Da Vinci's Code

Professor Christopher Witcombe, Art History


Mary Magdalen: Life, Legend, and Cult


EXCERPT FROM: The Life of Mary Magdalen, from the Legenda Aurea (13th century) by Jacopo di Voragine

"In the time of Charlemagne, approximately in 769, there was in Burgundy a Duke called Gerhard. His wife bore him no son. He therefore gave all his belongings to the poor and built many churches and monasteries. When he founded the monastery of Vézelay he and the abbot sent a monk with a worthy following to Aix and commissioned him to bring the remains of St. Mary Magdalene to Vézelay.

The monk found that Aix had been completely destroyed by the heathen. However, he found a tomb hewn entirely from marble and the tombstone indicated that St. Mary Magdalene was buried there, and in fact her history could be read because it was chiselled into the stone. When night came he opened the grave, took the remains and brought them to the place where he stayed. And it was then that Mary Magdalene appeared to him that same night saying to him that he should not be afraid but should complete the work which he had started. The monk started home but one mile before he had reached the monastery it seemed that the remains became so heavy that he could no longer carry them. Then the abbot with the monks of the monastery appeared in solemn procession and they all took St. Mary Magdalene's remains to their domicile with the greatest of honors."

According to the Legenda Aurea, the adoration of St. Mary Magdalen in the French monastery of Vézelay was accompanied by many miracles. She is supposed to have awakened a dead knight to life, to have aided the sailors, to have returned vision to a blind pilgrim when he had asked her for help in front of the church of Vézelay. She is supposed to have released a prisoner from chains and to have shown the path of virtue to a sinful priest. Besides Vézelay, she is also the patron of Autun and Marseilles.