22 July: St. Mary Magdalene (and Proust, cookies, and St. Augustine)

Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene.

The 3rd c. writer Hippolytus in his Commentary on Song of Songs identifies Mary Magdalene with both Mary of Bethany the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42; John 1:10) and also the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50)

Mary Magdalene and/or Mary of Bethany are often identified as sinners. Pope Gregory I "the Great" called her a peccatrix, "sinner". Eventually she came to be called meretrix, "prostitute".

There is no way to arrive definitively at the identity of the figure of Mary Magdelene. It is possible that Mary Magdalene was none of these women. The Catholic Church has no position about this. Commonly, however, Catholics sometimes identify all three women as the same Mary.

There is also another version, namely that Mary Magdalene was the woman Jesus saved from stoning after being caught in adultery. Scholars believe Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, the woman Jesus rescued, and the woman who anointed His feet are all different women.

We know from Scripture that Mary Magdalene, Salome and Mary the mother of James came to Jesus’ tomb to anoint the body (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2). Mary Magdalene, the first witness of the empty tomb, went to tell Apostles (John 20:1-2). So, she is called "the apostle to the apostles". At first Mary did not recognise Jesus, but when He said her name, she saw who He was and tried to cling to him. Christ forbade her to touch Him (Noli me tangere John 20:17) saying "I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’"

What became of Mary Magdalene?

We don’t know for sure. Here is what the old Catholic Encyclopedia says, for what it is worth:

The Greek Church maintains that the saint retired to Ephesus with the Blessed Virgin and there died, that her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 and are there preserved. Gregory of Tours (De miraculis, I, xxx) supports the statement that she went to Ephesus. However, according to a French tradition (see SAINT LAZARUS OF BETHANY), Mary, Lazarus, and some companions came to Marseilles and converted the whole of Provence. Magdalen is said to have retired to a hill, La Sainte-Baume, near by, where she gave herself up to a life of penance for thirty years. When the time of her death arrived she was carried by angels to Aix and into the oratory of St. Maximinus, where she received the viaticum; her body was then laid in an oratory constructed by St. Maximinus at Villa Lata, afterwards called St. Maximin. History is silent about these relics till 745, when according to the chronicler Sigebert, they were removed to Vezelay through fear of the Saracens. No record is preserved of their return, but in 1279, when Charles II, King of Naples, erected a convent at La Sainte-Baume for the Dominicans, the shrine was found intact, with an inscription stating why they were hidden. In 1600 the relics were placed in a sarcophagus sent by Clement VIII, the head being placed in a separate vessel. In 1814 the church of La Sainte-Baume, wrecked during the Revolution, was restored, and in 1822 the grotto was consecrated afresh. The head of the saint now lies there, where it has lain so long, and where it has been the centre of so many pilgrimages.

And let us not forget the cookies called Madeleines of which Marcel Proust wrote so elegantly.

In Patricia Bunning Stevens’ work Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes , [Ohio University Press:Athens] 1998 (p. 178) we read:

"In culinary lore, Madeleines are always associated with Marcel Proust, whose autobiographical novel, Remembrance of Things Past, begins as his mother serves him tea and "those short, plump little cakes called petits Madeleines, which look as though they had been molded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell." The narrator dips a corner of a little cake into the tea and then is overwhelmed by memories; he realizes that the Madeleines bore "in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection." …But Madeleines had existed long before Proust’s boyhood. Numerous stories, none very convincing, attribute their invention to a host of different pastry cooks, each of whom supposedly named them for some particular young woman. Only three things are known for sure. One is that Madeleine is a French form of Magdalen (Mary Magdalen, a disciple of Jesus, is mentioned in all four gospels). Another is that Madeleines are always associated with the little French town of Commercy, whose bakers were said to have once, long ago, paid a "very large sum" for the recipe and sold the little cakes packed in oval boxes as a specialty in the area. Finally, it is known that nuns in eighteenth-century France frequently supported themselves and their schools by making and selling a particular sweet…Commercy once had a convent dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, and the nuns, probably when all the convents and monasteries of France were abolished during the French Revolution, sold their recipe to the bakers for an amount that grew larger with each telling."

Here are links for recipes: NB: This requires a special mold:

1 stick (1/4 lb.) unsalted butter
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 lemon
2/3 cup milk
2 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
butter (at room temperature) for the madeleine pan molds

Butter 2 madeleine molds (molds of 12) and put into the refrigerator. Butter them again in 15 minutes, making sure the butter coats the indentations on the top. Chill molds until ready to use.

Grate the zest from 1/2 of the lemon and reserve. Squeeze the lemon and reserve the juice. Whisk the flour and baking powder together. Melt the butter and set aside. Whisk the eggs, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice together for about 30 seconds. Don’t overmix.

