Martha, St. (lady) (first century) In Christian legend, patron of cooks and housewives. Sister of Mary of Bethany and of Lazarus, whom Christ raised from the dead. Feast, 29 July. Tertullian and other early church fathers identify Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalene, though this is not accepted by most biblical scholars today. In Christian art, however, Tertullian’s interpretation has made its impact.
In Il Perfetto Legendario the two sisters are contrasted. “Martha was a chaste and prudent Virgin, and the other publicly contemned for her evil life; notwithstanding which, Martha did not despise her, nor reject her as a sister, but wept for her shame, and admonished her gently and with persuasive words; and reminded her of her noble birth, to which she was a disgrace, and that Lazarus, their brother, being a soldier, would certainly get into trouble on her account. So she prevailed, and conducted her sister to the presence of Christ.”
In a Provençal legend Mary Magdalene went to preach in Marseilles, while Martha went to preach in Aix and the surrounding countryside. There was a fearful dragon, called the Tarasque, which St. Martha overcame by sprinkling it with holy water and binding it with her girdle or, in other accounts, her garter.
Rubens painted the scene of Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, which portrays a simple Martha with an apron, while Mary is richly dressed, listening to Christ’s words. She is depicted in art holding a bunch of keys and a ladle or pot of water.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow
Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante