Blazoning Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene is a significant figure in the Christian world, largely due to her unique relationship with Christ. As a woman and a reformed prostitute, the Magdalene is an unlikely friend to the son of God. However, despite her low social status and sinful past, Mary is featured in all four Gospels and is present at several crucial moments in Christ’s life and death: she anoints his feet as a sign of humbleness, witnesses his crucifixion and is the first to see his resurrection, after which she leaves society to lead a contemplative life in the desert. As patron saint of repentant sinners and the contemplative life, Mary Magdalene was an aspirational figure in late medieval piety, and the subject of many religious paintings and statues. There were Magdalene cults in Europe from as early as the sixth century, with interest at its peak in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries (Jansen, 18-48). Consequently, accounts of Mary’s life took on an almost mythical quality, with apocryphal texts such as Jacobus de Voraigne’s influential The Golden Legend drawing together the stories of several biblical women. This is evident in the Digby manuscript Magdalene play written around 1490-1530, which conflates Mary as the apostle of the Apostles, with Mary sister of Martha and the woman who has devils exorcised from her by Christ. As well as using scriptural references, the Digby Magdalene also draws heavily on Jacobus to create a narrative of the Magdalene’s entire life.
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