Mary Magdalene, St. (rebellion? wished-for child?) (first century) In the Bible, N.T., penitent woman. Western art, following Christian legend, makes no distinction between Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, and the “woman which was a sinner,” though they appear to have been historically three distinct persons. Feast, 22 July. In the New Testament Mary Magdalene was a follower of Christ and “ministered” to him. She had been possessed by seven devils, which Christ drove from her. Her courage is illustrated by the fact that she was at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John, whereas the other disciples fled. Mary was also the first one to see the risen Christ, according to the account in John’s Gospel (20:11–17). This episode is called in Latin the Noli me tangere (touch me not). It is frequently found in medieval and later Christian art. The New Testament tells us nothing of the later life of the saint, though medieval Christian legend has supplied much. According to legend, Mary Magdalene and her brother Lazarus and sister Martha, accompanied by Maximin and Marcella (later sainted), set out in a ship without sail or oar and came to Marseilles. Here they converted the people, with Lazarus becoming the first bishop of Marseilles. Despite Mary Magdalene’s reformation, the sinful aspect of her life has appealed to both poets and artists, who often portray her as a penitent. Richard Crashaw, the 17th-century English poet, in his Carmen Deo Nostro, has a poem, St. Mary Magdalene or the Weeper, in which numerous lines are expended on the profusion of tears the saint shed over her sinful life. In paintings St. Mary Magdalene is usually portrayed as a beautiful woman with long fair hair. She has near her a box of ointment, referring to the spices to anoint the dead Jesus. Sometimes, however, she is portrayed as a wasted woman. When she is shown in the desert, praying or reading, the emblems of penance, such as a skull or bones, are nearby. Titian, the great painter of the Italian Renaissance, painted her in this manner.
From the Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow
Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante