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Mary Magdalene, Saint

jesus’ jesus hair feet

The woman named Mary Magdalene (from the village of Magdala) is mentioned several times in the Gospels. She appears among the followers of Jesus in *Luke 8:2 (Jesus had healed her of seven *demons); she is mentioned as present at the *Crucifixion and *Entombment of Jesus as well as being the first witness to his *Resurrection . These brief references provide minimal information about her, but from an early period, following the explanation given in John 11:2, western theologians (e.g., Saint *Gregory the Great) identified her as being the same person as two other “Marys” mentioned in the Gospels: Mary of Bethany, the sister of *Martha and Lazarus, and the unnamed woman, “a sinner,” who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil, washed them with her tears, and wiped them with her hair while he Page 170  was dining in Simon the Pharisee’s home The versions of a similar episode in *Matthew (26:7) and Mark (14:3) describe that she poured oil upon Jesus’ head, a premonition of his *death and burial.


Additionally, Mary Magdalene has been identified as the intended bride (of Saint *John the *apostle) at the *Marriage of Cana, and later legends also state that she accompanied Saint John and the Virgin *Mary to Ephesus, or, according to ninth-century legends from southern France, sailed to France with Lazarus and Martha, carried out missionary work, eventually became a hermit, and lived in a cave for thirty years before her death.


Illustration of the later legends about Mary Magdalene added to the iconography earlier developed in representations of the scriptural scenes. Although she is frequently undifferentiated from the other Marys in the visit to the tomb of Jesus and may also be unrecognizable in the group of mourners or witnesses in scenes of the Crucifixion (until the later medieval and Renaissance period, when she is often shown kneeling at the foot of the cross, kissing Jesus’ feet or wiping them with her hair), she features prominently in scenes of the Noli me tangere in examples from the fourth century onward, and (as Mary of Bethany) is included in scenes of the *Raising of Lazarus. Although the subject of Jesus’ visit to her home is infrequent in medieval art, when it is illustrated, Mary will be shown kneeling or seated by Jesus’ feet. She may hold his feet in her lap, also a reference to her anointing of his feet—which subject also appears in Gothic and later art. She may also be shown kneeling beneath the table where Jesus and several other figures are seated dining. Hence, her long hair and ointment jar become her iconographic attributes, with which she is recognizable when portrayed as a single figure.


The later French tales about Mary Magdalene (also found in the * Golden Legend ) bear some substantial resemblances to the stories of Saint *Mary of Egypt; hence the iconography of Mary Magdalene as a “penitent sinner,” kneeling in *prayer, covered with her long hair, frequently seen in later medieval and especially Renaissance example. Subjects from the legends include the miraculous voyage to Marseilles guided by an *angel (in a boat lacking sails, oars, or rudder), Mary’s ascetic life in the wilderness during which she was lifted up to *heaven seven times a day by *angels, her last communion (offered by an angel or Saint Maximin), and her burial. These subjects appear primarily in French Romanesque sculpture and Gothic stained glass.

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