Translation to English (2006) of the Life of Mary Magdalene by Henri Lacordaire, OP (1859)
Of St.Mary Magdalene at Sainte-Baume and at St.Maximin
The persecution of Christianity began with persecution of Jesus Christ.It did not delay in spreading from around his tomb.St.Stephen was, after his Master, the second martyr, and soon he who would become St.Paul carried the persecution right up to the walls of Damascus, until he himself became an illustrious victim.Blood calls for blood, and one does not stop along this route until one is shifted from it by the flood that always gushes up and that finally reaches the thighs of those who have formed it.Christianity received its baptism in the same waters as its founder, and its first disciples, dispersed by the cross from which they were born, carried a long distance the word that was to enlighten the world and the blood that was to purify it.It was the second emigration of the human species.The first had formed peoples, the second was going to form the Church.Whoever had witnessed these unknown men go out of Jerusalem by all its gates and take the way of all the winds, would doubtless have taken them for common travelers.God alone knew the secret of the wind that blew them, and the difference between this departure and that from Babel.
A ship amongst others sailed away from the beautiful shores that extend from Mount Carmel to the mouth of the Nile.It carried in its narrow confines the family of Bethany, and several families who had joined themselves to the benediction emanating from it.The hand that directed all the apostles conducted them too, and under its invisible impulse, hidden by that of the waves, they alighted at a town that was from thenceforth one of the portals of Europe.Marseilles saw them enter without knowing the treasure that was landing with them.Whoever had named to it Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, Martha would have said nothing to its ear, even less to its heart.Glory was not born for Christianity; it came as an unknown, and those very same people who would erect scaffolding to prepare triumphs for it, as yet knew neither its name nor its works.Its power was hidden in its humility, and the Earth went past the Heavens without even suspecting it.
Solitary places, underground crypts witnessed the august mysteries of the Redemption of Man celebrated in the shadows.A small flock formed itself of the blood transported from the Cross by those who had seen it flow.Sailors, perhaps, artisans, poor women made up this church, born around the resurrected Bethany.Time ripened the seed and brought it to fruition; Marseilles was finally moved by the rumours of the new doctrine, and the blood of Lazarus gave it its first saint, its first martyr, and its first page in the book of life wherein it still writes each day.
What was the part of Mary Magdalene in the apostolate of her brother, one does not know.There only remains of her, in Marseilles, a memory, that of an altar that bears her name in the caves of the abbey of St.Victor, a venerable and significant memory, since these caves are the most ancient monument of the Christian faith at Marseilles, and like its catacombs.
It is at Aix that the traces of St.Mary Magdalene begin to grow more important; there could still be seen, in the first years of this century, an oratory venerated for being the one where she prayed with St.Maximin, the privileged companion of her pilgrimage.It bore the name of Saint-Sauveur, and rose upon the lateral nave of the metropolitan church, even though it broke the lines of the architecture, so powerful was the tradition that looked upon it as the cradle of Christianity in the capital of Provence.But Aix, no more than Marseilles, was the predestined spot where Jesus Christ was to await his old and faithful friend to enable her to enjoy this role that she had preferred, and which none might take away from her, as he had solemnly promised.This role was contemplation in solitude.
This solitude existed.God, who has created everything with a view to the future, and who has not designed a riverscape, erected a mountain, watered a valley or dug a sea without knowing for what people and which souls he was working, God, in the Creation, had thought of Mary Magdalene, and had made for her, deliberately, in a corner of the Earth, a sanctuary.I have described it from the first page of this book.I have named before all the Saint-Baume, as the centre where I call Christian hearts to rest themselves from the world and to venerate a great mystery of God’s love.A grace drew Mary Magdalene there, the same grace that had chosen her, a sinner, led her to the foot of the Cross, and rendered her, at the gates of death, the first witness of the resurrection of the Son of God.She came there as she had gone to Christ, by the same light and the same movement.Thus were the deep retreats of the Thebaid peopled; thus St.Anthony discovered, between the Nile and the Red Sea, the mountain of Kolsim, from which he reigned over the deserts and over generations of cenobites; thus, from century to century, the saints touched with their feet unknown lands, blessed them, rendered them fertile with divine sweat, and sowed there that glory that survives everything else because it is not the daughter of Time.Mary Magdalene was of the race of all these founders, and nearer than them to the trunk from which they all emerged; she carried up to the sacred heights of the Sainte-Baume a virtue that had no equal, so to leave there a memory that has no tomb.
