I love this painting by the Italian Renaissance artists Sovoldo. This timeless image of Mary Magdalene was painted over 600 years ago, but it captures perfectly one of her most important faces for me: the face of Mystery.
Most religious studies scholars agree that the very first written records of Mary Magdalene date back to about the year 50 (the Gospel of Mark and the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas). The other Canonical Gospels range in dating from 70-110. The Gospel of Mary might be earlier
(33 AD according to one scholar) or later (according to most other sources). If you look at all of the texts, there is actually a very slender but utterly consistent picture: a disciple of deep devotion who was a witness to life and death. We don't know her age, hair color or physical appearance. The gospels tell us nothing about her life before she was a follower of Jesus ( except the implication in Luke that she was wealthy) or her life afterwards. From this tantalizingly small beginning, extraordinary diverging stories were spun out over the following centuries, imagining her as a Jewish princess, a priestess of Isis, a prostitute (sacred or secular), the mother of Jesus' child(ren), married to John the Baptist or John the Evangelist, living out her days in Ephesus or France or India. I've encountered people who insist she was an ever Virgin, others who declare she was the founder of the Merovingian dynasty (and that they are her descendants), and others who have said they refuse to hear about "that whore".
So who was she, really? I can't tell you. I can tell you an awful lot about who different people think she was, and I can tell you quite a bit about how those views of her shaped the world and culture (particularly in southern France). And I can tell you who she is for me. But I can't tell you the most important thing: who she is for you. Only you can discover that. It is a mystery waiting to be explored
In the Gospel of Mary, Jesus says, "Beware of those who say 'here it is' or ;There it is', for the kingdom of Heaven lies within you."
I had the great joy this past weekend of attending a Mary Magdalene festival where artist and poets shared their creations that were inspired by her. it was beautiful to see the diversity, but even more touching to hear the testimonials of how illuminating and healing working with different stories, symbols and meditations had been for the creators. It so reminded me of my favorite lines from the Gospel of Thomas: if you bring forth what is in you, what is in you will save you. For many of these artists, connecting their words and creating images with Mary Magdalene brought out something profoundly healing within them as it awakened their imagination. Joan of Arc, in her trial was asked, "Are you saying you encountered the Divine in your imagination?", and she replied with simplicity and sincerity, "How else would I do so?". It was clear that for so many at the festival, they had truly encountered something numinous and holy as the connected in their imaginations with Mary Magdalene
My webinar series on the Myths of Mary Magdalene began last night . Over the next seven weeks, I will tell many legends and show many pictures. In a paraphrase of Joseph Campbell, it will all be true, and some of it might have even happened.. But who is Mary Magdalene really? That is for you alone to discover in the depths of your own heart.