"Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away" (King James Version)
INTERPRETATION: Mary Magdalene was at Jesus' tomb in the above verse and was the first person who Christ revealed himself to after his resurrection. She is described, both in the canonical New Testament and in the New Testament apocrypha, as an extremely devoted disciple of Jesus who, as stated in John 12:3, "took a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair." She is considered by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican churches to be a saint, with a feast day of July 22. She is also commemorated by the Lutheran Church with a festival on the same day.
A Woman of Substance
Mary Magdalene's name identifies her as the "Mary of Magdala," after the town she came from, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, where stood her family's castle, called Magdalon; she was the sister of Lazarus and of Martha, and they were the children of parents reputed noble, or, as some say, royal descendants of the House of David. On the death of their father, Syrus, they inherited vast riches and possessions in land, which were equally divided between them. Her name distinguishes her from the other Marys referred to throughout the New Testament. Yet the life of the historical Mary Magdalene is the subject of ongoing debate. Of particular interest is the question of her supposed identity as a prostitute, for which there is no direct biblical evidence. Her devotion to Jesus has led to a tradition that she may have been Jesus' intended bride.
Luke 8:2-3 states, "And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance." In other words, Mary Magdalene was one of the women who provided Jesus with money or supplies.
A Penitent Woman
Legend has it that Lazarus went into the military life; Martha ruled her possessions with great discretion, and was a model of virtue and propriety, perhaps a little too much addicted to worldly cares; Mary, on the contrary, abandoned herself to luxurious pleasures and became at length so notorious for her extravagant lifestyle that she was known through all the country round only as 'The Sinner'. Her discreet sister, Martha, frequently rebuked her for these disorders and at length persuaded her to listen to the exhortations of Jesus, through which her heart was touched and converted. The seven demons which possessed her, and which were expelled by Jesus, were the seven deadly sins common to us all. The struggles of these seven principal faults are; first, Gluttony or the pleasures of the palate; secondly, Fornication; thirdly, Covetousness, which means Avarice, or, the love of money, fourthly, Anger; fifthly, Dejection; sixthly, "Accidie," which is the sin of spiritual sloth or sluggishness; and seventhly, kenodoxia, which means ego, foolish pride or vain glory.
The traditional Roman Catholic feast day dedicated to Mary Madgalene celebrated her position as a penitent. However, this was changed in 1969, with the revision of the Roman Missal and the Roman Calendar, and now there is no mention in either of Mary Magdalene as a sinner.
Magdalene became a symbol of repentance for the vanities of the world of various sects, both Catholic and non-Catholic. Magdalene was the patron of Magdalen College, Oxford, and Magdalene College, Cambridge (both pronounced "maudlin"). In contrast, her name was also used for the Magdalen Asylum, institutions for "fallen women," including the infamous "Magdalen Laundries" in Ireland.
First Person to Whom Christ Risen Revealed Himself
John 20:16-18 states, "Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the LORD, and that he had spoken these things unto her."
Hence, after the Crucifixion she watched by his tomb, and was the first to whom he appeared after the resurrection; her unfaltering faith, mingled as it was with the intensest grief and love, obtained for her this peculiar mark of favour. It is assumed by several commentators that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, because she, of all those whom he had left on earth, was his beloved and in most need of consolation; that is, the disciples went away unto their own; but Mary stayed without the sepulcher and wept, as shown in the 1876 classic painting by Jules Lefebvre below:
Easter Egg Tradition
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 this sharing is accompanied by the proclamation "Christ is risen!," and the person being addressed would respond "Truly He 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 Emperor Tiberius Caesar. When she met him, she held a plain egg in her hand and exclaimed "Christ is risen!" Caesar laughed, and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished speaking, the egg in her hand turned a bright red, and she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house.
Another version of this story can be found in popular belief, mostly in Greece. It is believed that after the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and the Virgin 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. Hence, the red colored Belarussian Easter Eggs shown below:
The Gospel of Mary
For one early group of Christians Mary Magdalene was a leader of the early Church and possibly even the Beloved Disciple, to whom the Gospel of John is normally ascribed. The Gnostic, apocryphal Gospel of Mary Magdalene survives in two third century Greek fragments and a longer fifth century translation into Coptic. These manuscripts were first discovered and published between 1938 and 1983, but as early as the third century there are patristic references to the Gospel of Mary. The Beloved Disciple in Da Vinci's Last Supper is thought by some to be Mary Magdalene, as shown below:
Inaccurate Identification as a Prostitute
The identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and "the woman who was a sinner" is reflected in an influential sermon Pope Gregory I gave in 591, which said: "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."
