Restoring the Record on St. Mary of Magdala
This page is intended to raise awareness and retell the true story of St. Mary of Magdala.
Restoring the record on Mary of Magdala is very important to the role of women in the Church today.
Restoring the record on Mary of Magdala could very well lead to the opening of many doors for women
in our Church.
St. Mary of Magdala was a faithful servant of God and a primary witness to the life, death and resurrection
She was one of Jesus’ women disciples and one of his most influential apostles.
Luke 8:1-3 tells us that Mary traveled with Jesus in the Galilean discipleship and, with Joanna
and Susanna, supported his mission from her own financial resources.
She kept vigil at the cross throughout Jesus’ crucifixion. (John 19:25) (Mark 15:40-41)
At the crucifixion, she mourned the death of Jesus alongside his mother. (John 19:25)
She was one of the women myrrh-bearers going to the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus. (Mark 16:1)
She was the first to arrive at the empty tomb. (John 20:1)
She was the first to encounter the risen Jesus. (Mark 16:9)
And after the resurrection, she was the first person commissioned by Jesus himself to “go and tell” the
good news of his resurrection to the other disciples. (John 20:17-18)
Since Mary reported the good news of the resurrection to the apostles, she was considered “Apostle to the Apostles”
and “Equal to the apostles”.
In three of the four Gospel accounts, the Risen Jesus first appears to Mary, and she is the only person – man
or woman – to be placed at the empty tomb in all four Gospels.
Many contrast Jesus' abandonment by the male disciples with the faithful strength of the women disciples, led by Mary
St. Mary of Magdala went on to become a tremendous witness, a powerful leader, and a pillar of the early church.
Early Christian writings show faith communities growing up around Mary's ministry, where she is portrayed as understanding
Jesus' message better than did Peter and the male disciples.
There is absolutely no doubt that Mary of Magdala was a prominent woman leader in earliest Christianity.
This is powerful stuff. Just saying!
In 312, when Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire, the Christian community was caught in a cultural
conflict as it moved from worship in house-churches where women's leadership was accepted, to worship in public places where
women's leadership violated Roman social codes of honor and shame.
In the fourth century, male church leaders suppressed women leaders because of the belief that women were created
subordinate to men.
During this same time period, we see the memory of Mary of Magdala changing from that of a strong female disciple
and proclaimer of the resurrection to a repentant prostitute and public sinner.
Scholars believe this was done deliberately to discourage female leadership in the church.
As knowledge of Jesus' many women disciples faded from historical memory, their stories merged and blurred.
Although the decline of Mary of Magdala’s reputation as apostle and leader most likely began shortly after her
death, the transformation to penitent prostitute was sealed on Sept. 14, 591, when Pope Gregory the Great gave a homily in
Rome that pronounced that three people mentioned in the bible — Mary Magdalene, Luke’s unnamed sinner, and Mary
of Bethany — were all the same person.
Thereafter, Mary's misidentification as reformed public sinner achieved official standing.
Since then, Mary of Magdala has been portrayed, not as the strong woman leader of the early church that she was, but
as a wanton woman and public sinner who, after encountering Jesus, repented and spent the rest of her life in hidden (and
hopefully silent) prayer and penitence.
So, basically, the male leaders of our church had become threatened by Marys’ elevated status and they reduced
her story to that of a lowly prostitute who Jesus took pity on.
The truth is she was never a prostitute.
Nowhere in scripture is Mary of Magdala identified as a prostitute or public sinner.
Luke's gospel tells us that "seven demons had gone out of her." (Luke 8:1-2)
This meant only that Mary had been cured of a serious illness, not that she was sinful.
to biblical scholars, illness was commonly attributed to the work of evil spirits, not sinfulness, and the number seven symbolized
that her illness was either chronic or very severe.
Jesus cured Mary of a serious illness and after that, she became one of his most devoted followers and disciples.
The portrayal of Mary of Magdala as a repentant prostitute has overshadowed her true role in the early Church and
has contributed to the marginalization of women in the Church throughout the centuries and even to this day.
So, let us proclaim and celebrate St. Mary of Magdala as the great woman of God that she was.
May we be strengthened and motivated by her faith, her example, and her witness.
May St. Mary of Magdala become the same inspiring role model for us today that she was for the early Christians of
the first century.
St. Mary of Magdala was a courageous leader. She didn’t ask anybody whether or not she could lead. She simply
led, and that’s what contemporary women have to do today. Just do it.
Below is a link to the 'Reclaim Magdalene' webpage from Future Church, and please check out our Women's Page, and also our Seeking Women of Dignity page.
Here is some interesting information about St. Mary of Magdala images:
Many images of St. Mary of Magdala depict her
holding a vessel of myrrh. This is because she was one of the women myrrh-bearers going to the tomb to prepare the body of
Jesus after his crucifixion.
Also, according to a pious tradition of the Church, St. Mary of Magdala, following the death and resurrection of Jesus,
attended a banquet given by Emperor Tiberius Caesar. There she met the emperor, and while holding a plain egg in her hand,
she exclaimed “Christ is risen!”. Caesar scoffed at her saying that Christ could rise from the dead no more than
the egg in her hand could turn red while she held it. Immediately, the egg in her hand turned bright red, and she continued
proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house.
From this story comes the tradition of dyeing eggs red at Pascha/Easter.
This is also why many images of St. Mary of Magdala depict her holding an egg. (Sometimes plain,
Some images even depict her holding both a vessel of myrrh and an egg.
Apostle to the apostles