November 05, 2011

Symbols of Saint Mary Magdalene


St. Mary Magdalene 
 
While visiting my in-laws not long ago, we attended mass at a church with a nice statue of St. Mary Magdalene.  I asked my husband to take a photo of the statue and while waiting, a lady came up to me and asked if I knew why there was a skull at the foot of Mary.  I really wasn't sure.  With a little bit of research, here is what I have learned about the symbols of Mary Magdalene:

Cross:
Mary clinging to a cross symbolizes how she was present at Jesus' crucifixion.  The cross being plain might signify how she was the first to see the risen Christ (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-18). 

Skull:
There are a few possibilities for the skull ...
1) It might symbolizes her presence at Jesus' crucifixion at Golgotha which means "Place of the Skull" (Mark 15:22).
2) The skull may very well represent Mary Magdalene having lived a quiet, prayerful life after the death of Jesus.  Sts. Mary of Egypt, Jerome, and Bruno - other saints who lived ascetic lives - are also often portrayed with a skull nearby.
3)  It could also represent the often honored belief that the skull of St. Mary Magdalene can be found within the crypt of the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene in the town of St. Maximin, France.


Container of Ointment:
This vessel of ointment could represent a few things too ...
1) For many years Mary Magdalene was considered by many to be the same as Mary of Bethany (Martha's sister).  While it is still possible, most Biblical historians now consider them to be two separate women.  So, the jar of ointment could stand for the possibility that it was Mary Magdalene who anointed Jesus' feet in John 12:3.
2) The jar of ointment could also represent how Mary Magdalene was one of the Ointment-Bearing Women who went to the tomb of Jesus on the first Easter morning hoping to anoint his dead body (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1).

Long Curly Hair and Red Cloak:
These probably represent an old (an unsubstantiated) belief that Mary Magdalene was a courtesan/prostitute.  More respectable women of the era would have had their heads covered.  The red cloak might represent her love for Jesus, but it could also signify her purported sinful past.  Luke 8:1 lets us know that Mary Magdalene had been possessed by seven demons, but no verses in Scripture assert that she was a prostitute.



Feast of St. Mary Magdalene: July 22

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