While the Catholic Church has not issued a binding view on this, Catholics have traditionally agreed with Gregory and identified both Mary of Bethany and the sinful woman of Capernaum with Mary Magdalene. Eastern Orthodox Christians distinguish between Mary Magdalene on the one hand and Mary of Bethany, "the woman who was a sinner," on the other hand. Protestant views on the issue vary widely.
On the basis of her identification as the "sinful woman" of Capernaum, Mary Magdalene is often referred to as a prostitute, but she was never called one in the New Testament.
Religion scholar Jeffrey Kripal wrote, "Migdal was a fishing town known, or so the legend goes, for its perhaps punning connection to hairdressers (medgaddlela) and women of questionable reputation. This is as close as we get to any clear evidence that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute". (Jeffrey L. Kripal, The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion (University Of Chicago Press, 2006. ISBN9780226453811), 52)
In his sermon, Gregory identified Mary as peccatrix, a sinful woman, using her as a model for the repentant sinner, but he did not call her meretrix, a prostitute. However, he also identifies Mary with the adulteress brought before Jesus (as recounted in the Pericope Adulterae, John 8), supporting the view of third and fourth century Church fathers that had already considered this sin as "being unchaste." Gregory's identification and the consideration of the woman's sin as sexual later gave rise to the image of Mary as a prostitute.
This viewpoint is also espoused by much medieval and Renaissance Christian art. In many, if not most, medieval depictions, Mary Magdalene is shown as having long red hair, which she wears down over her shoulders. This was generally taken to be a sign of sexual impropriety in women at the time. The other women of the New Testament, in similar depictions, ordinarily have dark hair that is kept beneath a scarf.
This image of Mary as a prostitute was followed by many writers and artists until the twentieth century. Even though it is less prevalent nowadays, the identification of Mary Magdalene with the adulteress is still accepted by some Christians. Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandy's 1860 painting of Mary Magdalene is shown below:
A. In the East
The Eastern Orthodox Church maintains that Mary Magdalene, distinguished from Mary of Bethany, retired to Ephesus with the Theotokos (Mary the Mother of God) and there died. Her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 and are there preserved. Gregory of Tours, writing in Tours in the sixth century, supports the tradition that she retired to Ephesus.
B. In the West
Western tradition, however, includes the idea of Magdalene settling farther north and west. How a cult of Mary Magdalene first arose in Provence has been summed up by Victor Saxer in La culte de Marie Magdalene en occident (1959).
Mary Magdalene's relics were first venerated at the abbey of Saint-Maximin Vézelay in Burgundy. Afterward, since September 9, 1279, the supposed body of Mary Magdalene was also venerated at Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, Provence. This cult attracted such throngs of pilgrims that the earlier shrine was rebuilt as the great Basilica from the mid-thirteenth century, one of the finest Gothic churches in the south of France, shown below:
The French tradition of Saint Lazare of Bethany is that Mary, her brother Lazarus, and Maximinus, one of the Seventy Disciples, together with 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 Provencal), where she gave herself up to a life of penance and lived as a hermit for 30 years. When the time of her death arrived she was carried by angels to Aix and into the oratory of Saint 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. In 1279, when Charles II, King of Naples, erected a Dominican convent at La Sainte-Baume, the shrine was found intact, with an explanatory inscription stating why the relics had been hidden. The Abbey of Sainte-Baume is shown below:
The chapel in the cave at St. Baume where Mary Magdalene is believed to have lived for 30 years as a hermit following the death of Jesus is shown below:
In 1600, the 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, and, in 1822, the grotto was consecrated afresh. The head of the saint now lies there and has been the center of many pilgrimages, as shown below:
The Mary Magdalene Reliquary (above left) is located in a crypt beneath the Basilica to Mary Magdalene in Saint Maximin de Provence, France (above center) where Mary Magdalene is purportedly buried. The reliquary contains what many believe is Mary Magdalene's skull (above right).