The holy places are to the world what the stars are to the firmament, a source of light, of warmth and life, and, when one asks oneself why God has consecrated such a mountain or such a valley, one might as well ask why he has thrown to the summit of the sky the still star that guides our sons and brothers on the waves of the ocean.Ah!Would to God they were more frequent, these places where love has dwelt!Would to God that our heart found more often on this cold earth cinders wherein to warm it!But it is of that which is holy, as of that which is great, and if Grace is economical like nature, let us know at least how to recognize her words and repudiate not her miracles!
St.Paul says, “I know a man in Christ, not fourteen years ago, was it in his body, was it out of his body, I do not know, God knows, who has been lifted up to the third Heaven; and I know a man, was it in his body or out of his body, I do not know, God knows, who has been lifted right up to Paradise, and who has heard secret words that it is not permitted man to hear.”[2nd letter to Corinthians, Ch.XII, vss.2,3,4.] What St.Paul was unable to say, nobody will say; but his very powerlessness shows us enough; it gives us the force to follow Mary Magdalene in her solitude, and to assist there without surprise at the marvels of what she contemplated.There, separated from the men who had crucified her Saviour and the Saviour of the world, she had only one thought, that of seeing again the divine friend whom she had lost.For neither distance nor death breaks true love; it digs the deeper into the soul the more it is deprived of an outlet.And if one has witnessed certain lives wither over the tomb of a son or of a wife, what would be the case for Mary Magdalene, who had held the feet of the Son of God, and who had loved him beyond all natural friendship and every unction of Grace? Therefore I am not astonished when tradition tells me that each day, and seven times a day, she was taken up from her grotto to the top of the rock that covered it, to hear there what St.Paul declares he had heard without being able to express it.
Holy ravishment!The man who is a stranger to God and to his Christ does not understand you.Attached to the earth by all the weight of sin, he does not know what God has of empire over a holy soul and what a holy soul has of control over its body.He believes in the attraction of worlds, but he does not believe in the attraction of God.Leave to him this science that flatters his pride, and for us, simple sons of the Gospel, who have seen our God die for love and return to the heavens through the same love, let us know that there is our road, our hope, our eternal future, and give thanks to God who has given us in his saints, even here below, examples of the ecstasy into which we are thrown by the vision of Him.
The Saint-Baume was the Tabor of St.Mary Magdalene.More fortunate than St.Peter, who said to our Lord the day of His Transfiguration:“It is good for us to be here, let us make three tents,” Magdalene received this tent that was refused to the Prince of the Apostles.She lived there in solitude, between the penances of the grotto and ecstasies on high.Nothing has changed there, any more than at Tabor.The faith, respectful adorer of all memories of greatness, still inhabits the two mountains, and from their immaculate peaks, she looks on high, upon the God who visited them.
For thirty years God gave this spectacle to his angels so as to leave a memory for the rest of time.For thirty years Mary Magdalene went from a state of penance to one of glory and from one of glory to one of penance, and reunited in those alternating states the double life that she had led, that of the sinner and that of the friend of Jesus.In the depths of her grotto, behind a venerated grille, there rises up a rock where, tradition reports, she used to pray, and which alone, in this spot humid throughout, preserves a pious and incorrupt dryness.Outside, on the sheer side of the mountain and at its highest point, but slightly to the left of the grotto, is the point marked by tradition as that where Magdalene was lifted up each day.A chapel called St.-Pilon consecrates the site and attracts to it the veneration of pilgrims.
