Mary Magdalene

July 22 is the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, one of the most known women from the Gospels. The epithet of "Magdalene" is derived from the town of Magdala, on the Sea of Galilee, where she was probably from.

Magdalene is, actually, also one of the most erroneously identified figures in Christianity. Her character was often overlapped with that of Mary of Bethany (sister of Lazarus) in both "official" accounts; Pope Gregory the Great, for one, once gave a homily in which he identified Magdalene with both Mary of Bethany and the nameless sinful woman who once anointed Jesus's feet in the Gospel of Luke. Even today, many believe the saint initially started following Jesus after having led a life of sin as a prostitute; this, however, is never stated in the Bible - quite the contrary: Luke describes her as one of the female disciples who followed Jesus thanks to their own wealth, going as far as financially supporting his ministry.

The identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the "sinful woman" was officially rejected by Pope Paul VI during the 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar; the view of her as a former prostitute has however persisted in popular culture to this day.

"Mary Magdalene", illuminated initial M from a Roman Missal, ms. 5123, f. 320v, 1483, Bibliothèque Municipale, Lyon.

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