About Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene is described, both in the canonical New Testament and in the New Testament apocrypha, as a devoted disciple of Jesus. The life of the historical Mary is a subject of ongoing debate, as Catholics have traditionally identified three women as the same Mary : Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the woman sinner.
Mary Magdalene was the sister of Lazarus and of Martha. She lead a sinful life as a prostitute, but finally became one of the closest followers of Christ.
Based on the New Testament Western Catholic painting shows her :
- in the house of Martha with Christ : while Martha is cooking for Christ (representing active life), Mary Magdalene is listening (contemplative life).
- in the house of Simon the Pharisee washing His feet with her tears, drying them with her hair and anointing them.
- standing weeping at the foot of the cross with Mary and Saint John.
- as the first one who saw Christ after His Resurrection, next to His tomb, at first mistakenly holding him for a gardener (“noli me tangere”).
French tradition says that fourteen years after the Assumption of Christ Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus, her sister Martha and other followers of Christ were set adrift in a vessel by the Jews. They arrived safely in Marseille and converted its pagan population. Thereafter the penitent Mary Magdalene retired into the caves of Sainte Baume amidst a deserted wilderness. She ate nothing except for a Holy Eucharist angels brought her regularly.
Every day during the last years of her penance angels came down and carried her up in their arms to heaven, where she listened to the sounds of unearthly harmony. In our painting we see Mary Magdalene waiting for the angels at the entrance of her cave.
After these years of penitence Mary Magdalene went to live in Rome and in Ephesus. Just before dying there she was miraculously transported to the chapel of Saint Maximin next to Sainte Baume.