There came, however, the hour when St.Magdalene must pass from this terrestrial and intermittent ecstasy to the unchanging ecstasy of eternity.She knew it, and for the last time, before dying, she wanted to receive in the form of the Eucharistic Bread the Body and the Blood of her Saviour.When one leaves the parapet of the terrace that is in front of the Sainte-Baume, behind one is a mountain that runs from west to east on a line parallel to the Mediterranean.Opposite extends another chain, not as high and of a less-steep aspect, that seems to come from Marseilles, and which, near to the Sainte-Baume, terminates abruptly in a rapid slope:this is Mount Aurelien.Beyond, and as if on the rear-guard of the horizon, rises up the wild and difficult outcrop of Sainte-Victoire, the famous mountain at the foot of which Marius defied the Cimbians and the Teutons.This triple rampart leaves no passage to the eye, unless it be towards the East.There opens up a vast and deep plain, ending in the Alps, but which, near to the spectator, has for peristyle another narrow and circular plain formed by hills that descend from Mount Aurelien, from Sainte-Baume and from Sainte-Victoire.This is the plain of St.Maximin, placed by a singular contrast between the two most dissimilar historical facts in the world, between the name of Mary Magdalene and the name of Marius.St.Maximin built an oratory there, driven by the same impulse that led Mary Magdalene to the Sainte-Baume.Both of them, one in the mountain, the other in the plain, could see the retreat where God had brought them close together without distracting them.
When, therefore, the dweller of the heights felt the time of her call approaching, she was, according to tradition, carried by angels to the edge of the Aurelian Way, at the point where this Way cuts the route that still leads from Saint-Baume to St.Maximin.The famous pillar, the Saint-Pilon, reminds the traveler of this memorable event in the passage of the saint to the next world.One sees her there on the summit sustained by the angels who seem to transfer her from one spot to another.Several steps away rises up the humble oratory of St.Maximin, near the town called Teguleta in the itinerary of Antoine.The bishop awaited there the friend of his Master; he received her, gave her the Communion of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ; overtaken by the sleep of death, she slept in peace.S.Maximin laid her body in an alabaster tomb, and prepared his own burial opposite the monument where he had buried the relics that would call down onto this unknown corner of the world an immortal fame.
Such is the belief of people through the ages and the belief of the Church; such the tradition, the history, the language of the places and the periods in time, and never did more glory give authority to the miracles of God in one soul.We are going to see in effect at this tomb a series of events which, by themselves alone, would be a demonstration that there is there, under the stone, an admirable object of the Providence and predilection of God.
Every sacred place should have a guard that preserves it from profanation and oblivion.But during the first days of the Church, when persecution raged against it from all sides, it was much that it had crypts, catacombs and sepulchres.There, below ground, the Church concealed the blood of its martyrs, and an obscure piety alone watched over this mysterious deposit.Several paintings badly traced out, several words badly written sustained in these solitudes the vigilant memory of the faithful, and while the Caesars surrounded their crimes with an exuberant immortality, the Christians, buried beneath their palaces, raised to unknown virtues the humble bronze of a tranquil memory.But came at last the century where the shadows of Christ were scattered.Having emerged victorious from this other tomb, He appeared with his saints to a world astonished to see him.The crypts opened, the catacombs were lit up, the tombs became temples, and a guard, more certain than that which watched over the entrance to the Capitol or the Palatine, placed herself in front of these new glories to attest their origin and to perpetuate their antiquity. Thus it was for the rock of Sainte-Baume and the grave of St.Magdalene.From the fourth century, a breath of the Orient conveyed to the Gauls the renown and the rules of the solitaries of the Thebaid.St.Martin at Tours, St.Honorat in the isles of Lérons, the priest Cassian at Marseilles were the first promoters of the cenobitic life amongst us.Cassian, the last of the three, visited the monasteries of Egypt, and retraced in his celebrated writings their institutions and their customs.On his return to Marseilles, his own country, he founded there the abbey of St.Victor, on the very crypt where St.Lazarus had his tomb.But, in love with solitude where he had seen so many grand spectacles, he sought out without delay a shelter where he could occasionally flee the din of wars and of mankind.The Sainte-Baume would naturally touch his heart, and doubtless nothing could better recall what he had admired beside the Nile.He came there, then, with several of his followers, and placed there a guard that, for a thousand years, from the fourth to the thirteenth century, was faithful to the memory and the relics that Providence had confided to him.Established at the same time at the Sainte-Baume and at St.Maximin, at the place of the ecstasy and of the burial, the Cassianite monks proved themselves worthy of the choice that had been made of them for a double measure of divine grace.
