Pieter van Lint – St. Mary Magdalene – 1634

Pieter van Lint – St. Mary Magdalene – 1634

Saint Mary Magdalene, sometimes called simply the Magdalene, was a Jewish woman who, according to the four canonical gospels, traveled with Jesus as one of his followers and was a witness to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. She is mentioned by name at least twelve times in the canonical gospels, more than most of the apostles. Mary’s epithet Magdalene most likely means that she came from the town of Magdala, a fishing town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The Gospel of Luke 8:2-3 lists Mary as one of the women who traveled with Jesus and helped support his ministry “out of their resources”, indicating that she was probably relatively wealthy. The same passage also states that seven demons had been driven out of her, a statement which is repeated in the longer ending of Mark. In all four canonical gospels, she is a witness to the crucifixion of Jesus and, in the Synoptic Gospels, she is also present at his burial. All four gospels identify her, either alone or as a member of a larger group of women, as the first witness to the empty tomb, and the first to testify to Jesus’s resurrection. For these reasons, she is known in many Christian traditions as the “apostle to the apostles”. Mary is a central figure in later apocryphal Gnostic Christian writings, including the Dialogue of the Savior, the Pistis Sophia, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Mary, none of which are considered historically reliable. These texts portray her as Jesus’s closest disciple and the only one who truly understood his teachings. In the Gnostic gospels, Mary Magdalene’s closeness to Jesus results in tension with the other disciples, particularly Simon Peter.

During the Middle Ages, Mary Magdalene was conflated in western tradition with Mary of Bethany and the unnamed “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus’s feet in Luke 7:36-50, resulting in a widespread but inaccurate belief that she was a repentant prostitute or promiscuous woman. Elaborate medieval legends from western Europe tell exaggerated tales of Mary Magdalene’s wealth and beauty, as well as her alleged journey to southern France. The identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the unnamed “sinful woman” was a major controversy in the years leading up to the Reformation and some Protestant leaders rejected it. During the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church used Mary Magdalene as a symbol of penance.

In 1969, the identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the “sinful woman” was removed from the General Roman Calendar, but the view of her as a former prostitute has persisted in popular culture. Mary Magdalene is considered to be a saint by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches—with a feast day of July 22. Other Protestant churches honor her as a heroine of the faith. The Eastern Orthodox churches also commemorate her on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers, the Orthodox equivalent of one of the Western Three Marys traditions. Speculations that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’s wife or that she had a sexual relationship with him are regarded by most historians as highly dubious.

Pieter van Lint or Peter van Lint (1609–1690) was a Flemish painter, draughtsman and designer of tapestries. He excelled in history paintings, genre scenes and portraits in the Flemish Baroque style with some Classisizing influence. He worked in Antwerp and Italy.