette have embarked on a ten-month walk, from France to Israel. Goals? Open a pilgrimage route in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene and question the role of women in the Church. Follow their journey here!

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