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Mary Magdalene


She was a prostitute in the 1st century who went to Christ to ask forgiveness of her sins at the house of Simon where Christ drove seven devils out of her.  She washed his feet with her tears, dried them on her long, flowing hair and anointed them with precious ointment.  She stood at the foot of the cross at his crucifixion and went to his tomb to anoint his body where the risen Christ appeared to her before anyone else.  In all probability these events happened to several different people but in the Western Church and thus Western art the figures were conflated and regarded as one person, Mary Magdalene.

In France the Magdalene's legend became fused with that of Mary of Egypt, also a reformed prostitute.  The Magdalene supposedly lived for years in a cave in Sainte Baume, Provence and died nearby at Saint Maximin where her relics, discovered in the 13th century, are still on display.

She sometimes appears in art as Profane Love, wearing a beautiful dress with jewellery.  More often she appears as a penitent naked beneath her cloak, with her long hair hanging down partially covering her body.  She may be praying before a crucifix, a skull nearby, reading or meditating and often has a jar of ointment at her side.  The setting can be the mouth of the cave in Sainte Baume.

She is the patron saint of gardeners (for the garden where she met the risen Christ), of perfume makers (for the ointment with which she anointed Christ's feet) and of repentant sinners.