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Mary Magdalene was the medieval world’s most emblematic saint. However it wasn’t  until the sixth century that the saint assumed a specific identity and subsequently an important role in Christian theology.San-Juan-DP-M-M

It was Pope Gregory the Great who consolidated under a single identity three seperate women of the Gospel texts. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus he identified as the same woman named Mary Magdalene  discoverer of the empty tomb after the Crucifixion and first witness to the Resurrection.

Unifying these with the nameless woman condemned as a sinner by Simon the pharisee and redeemed by the act of washing the feet of Christ with her tears, an immensely potent figure was created.

“Noli me tangere – do not touch me for I am not yet ascended to my father”, these were the celebrated words ascribed to Jesus when Mary Magdalene came upon him after finding his tomb empty.

Mary Magdalene was both the archetypal sinner redeemed and through her devotion a symbol for nothing less than the Christian Church. She was known as the Apostle to the Apostles.

In the eleventh century the Benedictine abbey of Vézelay in Burgundy declared possession of her relics. This was a contentious claim since the legend of Mary Magdalene told of her journey after the Pentecost from Palestine to Provence, where she had ended her days as a hermit. In order to justify the presence of her relics at Vézelay the legend was  embellished further by the involvement of one of the heroes of the epic Chansons de Geste, Girart  Comte de Roussillon.

San-Juan-DP-M-M-2Girart had founded the abbey at Vézelay in the ninth century. The new account told of how he had brought with him Mary Magdalene’s mortal remains in order to preserve them from the hands of the Saracens who were then ravaging Provence..

The abbey’s claim to possess the relics was endorsed by papal confirmation in 1058. The massive size of the church at Vézelay is an indication of the large numbers of pilgrims who came to Vézelay in hope of miraculous cures and the remission of their sins.

One Comment

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11 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] were discovered in Western Europe and seized the popular imagination. In Burgundy there was Mary Magdalene and Lazarus. In Aquitaine, the head of John the Baptist and at Compostela, the Apostle [...]

  2. [...] cults devoted to feminine deities. By the middle ages these had been transformed into the cults of Mary Magdalene, her sister Martha and the women who had bought perfume to administer to Jesus’ body after [...]

  3. [...] of the capitals in the nave of the church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine at Vézelay is of the story of Lazarus and the Rich [...]

  4. [...] the Crucifixion, and the subsequent Discovery of the Empty Tomb, the risen Christ appears to Mary Magdalene and then on the same day to an assembly of the disciples inside a house where they have collected [...]

  5. [...] Abbot Geoffroy brought with him the Cluniac reform of the Benedictine order and the cult of Mary Magdalene. Miracles began to take place and soon large numbers of pilgrims began to attend. Within a short [...]

  6. [...] Santiago de Compostela HomePrefacePostsRomanesqueFilmPilgrim RoadsLinksContents « Thereupon, on the route that through Saint-Leonard stretches towards Santiago, the most worthy remai… How the relics of blessed Mary Magdalene came to the French town of Vézelay ought to be commented [...]

  7. By Sangüesa « The Joining of Heaven & Earth on 24 Jan 2011 at 7:31 pm

    [...] they bear. The central crowned figure is the Virgin Mary, patroness of the church and to her left Mary Magdalene, to her right Mary [...]

  8. [...] Limoges Road records only Mary Magdalene at Vézelay and Leonard in the Limousin and Front at [...]

  9. [...] Chanson of Girart de Roussillon features an extended account of how the relics of Mary Magdalene where transported from Provence to [...]

  10. […] began their journey at the abbey of Vézelay in Burgundy which claimed possession of the relics of Mary Magdalene. In the Limousin they could visit the shrine of Saint Leonard of Noblat and Saint Martial at […]

  11. […] received pilgrims who had come by way of the shrine of Mary Magdalene and were headed towards […]

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