She is the Apostle to the Apostles, follower of Jesus, woman, companion, and the first witness. Her name as we know her, Mary Magdalene. While I believe we will never know the true story of Mary; how she lived before meeting Jesus, how she carried Jesus’ ministry after his death, where she lived, and how she died, we can come to our own conclusions on the kind of person she was, the kind of friend and disciple she was, and the kind of woman she was. Through her story, we see Jesus and the risk-taking of ancient times in even speaking to a woman in public, let alone taking on a disciple of the opposite sex without intention to marry.
There’s no doubt Mary must have had one of the closest relationships to Jesus of all the disciples, for she was the one chosen and entrusted to witness the resurrection and tell the others. She was at Jesus’ feet at the crucifixion and the entire Passion. This says so much about her. In biblical times, having women follow you, especially in ministry, was unheard of. Women stayed at home rearing children and tending to their homes, not following around an unmarried man as he spoke of his father who happened to be God! And while many Jewish ministers of the time were married and had families, I personally don’t believe Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife. But that doesn’t mean that wasn’t the case, anything is possible, we will just never know for sure.
The Gospel of Mary
In 1896, ancient texts were purchased in Cairo by a German diplomat. The fifth century papyrus codex was written in Sahidic Coptic and is considered non-canonical in Christian orthodoxy. Today, this collection is known as “The Gospel of Mary.” I invite you to open yourself to learning more about this fascinating historical discovery and drawing your own conclusions and meditations on it by researching The Gospel of Mary and reading these ancient words. What new and different perspective do these writings offer you? What, if anything, will you take from these texts and apply to your vision of Mary?
In mid-December 1279, a sarcophagus was discovered in the crypt of Saint-Maximin. The location was said to have been disclosed via miracles and is believed to be the resting place of Mary Magdalene.
The story goes that after Jesus was crucified, Mary Magdalene departed on a boat that lost its sails and God took the wheel. Landing her directly to the south of France in St. Maximin. She is believed to have lived in a cave (you’ll see a theme here!) there for the better part of 30 years until her death. On Mary’s feast day, July 22nd, you can see her skull parading down the streets of the small town in a reliquary. Is this really the skull of Mary Magdalene? We will never truly know.
But isn’t it an interesting story that she could have lived out the rest of her life in southern France where she ministered to the people, regaling in the stories of her beloved Jesus Christ? I invite you to learn more about Saint Maximin, France and what they believe to be the final tale of Mary Magdalene.
The Three Mary’s
I believe most folk’s understanding of Mary Magdalene comes from the standard interpretation that she was a prostitute healed of seven demons who lovingly wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears and long hair. If I am honest, that’s all I knew of Mary before studying as a prerequisite to writing her icon last year.
What I discovered instead is that we have a highly misunderstood grasp of Mary’s story which is the result of an oversimplified sermon by Pope Gregory the Great given in 591. He took several stories of Mary (Mary who wiped Jesus’ feet. Mary, sister of Martha and Lazurus etc.) and combined them into one, not considering that many women of the time were named “Mary.” And nowhere in the bible does it say that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Was this a way that the church effectively and posthumously demoted Mary’s story and experience? I would dare to say yes, because she was a woman, and because we all know what the church thought of women at the time (and let’s be honest, currently too).
Another piece of discovery through the writings and video interviews of scholars far more versed on the subject of Mary Magdalene than myself, is that it’s significantly more likely that Mary was independently wealthy and helped fund Jesus’ ministry. The cliff notes version of this contemplation is that Mary Magdalene took her last name from the place she came from rather than a man who she might have been married to. Magdala was a fishing town and a gateway to a lot of other locations, a very wealthy place indeed. So a woman of her time is more likely to have had money of her own considering her identity comes from the place she lived. Food for thought.
So, I invite you to think of Mary Magdalene in a new and different way. What if she was independently wealthy and helped fund Jesus’ ministry? How would that change the church today if this tidbit of information had been shared from the beginning? How do you think the church would see women in ministry differently? What have you learned by researching Mary? Did a newfound excitement and inspiration appear for you? Or do you think it’s all rubbish?
It All Started with a Woman
Mary, as I understand her, is a strong and devout woman who struggled with the visions set before her. But when she let that internal fire burn, it never stopped. Her experience as THE witness allowed her soul to set the world aflame. I can see her ministering to people in the wilderness and carrying Jesus’ ministry across the land. I can see people questioning her, questioning her visions, questioning her very spirit. And I can see her smiling through all of it and responding with a nod of understanding.
I think so many people forget that it all started with a woman. That serving in the world and ministering to the people who didn’t know Jesus personally, all happened BECAUSE of a woman.
Resources for further study
“Jesus: his life” – History Channel series on Amazon Prime TV
“Mary Magdalene: the Secrets Revealed” – documentary on Amazon Prime TV
“The Secrets of Mary Magdalene” – Discovery Channel documentary available on YouTube
“The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” – book by Jean-Yves Leloup
“Mary Magdalene Revealed” – book by Meggan Watterson
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