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FEAST - A Saint for the Day (July 22): St. Mary Magdalene


John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>


medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>


Fri, 22 Jul 2016 20:20:14 +0000





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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Mary Magdalene (i.e. of Magdala; d. 1st cent.) appears several times in the New Testament as one of the women about Jesus.  Jesus had cast seven devils out of her (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9), she was among the Galilean women who are recorded by name as having observed the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25), she was one of the women who went to Jesus' tomb to anoint him (Matthew 28:1-3; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1), and it was she who first saw the risen Jesus (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-18).  This Mary being thus a person of some importance in the Gospel narratives, some from at least St. Gregory the Great onward have attempted give her a fuller presentation by identifying her with others, notably Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:38-42; John 11) and the unnamed penitent sinner who washed Jesus' feet (Luke 7:36-50).  This triune M. was the subject of a liturgically influential sermon attributed to St. Odo of Cluny (BHL 5439-41).

Mary's veneration in the West is at least as old as Bede's martyrology (ca. 720).  She came to be viewed as an hermit saint and as a prophet as well as as the reformed penitent familiar from modern constructions of her.  A good avenue of approach, with important basic bibliography, is Sherry Reames' introduction to her TEAMS edition of John Mirk's _Sermon on St Mary Magdalen_:


In the East and also in the early medieval West it was believed that Mary accompanied the Theotokos to Ephesus, died there, and was there entombed.  From the seventh century onward we have notices of a church over her sepulture near the entrance to the cave of the Seven Sleepers.  The emperor Leo VI (886-912) translated her putative relics from Ephesus to Constantinople, where they were venerated in the then newly built monastery of St. Lazarus (whose putative relics Leo had also translated from Ephesus).  In the Latin West a legend emerged in the tenth century whereby Mary had traveled to Provence, had participated in its evangelization, and had died there.  In the following century the Cluniac abbey of Vézelay in Burgundy claimed to have Mary's remains, translated from Provence centuries earlier.

In 1058 pope Stephen IX, who as a former papal legate in Constantinople is likely to have been aware of the presence there of relics believed to be Mary's, issued a bull confirming the authenticity of those at Vézelay (not far from his native Lorraine).  In the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries the great pilgrimage church dedicated to her was constructed there and there, in 1267, St. Louis IX and other French royals witnessed a translation of what were said to be her relics.  But in 1279 Charles I of Sicily, who was also count of Provence and who had been present at Vézelay for the ceremonies of 1267, oversaw in a church near Aix dedicated to a saint Maximinus the Invention both of that saint's relics and of what were proclaimed to be the true relics of Mary Magdalene.

In 1289, under Charles II of Sicily and Provence, the church where these relics were discovered, situated near a grotto called La Sainte-Baume, began to be replaced with an impressive new structure seemingly dedicated both to Maximinus and to Mary Magdalene, consecrated in 1316 (when the crypt had been finished), and left unfinished in 1532.  See the first of the translated "Letters of Charles II, King of Naples [_sic_; correctly, "of Sicily"], concerning the Church and Monastery of Saint-Maximin in Provence, 1295" at: <http://tinyurl.com/25z93gf>.  The church is commonly referred to simply as that of St. Mary Magdalene.  The town, named for the adjacent abbey, is now Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume (Var).

Today (22. July) was Mary Magdalene's usual feast day medievally, both in the Roman Rite and in the Byzantine Rite.  It is still her feast day in Byzantine-rite churches and it is her day of commemoration in the Roman Martyrology. 

Supplementing the links to images in glass posted to yesterday by Gordon Plumb, herewith links to further period-pertinent images of St. Mary Magdalene:

a) as depicted (Noli me tangere; with another Mary) as depicted in a seventh-century icon in the Holy Monastery of the God-trodden Mount Sinai, St. Catherine (South Sinai governorate), Egypt:


b) as depicted (announcing the Resurrection) in a full-page illumination in the earlier twelfth-century St Albans Psalter (betw. 1120 and 1145; Hildesheim, Dombibliothek, MS St. Godehard 1, p. 51):


c) as depicted (addressing the angels before the empty tomb) in the eleventh-century Dionysiou Lectionary (Dionysiou monastery, Mt. Athos, cod. 587, fol. 171v):


d) as depicted in the earlier twelfth-century Melisende Psalter made at the monastery of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (ca. 1131-1143; London, BL, Egerton MS 1139, fol. 210r):


Detail view:


e) as depicted (announcing the Resurrection) in a panel of the mid-twelfth-century Passion of Christ window (ca. 1145-1155) in the basilique cathédrale Notre-Dame in Chartres:


f) as depicted in the later twelfth-century mosaics (ca. 1182) of the basilica cattedrale di Santa Maria Nuova in Monreale:


g) as depicted in one of four panels of a full-page illumination in the late twelfth-century so-called Bible of Saint Bertin (ca. 1190-1200; Den Haag, KB, ms. 76 F 5, fol. 34v, sc. 1B):


h) as depicted in panels of the early thirteenth-century Mary Magdalen window (ca. 1205-1215) in the basilique cathédrale Notre-Dame in Chartres:

1) Washing Jesus' feet:


2) Noli me tangere:


3) The window as a whole:


i) as depicted (upper register; below, Doubting Thomas) in the earlier thirteenth-century so-called Latin Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of Castile (ca. 1225?; Paris, BnF, ms. Arsenal 1186, fol. 26r):


j) as depicted (at right; at left, St. Sebastian) in a mid-thirteenth-century (ca. 1250-1260) window of the west choir in the Dom St. Peter und St. Paul in Naumburg:


k) as depicted (at left; at right, St. Mary of Egypt) in a bas-de-page illumination in a copy of the Office for the Dead in a later thirteenth-century psalter and book of hours from Liège (Den Haag, KB, ms. 76 G 17, fol. 187v):


l) as depicted (with eight scenes from her legend) in a late thirteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1280-1285) in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence:


m) as depicted (Noli me tangere; image greatly expandable) in a late thirteenth-century copy of French origin of the _Legenda aurea_ (San Marino [CA], Huntington Library, ms. HM 3027, fol. 78v):


n) as depicted (Noli me tangere) in a fourteenth-century copy of Guiard des Moulins' _Bible historiale_ (Paris, BnF, ms.  Français 152, fol. 446r):


o) as depicted by Giotto and assistants in the earlier fourteenth-century Mary Magdalen cycle (betw. 1300 and 1325) in the cappella della Maddalena of the Basilica Inferiore at Assisi (images expandable):


p) as depicted (at left; at right, Catherine of Alexandria) by Simone Martini in an earlier fourteenth-century fresco (ca. 1318-1320) at the entrance to the cappella di San Martino in the lower church of the basilica di San Francesco in Assisi:


q) as depicted (at left; at center, the BVM and Christ Child; at right, St. Dorothy) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti on a wing of an earlier fourteenth-century triptych (ca. 1325) in the Pinacoteca nazionale in Siena:


r) as depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1326 and 1350) in the church of St. Mary Magdalene in Kanfanar, a locality of Šorići (Istarska županija) in Croatia:


s) as depicted (Noli me tngere) in an earlier fourteenth-century French-language legendary of Parisian origin with illuminations attributed to the Fauvel Master (ca. 1327; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 183, fol. 131r):


t) as depicted (with another Mary, observing Jesus' burial) in an earlier fourteenth-century fresco (betw. 1335 and 1350) in the sanctuary of the church of the Holy Ascension at the Visoki Dečani monastery near Peć in, depending on one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:


u) as twice depicted (seeing Jesus before the angel-guarded tomb; Noli me tangere) in an earlier fourteenth-century vault fresco (betw. 1335 and 1350) over the altar of the church of the Holy Ascension at the Visoki Dečani monastery near Peć in, depending on one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:


Detail views:



v) as depicted by the Master of Palazzo Venezia Madonna in a seemingly mid-fourteenth-century panel painting (? ca. 1350) in the National Gallery in London:


w) as depicted (receiving Communion from an angel) by Giovanni di Benedetto and workshop in a late fourteenth-century Franciscan missal of Milanese origin (ca. 1385-1390; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 757, fol. 343v):


x) as depicted (at left; at center, Christ as The Man of Sorrows; at right, St. John the Apostle) by Beato Angelico in an earlier fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1420-1429) in The Courtauld Gallery in London:


y) as depicted (at right; at left, St. Onuphrius the Great) by the Master of the Beffi Triptych in an earlier fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1420-1440) in the Museo Civico in Sulmona (AQ) in Abruzzo:


Detail view (Mary Magdalene):


z) as depicted (about to anoint Jesus' feet) in an earlier fifteenth-century _Bible historiale_ (ca. 1430; Den Haag, KB, ms. KB, 78 D 38 II, fol. 180v):


aa) as depicted (washing Jesus' feet;  scenes from her legend) on Lukas Moser's Magdalenenaltar (1432) in the St. Maria Magdalena Kirche at Tiefenbronn (Lkr. Enzkreis) in Baden-Württemberg:



bb) as depicted (reading) by Rogier van der Weyden in a panel fragment, from a dismembered earlier fifteenth-century altarpiece (before 1438), in the National Gallery in London:


Detail view:


cc) as depicted (scenes from her legend) in the mid-fifteenth-century frescoes of the chapelle Saint-Érige at Auron, a locality of Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée (Alpes-Maritimes):


dd) as depicted in grisaille by Jean le Tavernier or an assistant in the mid-fifteenth-century Hours of Philip of Burgundy (ca. 1451-1460; Den Haag, KB, ms. 76 F 2, fol. 274v):


ee) as portrayed by Donatello in a mid-fifteenth-century statue (ca. 1457) in the Museo dell'Opera del duomo in Florence:


Detail view:


ff) as depicted (at right; at left, St. Godehard) by Giovanni and Luca de Campo in the later fifteenth-century frescoes (1463) of the oratorio di San Bernardo at Briona (NO) in Piedmont:


gg) as portrayed (her ascension into Heaven) by Tilman Riemenschneider in a late fifteenth-century sculptural group (ca. 1490-1492) from his dismantled altarpiece for the high altar of the Pfarrkirche St. Maria Magdalena in Münnerstadt (Lkr. Bad Kissingen) in Bayern, now in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich:


hh) as depicted by Carlo Crivelli in a late fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1491-1494) in the National Gallery in London:


ii) A nice, small selection of other late medieval images, in various media, of her ascension (click on the images to enlarge):


jj) as portrayed by Francesco Marti and workshop in an early sixteenth-century gilt bronze plaquette (ca. 1507?  ca. 1520?) in the National Gallery of Art in Washington:


kk) as depicted (in the foreground; upper register from left to right: St. Peter Martyr, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Margaret of Hungary) by Juan de Borgoña in an early sixteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1515) in the Museo del Prado in Madrid:


ll) as depicted by Bernardino Luini in an earlier sixteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1525) in the National Gallery of Art in Washington:


mm) as depicted (Noli me tangere) by George / Tzortzis the Cretan in the mid-sixteenth-century frescoes (1546/47) in the katholikon of the Dionysiou monastery on Mt. Athos:


Detail view:



John Dillon


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