Mary Mag | Biography
Here are Mary's greatest moments, told in the Bible's own words...
Mary the disciple
Mary anoints Jesus
Discovering Jesus' empty tomb
Mary and "the gardener"
We know hardly anything for sure about Mary. The churches even disagree about which stories in the Bible are supposed to be about her.
She is named in the Gospels as one of the close followers of Jesus who travelled with him, and we are told that Jesus had sent seven demons out of her. And that's it until she steps suddenly into the spotlight, being the first person to meet the risen Jesus on the Sunday after Good Friday, because she stayed mourning at his tomb after everyone else had gone.
However, there is also a Mary in the Gospels who is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. She is commended by Jesus for listening to his teaching while her sister did the housework and tutted.
There is also "a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town" who poured perfume and wept tears on Jesus' feet and wiped them dry with her hair. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke do not name her, but John's Gospel says she was Mary, the sister of Martha.
The Catholic church says that all three are Mary Magdalene, while the Orthodox church sees them as three separate women.
According to later tradition, Mary became a great missionary, but she disappears from the Bible after the resurrection. Eastern tradition says that she ended up in Ephesus (in modern Turkey). The Western tradition with a slightly greater stretch of the imagination puts her in France.
Along with two other biblical Marys, Mary Magdalene is said to have fled persecution in Palestine all the way to Provence in France. At least, it's said in Provence. Their arrival is celebrated every year on Three Mary's Day, 25 May.
Medieval legend said that Mary had been betrothed to the disciple John until their burgeoning holiness put a stop to that kind of thing.
More modern mythology makes her the lover of Jesus.
The grotto at the convent chapel of La Sainte-Baume in France is said to contain Mary's head.
Mary is the patron saint of prostitutes, contemplatives, hairdressers, repentance and sexual temptation.
She is represented in art by an alabaster jar.
Both Oxford and Cambridge Universities have colleges named Magdalen after her, though in both cases, for reasons best known to themselves if at all, the word is pronounced "maudlin".
Also named after her are the Magdalene, a house for recovering prostitutes; the Magdalenian era, an early phase of the stone age; and, now I come to think of it, the word "maudlin" itself.
"She wasn't this 'anything for a fiver, honey.' She was a peer to Jesus."
"Mary Magdalene is really someone who has made the church very uncomfortable. That is why you have two Marys in the Bible: one that is very sexual, and one that is virtuous and spiritual, cut off from her sexuality."
"We should reflect on Mary's attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him."
Pope Gregory the Great, 6th century