One can still see today, a little below Sainte-Baume towards the East, a hermitage called the hermitage of Cassian, and close to it, a fountain of living water also called the fountain of Cassian.The mountain that dominates this savage retreat bears the same name.The shepherds who wander with their flocks on the escarpments round about have no other method of designating the mountain, the hermitage or the fountain.They do not know who Cassian is, but they repeat his name to the traveler, and the echo faithful to tradition repeats it after them, without knowing any more than they do.
At the beginning of the eighth century, the Saracens hurled themselves upon Provence, and strewed there in intervals a devastation that lasted for 300 years.The Cassianites, fearful for the relics of St.Magdalene, made the crypt that contained them disappear beneath a pile of sand and earth, and thus prepared, without intending it, a future and magnificent revelation of the Saint.Not content with having concealed it from sight and filled the burial ground, they went so far as to disturb the internal arrangements.The body of St.Magdalene was placed at the bottom of the crypt, to the left, in an alabaster tomb, and that of St.Maximin, on the right, facing the other.Then, a third and a fourth tomb were added to the original monuments.Sidoine, bishop of Aix, had wished to be buried in the crypt beside the founder of his church, and he had been deposited to the right, on entering.Opposite, and consequently to the left, on the same side as St.Magdalene, another marble received the relics that were called the holy innocents, either because they had been conveyed from Palestine, or because they were simply the bodies of children who died in infancy with the grace of baptism.Moreover the Cassianites, the better to conceal from discovery the so-precious deposit entrusted to them, conveyed it from the famous alabaster where it rested into the tomb of St.Sidoine, emptied beforehand of the remains of this bishop, and placed there two inscriptions that should bear witness one day to the truth of the body of St.Magdalene.
This day was not near.Nearly six centuries rolled over these acts of fearful piety.The ravages of the Saracens went on beyond everything that had been predicted, and, when they finally came to an end, the memory of the spot where lay the remains of the Saint had been obliterated.It was known that her remains were under the paving stones of the basilica, and they were venerated there; but no authority, no hand was lifted to draw her from the shadows that time had accumulated.God allowed this so as to render more striking her reappearance, and also to give, while waiting, to the veneration of the friend of his Son, a splendour that would fill France, Europe and Asia.
