Anne Fedele, the author of Looking for Mary Magdalene: Alternative Pilgrimage and Ritual Creativity at Catholic Shrines in France sent me an email earlier in the week to tell me about her book. I’ve obviously been out of the Mary Magdalene loop for some time but the title caught my attention so I took a look. Here is the description:
Anna Fedele offers a sensitive ethnography of alternative pilgrimages to French Catholic shrines dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. Drawing on more than three years of fieldwork, she describes how pilgrims from Italy, Spain, Britain, and the United States interpret Catholic figures, symbols, and sites according to theories derived from the international Neopagan movement. Fedele pays particular attention to the pilgrims’ life stories, rituals and reading. She examines how they devise their rituals, how anthropological literature has influenced them, and why this kind of spirituality is increasingly prevalent in the West. These pilgrims cultivate spirituality in interaction with each other and with textual sources: Jungian psychology, Goddess mythology, and “indigenous” traditions merge into a corpus of practices centered upon the worship of the Goddess and Mother Earth, and the sacralization of the reproductive cycle. Their rituals present a critique of Roman Catholicism and the medical establishment, and question contemporary discourse on gender.
The reason I find this so fascinating is that when I was actively researching Mary Magdalene, a good part of my interest wasn’t in Mary Magdalene as much as it was in her followers. There was a burgeoning Mary Magdalene movement ten years ago and it has had a good deal of time to grow and evolve. It’s marvelous that someone is taking a look at the recent social impact that Mary Magdalene has had. Specifically, Dr. Fedele is looking at thinking and behavior around pilgrimage, which is, I think, an excellent place to start. Pilgrims, by definition, are doing something about their faith. They aren’t sitting in their living rooms thinking and blogging (ahem), they have taken action.
Yes, I’ve read into the title and description a bit as I’ve not yet read the book. I’m looking forward to it though; my MM bookshelf has been languishing unloved for some time and this looks like a marvelous title to start bringing it back to life.
It’s ironic that I recently chose to renew the magdalene.org domain after allowing it to lie fallow for so many years. I let it expire but after a few days decided it wasn’t time yet to let it go, gave in and paid to renew it once more.
Now I’m glad I did. Look at what I almost wasn’t able to share:
I haven’t had time to do much analysis of the draft of her upcoming paper (January 2013, Harvard Theological Review), but what I’ve seen is compelling, with a couple of reservations.
First, the same reservation that King herself has had, which is the authenticity of the fragment. When something comes along that so perfectly addresses an outstanding hot-button, it is automatically suspect. She has apparently become satisfied that it is genuine, and I trust her scholarship, so I’m going to take that leap of faith. It is a leap of faith though.
Second, it’s such a small fragment that its placement in the context of its parent manuscript could give it a new meaning. The chance of the context shifting to such a degrees seems unlikely, but still I mention it because even though this fragment of text, its translation and interpretation are being delivered to the public by a very reputable scholar, we still must approach it critically.
There is an exciting time on the horizon. I wish the Da Vinci Code craze hadn’t happened already because really, all of that speculation should have been saved for news like this rather than a sensational novel. Be that as it may, I’m VERY glad that I renewed my domain. Even though I’m a few years out from any serious work in the area of Mary Magdalene studies, real scholarship occurs at a relatively slow pace. I’m hoping there won’t be TOO much to catch up on. What’s a few years to a woman who has a 2000 year history?
This morning I cam across a video posted on Facebook for part 5 of 5 of a National Geographic documentary called The Real Mary Magdalene. I was able to find the page where all five parts are available:
These videos were posted on the Facebook page for a group called Priory of Sion. (Not THE Priory of Sion, for all of you Holy Blood, Holy Grail fans out there…) I also noticed a few other videos posted there that I’ve not yet watched.
The National Geographic documentary was a fairly typical post-Da Vinci Code exploration of Mary Magdalene, but it focused much more on extracting an understanding of her from Biblical and Gnostic accounts than from the more recent “bloodline” legends. Although the narration and re-enactments had a sensational feel to them, it was a pretty level presentation of what there is to know about Mary Magdalene from the earliest sources.
