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Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Henryk Siemiradzki  (1886) (Public Domain)

Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ Tower of Wisdom

The ‘repentant prostitute’ or the ‘penitent whore’,  this view of Mary Magdalene was cemented in Western ecclesiastical tradition by Gregory the Great in his sermons in the sixth Century, conflating her, healed of seven devils in Mark 16: with the sinful woman in Luke 7; and Mary of Bethany in John 12. Far more significant than the damage that ensued to Mary’s own reputation was the use of this false narrative in patriarchal Christian dogma over hundreds of years to significantly diminish the place of women in Western society.

The Penitent Magdalene by Guido Reni (1635) Walters Art Museum (Public Domain)

The Penitent Magdalene by Guido Reni (1635) Walters Art Museum (Public Domain)

The Changing Narrative

Happily, this false narrative is being increasingly challenged by a growing public recognition, long overdue, of both Mary Magdalene’s significance in Jesus’ ministry and her inspirational qualities of independence, intellect, spiritual insight and leadership that speak strongly to the modern vision of women in contemporary Western society.  This revision of Mary’s place in Jesus’ ministry, which formally began in 1969 when Pope Gregory’s conflation was removed from the General Roman Calendar, initially went largely unnoticed by the public eye.  However, there is evidence of its growing recognition, exemplified for example in the 2018 movie Mary Magdalene which has followed Pope Francis’ 2016 elevation of her July 22 memorial to the rank of Feast (the same rank as that given to the celebration of the Apostles in the General Roman Calendar).

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