Thin the mixture with 1/2 cup of the milk. Add the flour all at once and, using a whisk, blend just long enough to eliminate lumps. Gently stir in the rest of the milk and the melted butter.

Refrigerate the batter for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 425°. Spoon the batter into the shell-shaped molds and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the pans halfway through the cooking time so they bake evenly. Immediately remove the cookies from the molds and allow to cool on racks. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving (not when hot!).

It would be remiss not to include something tasty for the mouth of the soul as well, which is always ready to bite into something chewy and substantive from the Fathers. Here, for patristibloggers, is a piece from St. Augustine’s Tractate on the Gospel on John 131. There are nice bits here as, for example, recounting that Mary mistook the Risen Lord for a gardener and Augustine makes Him into the Gardener of her soul!

3. "Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; to my God, and your God." There are points in these words which we must examine with brevity indeed, but with somewhat more than ordinary attention. for Jesus was giving a lesson in faith to the woman, who had recognized Him as her Master, and called Him so in her reply; and this gardener was sowing in her heart, as in His own garden, the grain of mustard seed.

What then is meant by "Touch me not"? and just as if the reason of such a prohibition would be sought, He added, "for I am not yet ascended to my Father." What does this mean? if, while standing on earth, He is not to be touched, how could He be touched by men when sitting in heaven? for certainly, before He ascended, He presented Himself to the touch of the disciples, when He said, as testified by the evangelist Luke, "Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have;" or when He said to Thomas the disciple, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and put forth thy hand, and thrust it into my side." and who could be so absurd as to affirm that He was willing indeed to be touched by the disciples before He ascended to the Father, but refused it in the case of women till after His ascension?

But no one, even had any the will, was to be allowed to run into such folly, for we read that women also, after His resurrection and before His ascension to the Father, touched Jesus, among whom was Mary Magdalene herself; for it is related by Matthew that Jesus met them, and said, "All hail. And they approached, and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him." This was passed over by John, but declared as the truth by Matthew.

It remains, therefore, that some sacred mystery must lie concealed in these words; and whether we discover it or utterly fail to do so, yet we ought to be in no doubt as to its actual existence. Accordingly, either the words, "Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father," had this meaning, that by this woman the Church of the Gentiles was symbolized, which did not believe on Christ till He had actually ascended to the Father, or that in this way Christ wished Himself to be believed on; in other words, to be touched spiritually, that He and the Father are one. for He has in a manner ascended to the Father, to the inward perception of him who has made such progress in the knowledge of Christ that he acknowledges Him as equal with the Father: in any other way He is not rightly touched, that is to say, in any other way He is not rightly believed on. But Mary might have still so believed as to account Him unequal with the Father, and this certainly is forbidden her by the words, "Touch me not;" that is, Believe not thus on me according to thy present notions; let not your thoughts stretch outwards to what I have been made in thy behalf, without passing beyond to that whereby thou hast thyself been made. for how could it be otherwise than carnally that she still believed on Him whom she was weeping over as a man? "For I am not yet ascended," He says, "to my Father:" there shalt thou touch me, when thou believest me to be God, in no wise unequal with the Father. "But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father." He saith not, Our Father: in one sense, therefore, is He mine, in another sense, yours; by nature mine, by grace yours. "and my God, and your God." Nor did He say here, Our God: here, therefore, also is He in one sense mine, in another sense yours: my God; under whom I also am as man; your God, between whom and you I am mediator.

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27 Responses to 22 July: St. Mary Magdalene (and Proust, cookies, and St. Augustine)

  1. Random Friar says:

    First a post on Loome’s, then a recipe for Madeleines?!

    O Father! Is it your mission to lead this Dominican into temptation? Vade retro me!

    That said, yes, we Dominicans go way back with St. Mary Magdelene. She is also a patroness of our Order, proclaiming the Good News as we are so charged.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    I love Madeleines and found some good ones in England. We always thought they were named after Mary Magdalen. Again, thank you for the profound and thought-provoking meditation.

  3. Agnes says:

    St. Mary Magdalene is also the patroness of catechists – “Go, and tell my brethren…” Like Magdalene, we catechists are known to be loud-mouthed in regards to spreading the Word. We are also known to spend time listening to the Word, taking “the better part” before going on our Wednesday night rampage.

    I thought that was an interesting reflection on “Touch me not.” (Touch Me not, until you understand the Man you weep over is, in fact, God.) And St. Thomas, who sees and touches as well, exclaims, “My Lord and My God!” We get it. We finally get it. And we not only touch but consume God Himself in Holy Communion.


  4. C. says:

    I love the Latin Tradition of St. Mary Magdalene as peccatrix and meretrix, which IMO makes the Gospel more appealing. (The EF liturgy for this feast where solemnly kept has Luke 7:36-50 for the Gospel, and alludes to the same in the Vespers Hymn and Mag. Ant.)

