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Religious Subjects > Martha


St Martha 1


St Martha is mentioned in the Gospels of SS Luke and John as the sister of Mary (probably Mary Magdalene) and Lazarus.  She invited Christ to their house when Lazarus had died and after her brother’s resurrection Christ continued to visit them.  One day when preparing a meal for them all Martha complained to Christ that her sister did nothing to help her in the house, preferring to sit at his feet listening.  Christ remarked that the contemplative life that Mary had chosen was more difficult than the busy, active life that Martha led.  The two saints are often paired in art to illustrate the contrast between the contemplative and the active life.

Martha’s cult began in the Middle Ages.  According to medieval legend Martha and her brother and sister left Judea after Christ’s death and went to Provence.  At the time the inhabitants of Tarascon were in terror of a dragon roaming in a nearby forest.  Martha found the dragon, sprinkled it with holy water from an aspergillum which put out its fiery breath, put a sash round its neck and led it to Arles where it was killed.

This figure illustrates the Tarascon part of the legend.  The well-behaved dragon is wearing a collar and the aspergillum is in Martha’s right hand.





St Martha  2


St Martha is the patron saint of housewives, waiters and waitresses since she was a busy, active housekeeper for her brother and sister.  In this early 16th-century French oak panel she is shown with a broom.