The expert guests were:
- Professor Carolyn Osiek, Brite Divinity School
- Professor Jonathan L. Reed, University of La Verne
- Professor Marvin W. Meyer, Chapman University
- Professor Karen King, Harvard University
- Professor Marcus J. Borg, Oregon State University
- Professor Stephen Patterson, Eden Theological Seminary
- Professor Lawrence H. Schiffman,New York University
I was disappointed that the last part of the documentary focused on the idea that Mary Magdalene’s identification as a prostitute was the result of a smear campaign by early church fathers. While I have no argument with the fact that church fathers used the reputation to their advantage in controlling women, I do not for a moment believe that they are the source of the legend. I also wish that a documentary like this would, for once, mention that Pope Gregory’s homily in the 6th century was likely an action taken to organize the deep confusion over the various Marys in the Gospels and the many competing perspectives that were currently circulating. Again, I don’t suggest that Gregory was a great guy who was doing Mary Magdalene any favors, but I also don’t agree with laying 1400 years of mistaken identity at his feet.
by Lesa Bellevie in Culture
Two things distress me about knowing the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene in Vézelay, France was one of the top pilgrimages of the Middle Ages.
First, I know that it has been referred to as the fourth most popular pilgrimage destination in medieval Europe, by Margaret Starbird, I think, and I’ve been unable to locate data to substantiate that number. It’s not that I doubt Margaret on this particular point, but I’d like to be able to refer readers to the source of this statistic, and I’m curious about it myself.
Second, it troubles me that I’m unable to find any information about badges that may have been available to pilgrims who traveled to Vézelay. Knowing that pilgrim badges were commonly made available at holy site destinations causes me to think that Vézelay may have had its own symbol for pilgrims who made the trip. I’ve not found any information about badges specific to that location though, much to my frustration. I’m certain that there is information out there, somewhere, I just haven’t managed to find it yet. It will take more serious digging than I’ve devoted to it to date.
Having said that, however, I did still manage to find one interesting story about “souvenirs” of sorts that were given away by Bernard of Clairvaux at the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene. I wrote a brief article about it for EzineArticles.com:
During the middle ages, pilgrimages to holy sites of Christendom was a common activity. Hundreds of thousands of people traveled long distances to visit a particular site, maybe because of their devotion to a saint, maybe because they felt it would bring them closer to God, and sometimes because they were ordered to do so in order to make penance for sins. It wasn’t unusual for pilgrims to travel hundreds, even thousands of miles, to complete a pilgrimage. In the days before most people had transportation, it was on one’s own feet that the journey was made (and in the cases of some particularly pious individuals, on their knees).
Because making such a journey was an incredibly difficult undertaking, pilgrims often sought emblems to symbolize their journey. On the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the route most popularly followed to Santiago de Compostela, the scallop shell became the symbol for the pilgrimage. Pilgrims engaged in this journey wore scallop shells on their clothing or their walking sticks in order to identify one another and themselves to those who were friendly and supportive of pilgrims. Often the scallop badge meant the difference between a meal and a place to sleep and a night spent outdoors. It has been said that the badge protected pilgrims also, given that superstitious bandits were hesitant to attack those on a journey for God.
At many pilgrimage sites, pilgrims were able to purchase badges made to symbolize their journey. These were the earliest and most popular tourist souvenirs. Often they were made of inexpensive metals so even the poorest among pilgrims could afford to buy one. The practice of making pilgrim badges available at holy destinations was commonplace, and many varieties have survived.
By far the most popular pilgrimage site of the middle ages was Santiago de Compostela in modern-day Spain, which is devoted to St. James. But one of the top five destinations was one devoted to St. Mary Magdalene – the basilica at Vézelay, France. We know now that pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela wore a scallop shell, but what about pilgrims to the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene? What pilgrim badges were available to them? What was their symbol?
It is unfortunate that very little is known by way of an answer to this question, but there is one intriguing story that survives to shed some light on badges given out at Vézelay.
It happens that the Second Crusade was launched from the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene in Vézelay, France. The County of Edessa, a Crusader state set up in the Holy Land during the First Crusade had fallen, and Bernard of Clairvaux preached the crusade far and wide at the behest of the Pope. When it came time to kick the crusade off, the site at Vézelay, France was chosen as the location. A parliament was held, attended by kings, princes and lords (and the notorious Eleanor of Aquitaine), during which Bernard handed out wooden crosses to those who pledged themselves to the crusade. One after another the aristocracy prostrated themselves before Bernard and accepted this emblem of the crusade – so many, in fact, that he ran out of the crosses that he had prepared in advance of the event.
The wooden crosses of Bernard of Clairvaux thus became the most popularly remembered badge of the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene at Vézelay, France.
To learn more about pilgrim badges, please visit BadgeBadge.com.
