Category Archives: Mary Magdalene

Repainting for the second wife

Triptych of Jan Des Trompes (rear of the wings), 1505
Triptych of Jan Des Trompes (rear of the wings), 1505

So here is the painting that Chris is talking about the comments of “Bead Spotting”.

First the beads carried by this wife look similar but the pendant is different. The first wife seems to have a cross on her beads while this one looks more like a medal, perhaps of the Madonna. It looks like there are 10 bead decades separated by gauds and the center decade has 5 beads – medal – 5 beads, so it doesn’t mark a decade. The smaller woman in the front is probably a daughter of the second wife. Interestingly, she doesn’t have beads, but a decorative sash.

Looking at the rest of the painting, I think that Chris is right about it being Mary Magdalene behind the wife. Mary Magdalene was a popular namesake in Germany, at least among my ancestors who often gave Magdalene as a middle name and sometimes as a first name. The baby Jesus appears to be holding a beaded bag and a stick that it looks like he is trying to pass to the second wife. What is that or what does it mean?

Interesting that both wives would be painted in the same triptych.  Only he would want both wives like this. Its a large work 132 cm x 43 cm, almost 5 feet high. So getting this painted with the second wife covers up the entire first family, if it is kept closed. Easy to see why the third wife gave it away. Why would none of the children take it? Perhaps giving it away is a way to keep the children from fighting over it.(?)

Which Mary in the Garden?

One of the bits of Christian tradition that I always find interesting is the interaction and really competition that has gone on between stories and attributes of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. There has been a lot more competition than the average Christian today would guess and most of it has been the Blessed Virgin Mary’s accumulation of Mary Magdalene’s story. In my great grandparents village, Castelventrano Sicily, they hold an Aurora procession at first light on Easter morning.

Aurora procession in Castelvetrano, Sicily
Aurora procession in Castelvetrano, Sicily

The novelty of this procession is that it celebrates a meeting between the risen Christ and his mother on Easter morning. In this village, the Virgin Mary has drawn in Mary Magdalene’s meeting with Christ in the garden. Over the years reading on Marian folklore and traditions, I know that this village is not the only place where this migration between Marys has occurred. There seems to be an assumption that Christ must have visited his mother before he would visit anyone else. This is all extra-biblical tradition because the bible has no hint of a meeting between Christ and his mother on Easter or the days immediately following. In fact the Virgin Mary isn’t mentioned again until Pentecost where she is among the apostles and other close followers in the upper room.

Much of this has to do with social attitudes toward motherhood than anything else. Sicily has a convoluted attitude toward motherhood. On the one hand, it has been a male dominated society. On the other, mothers rule the home and make up a social web that underpins society. It is also a society with several thousand years of focus on divine mothers. Recall that Sicily is Persephone’s island and her mother Demeter was the primary goddess in pre-Christian times. The spring festitval is the time of Persephone and Demeter, when Persephone returns to earth from Hades bringing new life, and as goddess of grain- the bread of life. It would be tempting to see a link between the Risen Lord meeting his mother on Easter morning and Peresephone meeting her mother Demeter on her annual spring return from Hades, but that would not be true. The Aurora festival was introduced to western Sicily in c. 1660 by Discalced Carmelites of Santa Terea. It is unclear if they originated the meeting with the Madonna or if it was originally the holy women. What is sure is that Sicily has embraced this particular varient of tradition and the entire island has a very strong devotion to the Madonna.

Addendum: Jon Sweeney tracks down a source for this tradition to Caxton’s Golden Legend.

Angelico’s Agony in the Garden

Fra Angelico, a Dominican artist, was baptized as Guido di Piero in c. 1395 in Italy. He died in Rome in 1455 after making a career as an extremely popular fresco painter and sometime vicar of his monastery of San Dominco in Fiesole, Italy. He painted most of his frescoes in Florence but was also commissioned to paint several frescoes in Rome by successive popes. He was beatified in 1984. 72 of his paintings can be seen here including the painting of Mary Magdalene in the Garden on Easter morning in the post on the Mary Magdalene chaplet. His paintings of the annunciation are also very famous.

Angelico's Agony in the Garden
Angelico's Agony in the Garden, Museo di San Marco, Florence, Italy c. 1450.

I came across this painting while looking at paintings of Mary Magdalene earlier this week. It is a really unusual painting because it depicts the women of Jesus’ following while he is in the Garden of Gethsemane. To be sure we know who is who, Angelico has painted the names of each of the figures in their halo. We have from left to right, James, John and Peter asleep in the garden. Within the house, we have Mary and Martha awake and at work. So is he making the point that the women were vigilant and awake while the men sleep? Perhaps. Lets look at what the women are doing…. Mary is dressed in gray-blue and reading a book, while Martha, this time in red, is praying. Interesting. He seems to accept that Mary Magdalene = Mary of Bethany, so logically he puts Martha there too.  He has painted Mary continuing her study as implied by Mary of Bethany learning from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. As Mary continues her study, a contemplative behavior, while Martha is actively praying.  Is he trying to show Mary and Martha in the common medieval juxtaposition of the contemplative life and the active life.

angelico62 This painting is from the same church and Mary and Martha are there again. Martha in the green cape. Here we see Mary’s gray cape again, but behold there is the red dress underneath afterall. Well it is a rational assumption if you equate Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalene, then you would assume that Martha would be one of the unnamed women there also. Looking at the rest of Angelico’s paintings from the same church he paints all of the women at the flogging, the way of the cross, crucifixion, and entombment in red (including the Blessed Mother). In the cell of Jesus carrying the cross, he is dressed in red as well. All of his paintings seem to use a lot of red, so maybe the color isn’t very significant. It really is odd there there are women in scenes like the flogging where they wouldn’t usually be seen.

