She was always everybody’s favourite sinner and now it has become fashionable to appropriate her for political rather than sexual ends. It seems to me that in the attempt to ‘clear her name’ and reassert her rightful role among the ‘Followers of the Way’ that she is as used as ever. I wonder what Mary herself, this first century Galilean woman, would have thought about it all? Not much probably. The above sculpture (Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb (artist unknown, date unknown)) I came across at Bible-art info is the finest depiction I have seen of one of the most touching moments of the Gospels. It is of course the moment when Mary who has come back to the tomb early and is still in despair looks up and sees a man who asks her why she is weeping (John 20;17). At first she does not recognise him. She takes him for the gardener. Then he calls her by name. How powerful is this moment?
The idea that Mary Magdalene ever came to the port of Marseilles at some point after the above episode is way out there. These legends date not from the Dark Ages but from the thirteenth century according to this source which is an excellent review of a book debunking the whole Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Dan Brown, Da Vinci Code conspiracy theory. That she may have been carrying Jesus Christ’s love child is beyond out there. Let’s hope that the physicists are right that there are parallel universes because these people need somewhere to go. According to the theory the love child somehow became entangled with the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings. Thus when Athelbert of Kent at the end of the sixth century married into that Christian bloodline, by marrying Bertha the daughter of King Charibert (d. 567) a small stream of sacred wine might have leapt across the channel. Had King Radwald of the East Angles known that not only was Athelbert a convert to the new religion but a relative of the god of it perhaps he could have been persuaded to throw out the old gods all together.
Did Mary Magdalene and Jesus have a relationship? Obviously. Was the relationship sexual? Personally I doubt it. Were there sexual elements to the relationship in modern psychological terms? Possibly. This, incidently is explored superbly in The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and was what made the film of that book by Martin Scorsese so controversial. There is nothing new in the idea that the relationship might have been sexual. Were they married? Believe it if you want. Was the relationship of a substance that is virtually impossible for us to comprehend in the 21st century? I think so.
The Magdalene panel of The Ruthwell Cross shows Mary in fallen woman mode. This is how the Anglo-Saxons of the time would have viewed her and indeed it is how she has been mainly viewed throughout Christian history. Mary of Magdala has been confused with the unnamed woman of sin who washed Christ’s feet and dried them with her hair. As such Mary is usually drawn, painted, sculpted with long hair, as on the Ruthwell panel, and also sometimes with red hair, presumably as a symbol of her previous concupiscence. Conspiracy or accident of history? Take your pick. Of course there is equally no evidence in the Gospels that this woman was not Mary either. Although there seems little reason for assuming it. It is interesting that it was Gregory the Great at the time of the Anglo-Saxon conversion who made it official that Mary of Magdala was one and the same person as the unnamed sinful woman and also Mary of Bethany. Some Anglo-Saxons probably confused her with the penitent prostitute and desert asectic Mary of Egypt as well.
That Mary Magdalene may also have at some time gone into the desert to be closer to her God is something that seems believable to me in a way that her wishing to be Queen of the Disciples is not. That is somebody else’s wish for her. It strikes me that she wouldn’t really have minded being misrepresented as that sinning woman. Sin is sin. And we are all sinners. I have heard her described as ‘not even much of a sinner let alone a prostitute’. Maybe, but I think we should remember that our modern conception of sin which is always relative and always changing is not the same conception of sin as described in the Sermon on the Mount. Hardly. How could a true follower of ‘The Way’ object to being the most potent symbol that the Faith possesses of both sin and its forgiveness and the profound love of God that is engendered by that forgiveness? The rest is of this world, is hubris in a ceremonial cloak, and does not matter.