After the sixth century, the Biblically-based image of Mary Magdalene as faithful witness and disciple was replaced in the west by the image of the sexual sinner. This painting is one of several that the 16th century Venetian master Titian crafted of the penitent Magdalene. With her tearful eyes cast imploringly to heaven, a hand clasped over her heart and her gossamer gown falling off of her shoulders, Titian's Magdalene is simultaneously the embodiment of voluptuousness and contrition: a paradox which came to inspire artists and tantalize viewers for centuries. The psychologist Carl Jung would say that such a seemingly contradictory image contains the tension of the opposites and pushes us to a new level of consciousness.
How did the myth of Mary Magdalene as a penitent prostitute emerge? Why did it take such deep root in the culture? It is a fascinating story that reveals much about the culture and history of the past, but can help us know more about ourselves as well.
The Myths of Mary Magdalene Webinar begins next Wednesday, May 1 at 7 pm PST with a FREE introduction to the symbols and stories of Mary Magdalene. My hope is that is will introduce layers of depth, meaning and beauty - and help the participants see the world of art and religion in new and exciting ways.
To make it accessible for everyone, I am offering it as a pay-what you-will series, Scroll down on the registration page to choose your level of donation. 20% of the donations will go to organizations like the Numina Center for Spirituality and the Arts , the Veriditas Labyrinth Organization, and the Mythica Foundation for Myth and the Arts- the rest will go to help me finish my dissertation by paying for the last year of my PhD.
I would love to have you join me- and share it with your friends as well!
The webinar will be recorded for downloading after the broadcast.
To enroll, go to:
"I Don't Know How to Love Him" might be the most popular song from Jesus Christ Superstar, but it is hardly the first song which implied an erotically ambiguous connection between Mary Magdalene and her teacher. The composer Jules Massanet (best known for Manon and Thais) first came to prominence in the late nineteenth century with his oratorio Marie Magdeleine, which views the last three days of Jesus's life from her perspective. The work was considered controversial in its time for the intimacy that was suggested by the powerful love duet between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. An early fan of the oratorio was Peter Tchaikovsky, who waxed eloquent in his appreciation in a letter to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck :
"In the evening I studied a work by Massenet which was new to me: Marie-Magdeleine. I opened the score with a certain apprehension. It seemed to me far too audacious an idea to have Christ singing arias and duets, but, as it turned out, this work is full of excellent qualities, gracefulness, and charm. The duet between Jesus and Mary Magdalene touched me to the quick and even caused me to shed tears".
The great sculptor Auguste Rodin, carving at almost the same time Massanet was writing his oratorio, also brought out the erotic possibilities between the two figures in this powerful sculpture - a copy of which resides in the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco. Both works underscore the theme of the Song of Solomon:, a mystic sacred text long associated with Mary Magdalene: love is more powerful than death.
Last week I found this lovely icon modelled after Duccio's beautiful Magdalene . It is by a young Italian artist, Silvia Salvodori, who creates icons in the ancient manner with egg tempura and gold leaf. She has graciously given me permission to use her images. You can order her work at www.bottegadartetoscana.it- she is real jewel and I hope to be commissioning a work myself to celebrate the completion of my dissertation in about six months.
I am searching for other modern artists who would like to have their works depicting Mary Magdalene featured in both my upcoming webinar and in my class at UC Berkeley on Contemporary Images of Mary Magdalene in art, music and literature. If you, or someone you know, would like to expose your work to a larger audience, let me know!
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has been closed for renovations for a decade- I happened to have the great good fortune to arrive in Holland the very week it was opening. I was even luckier to be allowed in for the pre-opening reception, with one catch: it was only for an hour. What would you do if you had just one hour to see one of the greatest museums in the world?
There was elegant music playing in the grand foyer, waiters in starched tuxedos handing out delectable hors d'oeuvres and the glories of the magnificent architecture of the stunning building ( and believe me, it is stunning). But with only one hour, I bypassed the culinary treats entirely and breathlessly gulped down the wonders of the Vermeers and Rembrandts. The Rijksmuseum, in a gesture of stupendous generosity, has opened their collection for anyone to use and photograph- and so my one precious hour was spent practically race through the galleries in search of the Magdalene in order to find images for my upcoming webinar.
This one, by the 16th century artist Jan Van Scorel, depicts Mary as a typical 16th century courtesan: "greensleeves" of sumptuous velvet laced with costly pearls, golden red hair in a tumble of braids and unbound locks , with a look every bit as enigmatic as Leonardo DaVinci's more famous Mona Lisa. In her lap,. she cradles the jar of ointment she brought to anoint Chris'ts body In the background are the hazy outlines of Southern France. a landscape I recognized from my own pilgrimages to La Baume, the caves of the Dordogne, and the peculiar hamlet of Rennes le Chateau.
To learn more about the symbols found in this painting, I invite you to listen in on my upcoming webinar. The first free class- on May 1- will include a discussion of symbols so that you, too, can find yourself on a quest for the Magdalene the next time you go to an art museum.
Pope Francis made headlines last Holy Week for the controversial manner in which he celebrated Maundy Thursday. This ancient ritual of footwashing- one of the most beautiful rites of humility, love and service in the Christian church-commemorates Jesus' great commandment to his disciples: Love one another as I have loved you. Each church re-creates this event differently. Some have the priest wash the feet of parishioners; in others, each person takes a turn, being both servant and served.
In the Vatican tradition, the pope washes the feet of twelve people.Each one has always been a man. Each one has always been a priest or cardinal. Pope Francis changed all of that.
In an extraordinary heartfelt gesture, Pope Francis celebrated Maundy Thursday not in the opulent splendor of the Basilica, but in a juvenile detention center which included young men and women, Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Catholics alike.
He knelt on the cold stone floor, washed their feet and then kissed them. Men and women, both. Catholics and non-Catholic, both.
He has chosen his pontifical name well. Saint Francis of Assisi was reputed to have said, " Practice the gospel at all times and when absolutely necessary, use words". In this one gesture, Pope Francis set a precedent for embodying the values of universal love, service, compassion and tenderness that speaks louder than any sermon. When asked why he did it, he offered, " It helps me be humble, as a bishop should be" then added, " It comes from my heart. Things from the heart don't have an explanation".
Grumbles have arisen within the Vatican hierarchy around this momentous gesture of extravagant love. Some cardinals have openly criticized the pope, saying his actions were "improper" because they included women. I'd like to point out that the Christian tradition of washing and kissing of feet actually began with a woman- and a very improper woman, at that. In the Gospel of Luke, it is written in Chapter 7 that:
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them
The Pharisee, puffed up with indignation, objects . How could he let such a woman-presumably a prositute- touch him? He must not be a real prophet. Jesus uses this as an opportunity to offer a parable about love and forgiveness- ending with the famous lines,
“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little"
Jesus reduced all codes of ethics and Jewish law to two simple precepts: love God, love each other. The very word Credo, from which we get the word Creed, is most fully translated not " I believe" or " I think", but "I give my heart to". What what so radical in his ministry is that Jesus gave his heart without discrimination, without consideration for propriety- to the poor, the marginalized, the unwanted, the stranger, the Samaritans, the woman at the well, to the penitent sinner. It is clear from his actions that Pope Francis was giving his heart - and his attention- to the least amongst us.
Pope Francis offered each of the inmates an Easter egg at the conclusion of mass as a symbol of hope.
In his observance of the true spirit of Maundy Thursday- the root of which is the mandate to love one another- he offered the world a symbol of hope as well.