These frescoes are more interesting than individual medieval paintings because these frescoes are intended to be teaching tools. Frescoes on the walls of churches are how most of the common people learned the bible. They are story boards first and art second.

Red Easter Eggs

Red Easter Eggs
Red Easter Eggs

As you all are preparing for Easter, here is a new idea. The origins of red Easter eggs among the Easter Orthodox goes back to a story of Mary Magdalene. I have heard two stories on the origins of the egg. The egg itself is said to represent Christ. The intact egg died red represents Christ’s passion and death, while the opened egg represents new life. So here are the stories linking Mary Magdalene to the red Easter eggs.

Mary visits the Roman emperor and greets him with “Christ has risen”. The emperor replied that Christ can no more rise again than this egg can turn red. At that point the egg in his hand turned blood red. She then continued to preach Christ’s resurrection to the stunned emperor. This is the most common story I have heard and it is only associated with Mary Magdalene.

St Mary Magdalene
St Mary Magdalene

The second story is less common. Boiled eggs were a common food in Jesus’ time. So Mary Magdalene and the other women took boiled eggs with them to the tomb on Easter morning. When they arrived at the tomb they discovered it was empty and met the risen Lord. As a sign, their eggs turned red.  I’ve only seen this story on the internet, once. The first story seems to be much more widely accepted.

So you might wonder, as I did, how red Easter eggs became ubiquitous among the Eastern Orthodox. First the story is very popular and Mary Magdalene has always been a major saint in the East, where she was never associated with women of ill repute and is known as being ‘equal to the apostles’. Most modern icons of Mary Magdalene today show her holding a red egg. From antiquity, red has always been a color associated with Mary Magdalene in the East and West. In the West, she is often shown with red hair and/or a red dress. In the East she is more often shown with a red veil and associated with the red Easter eggs.

Belarusian Easter Eggs
Belarusian Easter Eggs

It turns out that home made red easter eggs are really easy to make from materials available to every peasant in the East. Apparently all it takes is the skins of yellow onions and the eggs. This recipe recommends adding a little vinegar, but I’ve seen other recipes without the vinegar. That is all the ingredients you need: eggs, yellow onion skins, water to boil it in and some white vinegar. I don’t know why the yellow onion skins produce a blood red stain. Some recipes call for raw eggs to be wrapped in yellow onion skins and then boil them together. I think this gives the eggs a red crackle appearance. Other recipes call for making the red stain by boiling yellow onion skins, straining it and then boiling the eggs in the prepared stain. So if you are having people over for Easter why not try staining red eggs rather than using plastic eggs or food coloring.

Mary Magdalene Chaplet

Mary Magdalene Chaplet
Mary Magdalene Chaplet

This is a chaplet I’ve used during Holy Week in the past. It is themed on Mary Magdalene. This is a week that she will be very involved in and so it seems appropriate to use it during Holy Week.

The design of this chaplet is simple, following earlier Anglican chaplet designs. It has a primary cross, a small medal of Mary Magdalene, and blood red glass beads. There is a small Celtic knot serving as a three-way connector but does not have prayers assigned to it.

From Fire Mountain Gems
From Fire Mountain Gems

The style of the cross is Celtic, but more importantly it has a feminine feel to it. The lattice work is of hearts, which reminds me of love and devotion.

It is tricky to find a good medal for Mary Magdalene. There are of course many modern medals that reflect unbiblical notions like those found in the Da Vinci code. I want to completely avoid those! I really wanted something small, and the standard Catholic medal is ok, but I wanted something a little different.

Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene

The standard Catholic medal shows Mary on her knees at the foot of the cross. One problem with these is that many of them are double sided with St Martha on the other side. Its a match that reflects the confusion between Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany. These medals are intended to honor Mary and Martha of Bethany. This is unfortunately why you very see icons or medals or any art of Mary of Bethany (without Martha), though there are a couple modern icons of Mary of Bethany from the Eastern Orthodox.  The Eastern Orthodox have a standard icon of Mary Magdalene that looks like many other icons. She is usually shown in a veil and holding an ointment jar. Its an interesting difference between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox medals. The Catholic medals all recall Good Friday, while the Eastern Orothodox medals with the ointment jar point toward Easter morning. The medal is very similar to this small icon. Mary Magdalene is holding her ointment jar and the inscription is in Russian. Its about charm bracelet size, about 5/8 inch.

The red beads are obviously because red is a color repeatedly associated with Mary Magdalene. In western iconography and painting, Mary Magdalene is usually shown with red hair and wearing red clothing, like these paintings.

Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles
Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles

magdaleneMary is shown in all of these works in red. In the painting below she also has red hair. The general idea usually proposed is that the west shows her in red because she was confused for so long with the sinful woman. However, given her association with red eggs in the East and the frequency of red in her Eastern paintings, it does make me wonder if the red isn’t because of her role as witness to both the passion and resurrection. Of course, once characteristics were established for the apostles, St Paul, Mary Magdalene and the Blessed Mother, they were repeated to allow people to easily identify figures in paintings. The color red became Mary’s signature much like wild hair became the signature of St Andrew and the color blue was associated with the Blessed Mother. As we know for the others, these attributes became established very early. The link between the Magdalene and the sinful woman came from Gregory the Great in the sixth century, but I would think that these attributes were probably set before then. It is just possible that the color red became associated with her because she is always the first person listed as a witness to the Passion.

The lamentation panel by Giotto. Mary Magdalene is the woman holding Christ's feet, all in red.
The lamentation panel by Giotto. Mary Magdalene is the woman holding Christ's feet, all in red.

angelico-mary-magdalene-and-jesus