Excerpt 3

Mary Magdalene

Very rich in iconography, Mary Magdalene’s most important attribute is a beautiful alabaster jar of ointment with which she anointed the feet of Jesus. She is usually represented as a very beautiful woman with long flowing, reddish hair. She is also seen in a very famous and often- used composition called noli me tangere, or touch-me-not where Mary Magdalene approaches the just risen Christ, who warns her not to try and touch him.

Mary Magdalene is certainly one of the best known of all Biblical characters, although there is often great confusion surrounding who she really was. She is, however, generally considered to be a composite of two, possibly three, other characters. Sometimes she is confused with Mary, the sister of Martha and this is not the case.

1st century


Alabaster Jar

She is also confused with various other sinners who were converted after their encounter with Jesus. She is certainly included in the group of women who stuck with Jesus through the bitter end, helped prepare him for interment. She is also considered to be the first person that Jesus appeared to after the resurrection in a scene mentioned above, called noli me tangere, or touch-me-not. She also is the one who brought the news of the resurrection to the other apostles, after having gone to the tomb on her own to anoint the body. In her life, she is said to have been a women of ill-repute who met Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee, where she washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, dried them with her long hair and then anointed the feet with expensive oils. This would seem to be more fiction than anything else as there is evidence that she was a very reputable girl from a wealthy and influential family. Her nasty reputation would seem to have been set forth by a male-dominated church, jealous of her influence in the newly formed church. Like Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, her legend has her going to Provence with Lazarus, hence some of the confusion about who exactly is who. She also retired to the desert which causes her to be confused with Mary of Egypt. In some of the non-canonical gospels, she is referred to as the mate of Jesus, which is certainly not to the church’s liking. So, although her iconography is very clear, exactly who she was will always be a mystery.

She is the patroness of druggists and perfume makers, alluding to her alabaster jar. Because she is usually represented with a very sumptuous hairstyle, she is the patroness of hair dresseres and stylists. Because she has been mistakenly attributed a sordid early life, she is the patroness of prostitutes, those no longer in the business and those fighting temptations of the flesh. As the latter part of her life was spent in contemplation, she is the patroness of those wishing to lead a reclusive and prayerful life. Her patronage certainly covers one of the broadest spectrums of any saint. (Feast Day July 22nd)


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