Mary-Magdalene: adventures in Provence and relics with a surprising smell

Mary-Magdalene's sarcophagusMary-Magdalene's sarcophagus | ©Rvalette / CC-BY-SA

Mary-Magdalene: you sinner!

Our story began with Mary-Magdalene... She was born in a castle in Galilee, she was a princess with royal blood, but she lived as a sinner with a pretty dissolute life!

Until she met Jesus and heard his sermons.

She led a riotous existence... She gave up everything and followed him. People even called her "Jesus’ wife"...

After Jesus' death, Magdalene met saints Sidoine, Maximin, Marthe and others. They crossed together the Mediterranean sea and arrived in Provence, in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

Magdalene decided to leave her friends and went alone.

Alone, under a leaden sun, walking in the stones and the dust, for days on end!

After a moment, she came across Sainte-Baume cave. A pretty damp cave, but... that would be fine: Magdalene wanted to repent! So the cave would be perfect.

She retired here for the rest of her life, spending 30 years alone, praying, eating roots and drinking rain water. Then she passed away.

Their friends raised her a small oratory to protect her grave. In this oratory pilgrims started to come in a body.

Few centuries later, monks from Saint-Victor abbey, led by saint Cassien, were sent here to keep an eye on the relics: they raised a staircase on the rock, leading to the cave.

This cave was later transformed into a chapel...

The basilica

Relics exchange

We were in the 5th century, pilgrims came more and more.

But the Saracens invaded the area! Chaos. Destruction.

They plundered everything. Fortunately, they never found the saint's grave!

Relics that smell like fennel!

And yet one fine day of 1279, future count of Provence Charles of Anjou rediscovered the sainte’s grave in Saint-Maximin!

The tradition says when he opened it, they found... a fennel plant growing on the sainte’s tongue!

And above her left eye, a piece of flesh, which was Magdalene’s forehead, touched by Jesus on the morning of his resurrection.

So, the count decided to raise a hugest basilica on the foundations of the Merovingian chapel.

Built by his architect Pierre, it’s the largest Gothic church in Provence, 74 metres long and 37 large!

The basilica’s visit

Don’t miss

• Bishop of Toulouse Louis d’Anjou’s cope, decorated with 30 medallions made of silk, representing Jesus Christ’s life.

• the choir’s panelling: about 100 stalls decorated with medallions representing Dominican saints, made by friar Vincent Funel in the 17th century.

• The nice wooden throne: banister was made of a single trunk, sculpted by brother Louis Gudet in 1756.

The crypt

We can see Magdalene’s relics, in a bronze reliquary (19th century). Inside, her skull!

The tradition says her grave was the third most important grave in the world, after Jesus' one in Jerusalem and Peter’s one in Rome!

Charles of Anjou put the skull in a golden reliquary, his arm in another one and her body in a silver one.

Charles I of Anjou, his father, sent a crown to put on her skull. Pope Boniface VIII brought back a jaw for Magdalene’s head from Italy (her lower jaw was missing): the two parts perfectly fit together!

Below that, there’s a phial with a piece of Magdalene’s forehead, the famous forehead touched by Jesus when he resurrected, saying noli me tangere, "don’t touch me".

In the cave too, we have a phial full of a red liquid... a liquid made of little pebbles and piece of earth tinted by Jesus blood, picked up by Magdalene after his death!

In the 19th century, on Good Friday, this dark blood turned into a ruby colour matter.