    No one else so close to Christ on earth provides such a model for penitence and penitents. Her friendship with our Lord gives such great hope to great sinners.

    I had a start today when I realized why Father was wearing white vestments. “For her?” the thought popped (unwillingly, I hope) into my head. And then I realized that this sums up the miracle of the Magdalen’s life perfectly. It might have been socially provocative for her to ever have worn a white bridal gown in her hometown until the day she died, but the whole world will wear white in her honor now, because our Lord purified her of her sins and she conquered her sinful tendencies through penance and contemplation.

    Apostola Apostolorum, ora pro nobis!

  5. Widukind says:

    I agree with the statement by “C”.
    It makes much more spiritual sense to identify Mary
    Magdelene as a sinner. To divide her up into several
    different person is schizophrentic. But, I ca

  6. Widukind says:

    oops, here is the rest…
    I can hear it now, “the woman who is the
    first to see Jesus after the rersurrection
    can in no way be a sinner, let alone a public one!
    It is beneath her dignity to be such.”
    (Somehow the feminists want a woman without trouble –
    the apostle to the apostles can never be a sinner,
    although the apostles sure were.)
    I say no, because this puts doubt on the
    efficaciousness of Jesus’ power to forgive.
    Why not have a great sinner be the first
    to see Him? Her sins are gone, her guilt
    is nada, praise be the Lord who by His death
    and resurrection has saved her! She is indeed
    then a great witness to the resurrection, not only
    seeing Him, but also experiencing first hand
    the power of what the resurrection signifies.
    How else could one account for Mary Magdalene’s
    great love for the Lord? Hers is a love formed
    out of gratitude, not lust or fear.
    To leave Mary Magdalene as just another women,
    who just happened to be in the garden at the
    right time, leaves her very flat with a useless
    personality. In other words, she ain’t got meat
    on her bones. I am for Mary M, as the big sinner,
    all the way. Give the Lord the least desirable
    person and He WILL make a great saint of her!

  7. Prof. Basto says:


    Absolutely agreed.

    In the words of the Church’s Liturgy (Dies irae):

    Qui Mariam absolvisti
    Et latronem exaudisti
    Mihi quoque spem dedisti

    The Church’s traditional and centuries old identification of St. Mary Magdalen, a sinner, a former prostitute or adulterous woman (who then becomes one of the followers of the Lord), with the first witness of the Ressurection, the “Apostle to the Apostles”, is greatly edifying.

    It showcases in an spectacular God’s power of forgiveness, that cleanses and makes whiter than snow even the most fithty sinner, if he or she trully repents and converts.

    Mary Magdalen’s conversion to the Lord was such that, in spite of her former sins, she merited the compagnionship of the Lord and of the blessed Virgin Mary, and was permitted to be the first witness of the Ressurection and the Apostle to the Apostles. The Lord, after all, came to this world to rescue sinners.

    Were those women one and the same: we cannot know for sure. But the Church’s traditional understanding, expressed by Pope Gregory the Great, a Doctor of the Church, by liturgical passages such as the above one, is to the effect that they were indeed the same person.

    And the identification of those women as one and the same carries with it a great lesson: that is why the modern attempts at claiming that they were different people (as if science was able to reach a conclusion on that) make no sense in my view.

    That is why I find the attempt

  8. Gail F says:

    I love that the whole tradition about MM being a prostitute and/or “great sinner” is just that — a (little t) tradition. You can take it or leave it, you can even accept all the symbolic part and not accept the literal part. You can wax poetic about what words “Touch me not” mean, like St. Augustine did, or dye red eggs in her honor, like the Greek Orthodox do. Who she was and what she represents are both the same and different. But this is not at all like saying that there is a difference between the “Jesus of history” and the “Jesus of faith,” because she is not a pivotal part of anything, she is just an intriguing person whom we know (at least we know this much for certain) is a saint. And that is in itself a lot to know.

  9. PAT says:

    I read somewhere once, and cannot now remember where, that there is also a tradition in the Church that the reason why Mary the mother of Jesus did not go to the tomb with the other women that morning was that after His resurrection, He had gone first to His mother. She already knew that He was not to be found there, and so did not go with the others to anoint the body.

  10. dans0622 says:

    C, Widukind, Prof. Basto,

    I also concur. One thing is for certain, the Lord drove seven demons out of St. Mary Magdalene. I have never understood the strident opposition to saying the sinful woman/woman caught in adultery/etc. is Mary Magdalene. The point of the story of the sinful woman at Simon the pharisee’s house is that those who are forgiven much, love much. St. Mary Magdalene certainly loved the Lord very much because her sins, which were no match for the Mercy of God, were forgiven.