Lesa Bellevie is the founder of Magdalene.org and the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mary Magdalene. She has contributed to several books about Mary Magdalene and maintains a Mary Magdalene blog called The Magdalene Review. In addition to her Mary Magdalene work, Lesa researches and writes about many non-Mary Magdalene topics ranging from technical to domestic. In her spare time she enjoys watching classic movies, cooking, and visiting art museums and galleries.
You can learn more about Mary Magdalene at her site, Magdalene.org.
That’s at least something!
I’ve been maintaining Magdalene.org for twelve years now. Much of that time it has been very, very little maintenance has been involved, as in, I haven’t been as attentive as I should have been. One of the reasons for that is that it’s not easy to maintain a website that is entirely hand-made. And by hand-made I mean that I’ve written all of the markup for it, all of the content for it, and have created most of the images for it, with the exception of the redesign done by my brother-in-law in 2005.
When I started Magdalene.org, it was well before the advent of blogging software. Now that I’m familiar with WordPress from blogging The Magdalene Review, I’m liking how easy it is to add and maintain content. Everything is stored in a database and is easily findable via search. Not so with my static Magdalene.org site, which, although a labor of love, is more labor than it really needs to be, which makes me love it less.
Thus I’m seriously considering a merge of Magdalene.org and The Magdalene Review into a single site with a new format. The Magdalene Review will go away, and all of my Mary Magdalene blogging will be under the auspices of Magdalene.org. All of the current Magdalene.org content would live there. And the gallery, which is currently a monstrous nightmare to build and maintain (which is why it has gone unfinished for so long), will be relatively easy to set up and grow.
I think the time has come for a shift in thinking about the way I manage my sites. Since it’s just me working on these projects, I need to reduce the amount of “manual labor” involved so that I can focus more on content than presentation.
Yes, I think I really like this idea. I wish it would have occured to me before I engaged in a major site redesign, but there is still no time like the present to make improvements.
by Lesa Bellevie in Culture
I’m really not sure how to approach this one. It’s a doll, a la Barbie. It’s collectible, which means it’s expensive. The outfit is interesting, purple and red, with a little jar on a chain. Her hair is long, auburn, and wavy, much like a Pre-Raphaelite Magdalene. And really, that’s about all there is to her.
On one hand I’m fascinated because I find it amazing the many places Mary Magdalene is showing up in our commercial culture. Given the price, this is obviously not a doll meant for children. Perhaps doll collectors are on board for something like this? Would someone devoted to Mary Magdalene buy it though? Is it something that would go on a devotional shelf? I can’t really imagine having a Barbie-like doll anywhere near my spiritual life, but maybe that would be meaningful for some people.
Regardless, I had to share.
On another note, I do rather like the Mary Magdalene puppet. It appears intended for children, and seems like it would be useful in storytelling and play. Plus there are other puppets of Bible characters that can be purchased to go along with it.
Yes, it’s true. It’s a brave new world we’re living in, and although I hadn’t thought about it before today, it makes sense that Mary Magdalene movies would be among those being released for mobile phone platforms. I found a site today called AndroidZoom that is selling The Secrets of Mary Magdalene, the documentary made by Dan Burstein in association with the book of the same title, for Android. It’s $5.98.
If you have an Android, you might want to get some MM on there!
by Lesa Bellevie in People
While reading a blog called Forbidden Gospels earlier this week I was sad to learn that Esther de Boer, author of Mary Magdalene: Beyond The Myth, passed away in July. Esther was a Dutch scholar who was very active in studying Mary Magdalene, and she had published several excellent titles on the subject:
Mary Magdalene: Beyond the Myth
Mary Magdalene Cover-Up: The Sources Behind the Myth
The Gospel of Mary: Listening to the Beloved Disciple
The Gospels of Mary (co-authored with Marvin Meyer)
She also wrote a compelling article for lectio difficilior: European Electronic Journal for Feminist Exegesis called “Mary Magdalene and The Disciple Jesus Loved.” (Scroll beyond the German text for the remainder in English.)
There are two primary reasons why I wanted to post about Esther’s passing.
First, when I started my exploration of Mary Magdalene in 1997, there were three books I started with: Margaret Starbird’s The Woman With the Alabaster Jar, Susan Haskins’ Mary Magdalene: Myth and Metaphor, and Esther de Boer’s Mary Magdalene: Beyond the Myth. In 1997, there simply weren’t a lot of Mary Magdalene titles in print, but these three were readily available. I was so inspired by reading these three books that I wanted to contact the authors to ask them more questions. It was difficult for me to find any contact information for Susan Haskins, but I was able to find Esther’s email address. So I wrote to her.
