I was thrilled to learn this summer that the feastday of Mary Magdalene was more like a feastweek in France during the Middle Ages. For five days, pilgrims would sing, dance, light candles, process up the mountain of La Baume and hold special parades and meals in celebration of my favorite saint. In honor of that Provencal tradition of abundance , I will be offering up a collection of little amuse bouches for the next twenty-two days: tales of paintings, songs, legends and lore related to Mary Magdalene.
This painting is one of my favorites, perhaps because it reminds me the most of my cherished daughter, Anissa. The gentleness of Mary's gaze and her dreamy far off look bring a rush of serenity to my own heart when I behold it ( try looking at it by candlelight, and the effect will be heightened considerably!)
It was painted by the great early Italian Renaissance master Fra Angelico as part of an altarpiece in Cortona, Italy in 1437. The great Dominican artist was a man of deep devotion: legend claims that he would fast for an entire day before beginning a work of this magnitude, and that he would place himself in an almost trance-like prayer before he began, chanting "Veni Sancte Spiritus" over and over as he applied the pigment to the wood, an act of supplication that he hoped would infuse his works with the Holy Spirit.
May the work of all our lives and hands be so saturated with grace and beauty!