St Mary Magdalene was one of Christ’s most faithful disciples. She travelled with him in his preaching ministry and also witnessed both his death and resurrection. Since Mary shared the news of his return to life with the Twelve, she later became known as the ‘apostle to the apostles.’
St Luke introduces her like this: “Jesus journeyed through towns and villages preaching and proclaiming the kingdom of God. Traveling with him were the Twelve, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out; Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza; Susanna; and many others. These women provided for them out of their own resources.” (Luke 8:1-3)
From this we learn a number of things about St Mary Magdalene. Firstly, she had begun to follow Christ after having being exorcised of seven demons (cf Mark 16:1). This explains her gratitude and willingness to become his disciple. Possibly, like another demonised person that Christ had cured, she had not been of sound mind when possessed by the demons (cf Luke 8:35).
We also learn that she was called ‘Magdalene’. This may mean that she was from the town of Magdala, or alternatively, that she was a ‘tower of strength’ (the Aramaic word for tower is migdal). Since she was one of the women who provided for the group out of her own resources, she may also have been wealthy.
Pope St John Paul II observed: “Mary Magdalene followed to Calvary the one who had healed her. She was present at Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial. Together with Mary Most Holy and the beloved disciple, she witnessed his last breath and the silent testimony of his pierced side: she understood that her salvation lay in that death, in that sacrifice.”
He went on: “And the Risen One wished to manifest his glorious body first to the one who had wept profusely at his death. To her he first entrusted the joyful news of his resurrection, as if to remind us that the shining glory of his resurrection is revealed precisely to those who look with faith and love on the mystery of the Lord’s passion and death.”
Previously, Scripture scholars believed that St Mary Magdalene, St Mary (the sister of St Martha) and the unnamed woman who washed Christ’s feet with her hair were all one and the same. Although there are some sensible reasons for this position, today scholars are far more doubtful that this is the case.
Since St Mary (the sister of St Martha), the unnamed repentant woman and St Mary Magdalene all used ointment to anoint Christ, a spice jar became a common symbol of the saint (Mark 16:1; Luke 7:37-38; John 12:3). This tradition is reflected in this stained glass scene of her, which is found within St Marie’s church, in Rugby.
Looking rather downcast – and probably on her way to Christ’s tomb – St Mary Magdalene is pictured here holding her customary ointment jar. The window is the work of Joseph Edward Nuttgens, who drew inspiration from the Arts and Crafts movement, and dates to around 1946-1948. The window features her alongside the Virgin and Child, as well as St Julia of Corsica.
See the full image:
Detail of St Mary Magdalene:
Where to find this work of art
St Marie’s, Rugby
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: The Queen of Sheba, who travelled to hear the wisdom of King Solomon, was also associated with spices (2 Chronicles 9:9).
- From the New Testament: St Mary Magdalene was the first person that Christ appeared to, after his Resurrection.