On July 22nd, the Church observes the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. It’s hard to imagine another saint who has attracted so much attention and who has been so misunderstood. The popularity of Dan Brown’s fanciful thriller, “The Da Vinci Code,” has further muddied the waters by mixing minimal historical evidence with legend and conjecture. Virtually our only reliable sources are the Gospels, so let’s start there.
But first, a word about who Mary Magdalene was not. There is no evidence to suggest that she was the sinful woman described in Luke 7:36-50. Nor is there any reason to believe that she was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. And, pious traditions notwithstanding, there s no evidence that she was the woman caught in adultery and nearly stoned. This misconception was restated in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” but there’s nothing in the Scriptures to suggest this connection.
So, what evidence do we have? Luke Chapter 8 lists her among the women who accompanied Christ and ministered to him. In Mark 16 we’re told that she had had seven devils cast out of her. All four of the Gospels place her at the foot of the cross. She’s also named as the first witness to Christ’s resurrection, and the one who brought that news to his disciples.
In truth, we know very little about Mary Magdalene. But putting aside legend, conjecture, and questionable documents, we can say with some certainty that she was a woman who was one of Christ’s disciples, that she stood courageously by him while so many others fled, and that she was one of the first—if not the first—witness to his rising. These things alone are reason to remember and celebrate her.