  11. DisturbedMary says:

    I always think of Mary Magdalene as Italian. Like my aunt Marion who wanted to throw herself into my uncles (her husband’s) grave at the burial.

    Cling is a big word.

  12. teomatteo says:

    I wish that someone would make a film that portrays St. Mary Magdalene as an old haggard woman. Why is she always portrayed as young and attractive? I’m just think’en she may have been the age of the blessed Mother or older if she had seven demons accumulated.

  13. dans0622 says:


    Like this, by Donatello?


    This was one of the most memorable things I saw while in Italy.


  14. Rob F. says:

    There is a recently composed hymn to the Magdalena call “Magdalae Sidus,” which the church has included in its liturgy for her memorial. The name means “Star of Magdala”, and I have always wondered about that title. Does anyone know its origin?

  15. teomatteo says:

    dans0622, yes… was that at the Vatican?

  16. AJP says:


    That sculpture is located in Florence at the Museum of the Duomo (right behind the domed end of the great cathedral of Florence). It is amazing isn’t it! It’s Donatello’s only work done in wood.

  17. Re: “Magdalae sidus”

    I don’t know that hymn specifically, but there are tons of medieval hymns about St. Mary Magdalene. Tons. Every volume of Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi has at least one, and usually two or three or four. If there’s a flower that woman hasn’t been compared to, it was one unknown to the medieval European world.

    “Sidere” and “stella” are very common terms to find in saint hymns, because Scripture tells us in Daniel 12:3, “But they that are learned shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that instruct many to justice, as stars for all eternity.” Also, Jesus says in Matthew 13:43 that “Then shall the just shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

  18. Oh, and John 11:2 says Mary of Bethany’s the chick who anointed Jesus’ feet; so either Mary of B was copying off the nameless woman, or she’s the same woman. It’s a lot easier to assume that she was the same person, and that John didn’t need to be shy about names and reputations anymore, because he’d outlived all the other original apostles and disciples.

  19. Er… I meant “sidus”, not “sidere”. Sorry about that.

  20. Did anyone mention Kate Jansen’s marvelous _The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages_, which actually traces ideas and presentations of her from N.T. to the Reformation?

    Very fine book: http://www.amazon.com/Making-Magdalen-Preaching-Popular-Devotion/dp/0691089876

  21. robtbrown says:

    Did anyone mention Kate Jansen’s marvelous The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages, which actually traces ideas and presentations of her from N.T. to the Reformation?
    Comment by Fr. Augustine Thompson O.P.

    Quondam a ballet dancer, who was studying, if memory serves, at Princeton. I knew her a bit from Foster’s Latin in Rome. More importantly, she told me that she knew Gelsey Kirkland.

  22. Desertfalcon says:

    St. Mary Magdalene is the patroness of the old stone church I was baptised in as a teen and she will always be special to me. Thanks Father.

  23. That’s her, Bob. I have known her for years since meeting at K’zoo when I was writing on preaching.

    She tore a tendon and so started a second career as a medievalist, doing a PhD at Princeton with Bill Jordan and my teacher Peter Brown. Now tenured at Catholic U.

    If she was a good a dancer as a historian, she must have been quite something. Making of the Magdalen is a superb piece of scholarship. It is the last word on the cult and legend of the saint.

  24. C. says:

    Here is a brilliant defense of the Traditional Latin devotion to St. Mary Magdalene, using only Sacred Scripture and reason to defend the Gregorian Tradition.

  25. magdalena says:

    I’ve always thought that it would be a little strange for the sister of Martha and Lazarus to be such a publicly sinful woman to have been almost stoned to death. This is just my personal opinion on the matter, but I like to think that Mary of Bethany was the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet and Mary Magdalene had the seven demons cast out of her, was rescued from being stoned, was at the foot of the Cross, and was at the tomb on Easter morning. That’s how I think of my patroness.
    On a side note, my favorite books when I was little were the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans. One of the best birthday presents I ever received was the complete collection of Madeline stories, all in one nice big book. I remember my dad telling me that Madeline was Magdalena in French, and I was so excited that someone else had my name too!

  26. C. says:

    Here is the Orthodox Church in America‘s biography of St. Mary Magadelene, Myrrh-bearer and Equal to the Apostles.

    Tradition informs us that Mary of Magdala was young and pretty, and led a sinful life….Her holy relics were transferred in the ninth century to Constantinople, and placed in the monastery Church of St Lazarus.

  27. PostCatholic says:

    A priest friend of mine works at the parish La Madeleine in Paris.

    And the tea cake is a holiday favorite to make with my nieces–mostly they like the dipping in chocolate part. My recipe calls for vanilla instead of lemon; I’ll have to try it your way.