Today is the feast day of Mary Magdalene, who has had much publicity due to the Da Vinci Code. Whatever became of her?Legend has it that in the year 42 AD, a little boat landed in what became Les Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer, France It had no oars, having been caught in a storm. Mary was in the boat as Lazarus the and St. Maximin. According to a document, written around 100 years later, Mary and St. Maximin moved to Aix-en-Provence. Mary lived on a hill now named La Sainte-Baume, and when she died she was buried in the church at St. Maximin. In 745 her relics were moved to Vézelay. In 1279 King Charles II found that new shrine which had inscribed on it a note of why the relics had been moved. He built La Sainte-Baume convent on the hill. In 1600, Clement VIII had the relics put into two stone coffins – one for the body and one for the head. The French Revolution destroyed many sacred locations, and in 1814 they restored La Sainte-Baume convent.

The head of Saint Mary Magdalene now lies there, where it has been the centre of so many pilgrimages. Her skull is displayed on an altar. It is in a rather curious container, as you can see by the photos.

Personally, I find it rather disturbing. It’s a bust of a woman, made of solid gold, with a space to display the skull.


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  1. The Greek Church maintains that the saint retired to Ephesus with the Blessed Virgin and there died, that her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 and are there preserved. Gregory of Tours (De miraculis, I, xxx) supports the statement that she went to Ephesus. However, according to a French tradition (see SAINT LAZARUS OF BETHANY ), Mary, Lazarus , and some companions came to Marseilles and converted the whole of Provence. Magdalen is said to have retired to a hill, La Sainte-Baume, near by, where she gave herself up to a life of penance for thirty years. When the time of her death arrived she was carried by angels to Aix and into the oratory of St. Maximinus, where she received the viaticum ; her body was then laid in an oratory constructed by St. Maximinus at Villa Lata, afterwards called St. Maximin. History is silent about these relics till 745, when according to the chronicler Sigebert , they were removed to Vézelay through fear of the Saracens . No record is preserved of their return, but in 1279, when Charles II, King of Naples , erected a convent at La Sainte-Baume for the Dominicans , the shrine was found intact, with an inscription stating why they were hidden. In 1600 the relics were placed in a sarcophagus sent by Clement VIII , the head being placed in a separate vessel. In 1814 the church of La Sainte-Baume, wrecked during the Revolution , was restored, and in 1822 the grotto was consecrated afresh. The head of the saint now lies there, where it has lain so long, and where it has been the centre of so many pilgrimages .

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