Wednesday 22nd July.

Ann Hair offers today’s reflection:

Celebrating St. Mary Magdalene
Reminiscences of Provence

Early morning and late afternoon are my favourite times in the garden and this morning was no exception. The lavenders were alive with the buzzing of bumble bees, tiny sparrows foraged happily under the olive tree for their insect breakfast and the warm air filled with the scent of Mediterranean herbs. Set against the backdrop of a deep blue sky the garden colours stood out with a vibrancy in the clear morning light.

Memories began to stir in my mind of the wonderful Provencal light found only in that region of southern France. The light captured in the paintings of Van Gogh. Continuing in my reverie I remembered the beautiful picture of St. Mary Magdalene which I had seen on a visit to the Petits Palais Museum in Avignon. It was quite a timely memory as her Feast day falls this month on the 22nd July.

Mary Magdalene is my favourite female character in the Gospels. The more I engage with her story the more she continues to inspire me with her courage and strength of character. What devotion she displays as she stays by Jesus throughout his ministry and through all the harrowing events of Good Friday. What courage she must have had to venture out before dawn on Easter Day to visit Jesus’ tomb only to find it empty and literally no body there. In her anguish and despair she mistakes Jesus for the gardener until joy and relief flood through her whole body as she turns and hears the voice of Jesus call her name. This is one of the most beautiful encounters in all the Gospels and it implies an intimacy and tenderness in the way Jesus speaks her name and she responds. It is as if his voice touches something deep within her soul that responds to him. Mary allows herself to be changed by a new reality. There is a new dimension to Mary as she encounters and recognises the risen Lord. Jesus calls Mary into a transformed relationship with him as the risen Christ. She is now the key witness and first messenger of Jesus’ resurrection and salvation to the other disciples.

Very often one memory leads into another and I remembered a small carving of three women on a chapel wall in the village of Les Beaux de Provence, mid- way between Arles and Avignon. Known as Les Trois Maries it is popularly believed to represent Mary Magdalene and her two female companions, Mary Jacoby and Mary Salome.

There is a strong tradition in this region of Southern France that after the events of Jesus’ resurrection a small group of his disciples led by Mary Magdalene and her two companions found their way either by intention or accident to a small fishing port now called Les Trois Maries Sur-la-Mer. From here she is reputed to have spread the good news of the gospel eventually living a solitary life in caves at St. Baume which is now a centre of pilgrimage and healing.

There is usually an element of truth in all legends and it is difficult to prove or disprove many of them. When we look at the Gospel references to Mary she certainly shows the tenacity and courage needed to undertake the sea journey across the Mediterranean. The Gospels tell us that she and the other women provided for Jesus out of their own means. Is it therefore possible that she may have been a business woman with her own income? There is archaeological evidence that some women were running successful fabric dying or perfume manufacturing businesses. Trade routes were well established by the Romans from the Middle East to Southern France so perhaps she was travelling there to sell her produce. As an incurable romantic I like to think that there is more than a little truth in this legend.

Whatever myths or legends that may surround the story of Mary Magdalene it is her unique role as the first witness of the Resurrection and herald of the Easter message of hope and salvation that we celebrate.