I didn’t have high expectations for a response. She was a scholar, I was just some person who read her book. Her response was warm and personable, however, and she was flattered that I was so interested in her work. We exchanged some email, and kept in touch over the years. She was always very approachable, and this welcoming response from an academic gave me the courage to contact more authors and scholars. Over the years I have been blessed to have spoken to most of my “heros” of Mary Magdalene scholarship, and it all started with Esther.
My second reason for feeling compelled to mark her passing is I feel it is important to note that Mary Magdalene scholarship is losing a bright light. Her work in the field was solid, and it is noteworthy, I think, that she is the one scholar working in academia who embraced Ramon Jusino’s thesis on the subject of Mary Magdalene as the author of the fourth gospel, possibly herself being the nameless “beloved disciple.” Although it is only one of many perspectives on Mary Magdalene, I feel that it is an important one, and with Esther’s passing, this idea loses a great thinker on the subject.
The field of Mary Magdalene studies has grown a great deal in recent years, and many who were doing research before The Da Vinci Code have now found a more receptive market for their work. There is a burgeoning Mary Magdalene movement still rolling forward, and I will always remember Esther de Boer as an important part of this history.
“Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, were his plural wives, and Mary Magdalene was another.”
(Brigham Young’s 19th wife, on Young’s belief that Jesus was married)
There is quite a tradition within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints that not only was Jesus married, but he was married to multiple wives. When I think about this, it brings to mind the scenes from The Last Temptation of Christ, in which Jesus walks to town with his wives, Mary and Martha of Bethany, with whom he has a small brood of children after the death of his first wife, Mary Magdalene. It’s not really a new idea if the Mormon church has been nurturing such ideas since the 19th century at least.
Today the subject of polygamy within the Mormon church is controversial, to say the least. While it’s clearly part of the church’s past, it seems that the church as an organization wants to move past that legacy. There are some within the faith, however, who recognize the practice as part of their spiritual heritage, and they continue to practice plural marriage (in this world, not the next) to this day.
I came across a blog post about this the other day. In a Mormon Coffee post called “Sister Wives,” blogger Sharon Lindbloom discusses an upcoming TLC reality show about a modern Mormon family with one husband, four wives, and thirteen children. Lindbloom points toward some fascinating passages from a book called Jesus Was Married, by Anne Wilde (and her husband), including this one which quotes Orson Pratt, an early leader of the church:
“One thing is certain, that there were several holy women that greatly loved Jesus — such as Mary, and Martha her sister, and Mary Magdalene; and Jesus greatly loved them, and associated with them much; and when He arose from the dead, instead of showing Himself to His chosen witnesses, the Apostles, He appeared first to these women, or at least to one of them — namely, Mary Magdalene. Now it would be natural for a husband in the resurrection to appear first to his own dear wives, and afterwards show himself to his other friends. If all the acts of Jesus were written, we no doubt should learn that these beloved women were His wives.” (Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 159)
It looks like the book may be hard to find, but it seems like an interesting read. Maybe a trip to the university library is in order. In the meantime, I wanted to point out another interesting book about Mormonism, Jesus, marriage, and Mary Magdalene: Dynasty of the Holy Grail: Mormanism’s Sacred Bloodline, by Vern G. Swanson. I’m still reading through it, but it doesn’t appear nearly as sensational as the title. It contains some fantastic resources on the subject.
If any readers happen to see an episode of Sister Wives, I would love to hear whether Mary Magdalene’s name is dropped anywhere!
by Lesa Bellevie in Mary Magdalene
In the blog Irreducible Complexity, a post called “Messiahs, Mary and Mysogyny” caught my attention. Blog author, Ian, started out the piece by discussing how new religion messianic figures (i.e., cult leaders) tend to succumb to the temptation of taking advantage of their flock by sleeping with the female members. Granted, this doesn’t ALWAYS happen (I assume), but it occurs frequently enough to be not terribly surprising, even predictable.
Into this discussion, Ian turns his attention to the original Jesus movement, which at the time really was just a little cult of people following their messianic leader. Assuming that Jesus was only human (a position with which I know not everyone will agree), could he have been faced with the same situation? Could it have occurred?
This is a new take, I think, on the potential relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Some will surely find this offensive, but in the interest of free inquiry, it’s certainly another perspective to consider.