It was the eve of the Crusades.At that time, a rumor had spread little by little around the abbey of Vézelay, in Burgundy.This abbey, founded in the ninth century by Gerard of Roussillon, Count and Governor of Provence, had for a long time been without renown.Towards the end of the eleventh century, either in all sincerity or else by manipulation, the rumour spread that the body of St.Magdalene, removed from St. Maximin by Gerard de Roussillon, was lying within the abbey walls under the high altar.This rumour having taken firm root, the bishop of Autun, under whose jurisdiction the abbey did not fall, it being under the immediate jurisdiction of the Holy See, but who was nevertheless the diocesan bishop, believed it his duty to forbid the pilgrimages that were beginning, because he did not share the conviction of the pilgrims.An appeal was made to the Holy See.The sovereign Pontiff, Pascal II, overrode the bishop’s ruling in a bull dated 1203 that authorized the pilgrimage, and called on every class of the French people to go on it.It was a movement of which it is difficult to convey an idea.It seemed as if all France rushed to Vézelay, and this spot became so renowned in the public mind and amongst the pious, that Louis VII went there with St.Bernard in 1147, to preach the Second Crusade.A mass of lords and knights pledged themselves to the Cross under the impression made on them by the eloquence of the holy abbot of Clairvaux.From then on, the veneration of St.Magdalene was closely associated with the enthusiasm for the Crusades.Penitent sinners devoted to the deliverance of the Holy Sepulchre to atone for their faults, the Crusaders found naturally in Mary Magdalene, the converted sinner, a protectress of their arms, and they could not carry to His profaned sepulchre a name more worthy of it than the name and the memory of the woman who had loved Jesus Christ so much, and who had merited to see Him first, at the very entrance of His tomb, glorified by the Resurrection.Europe thus gave back to Asia this treasure it had received from her; Mary Magdalene returned to Bethany under the flags of the Christian faith, and her name, mingled with the acclamation of victory or with the martyrdom of defeat, reminded our knights of all the mysteries of which she had been the witness, and of which they had desired for themselves on their battlefields the mournful and the triumphant traces.
In 1190, Philip-Augustus and Richard Coeur de Lion arranged a rendezvous at Vézelay, to prepare there the third expedition to the Holy Land.The same sentiments produced there the same result.Later on, finally, when St.Louis was on the brink of setting out a second time for the Orient, in 1267, he came to Vézelay to end the era of the Crusades, and there to give to St.Magdalene an homage that was the last she would receive in a spot that was not her own.Because, despite the influx of pilgrims and the fame of the events that had occurred there, Time had not confirmed the error that had been the inspiration of them all.The protest of the bishop of Autun was still remembered, and people began to ask on what proof was based the belief that the body of St.Mary Magdalene had been conveyed from St. Maximin to Vézelay.One can find a remarkable indication of this disposition of minds in the journey that St.Louis, on return from his first Crusade in 1254, made to St.Maximin and to the Sainte-Baume, recounted as follows in his Life by the Sire de Joinville:“After these things, the King left for Hyères and went to the city of Aix-en-Provence for the honor of the blessed Magdalene, who lay a short day’s journey away, and was in the Baume, in a very high rock, there where it was said that St.Magdalene had lived as a hermit for a long space of time.”It is impossible that Sire de Joinville was unacquainted with the pretensions of the abbey of Vézelay, and yet, nevertheless, he says without hesitation that the body of St.Magdalene lay at a short journey’s distance from Aix.
The secret of God could not remain obscure for much longer.The mistake of Vézelay had exalted St.Magdalene and linked her memory to the greatest military and religious movement seen in the world.It had also given a solemn consecration to the certitude of her having come to Provence and of her burial at St. Maximin.There remained to reconnect in St. Maximin itself the chain of this glory, and to render finally to the pity and to the sight of the entire universe the undoubted relics of the illustrious penitent.For this there were required unsullied hands, a heart known to God and to man, sovereign authority, outstanding testimonials of the truth – and we will see in fact that Providence had thought of this from far back.
St.Louis had a nephew, born of his brother Charles of Aragon, King of Sicily and Count of Provence.This nephew, who was also called Charles, had for Mary Magdalene a tenderness that he inherited from his race, and which, though common to all of French chivalry, attained in him the highest degree of ardour and sincerity.While he was still only Prince of Salerno, God inspired in him the idea of finally penetrating the mystery that had covered for six centuries the burial of her whom he loved through his love of Jesus Christ.He went to St. Maximin without any pomp and ceremony, with several gentlemen of his suite, and, after interrogating the monks and old people, he had the trench in the old basilica of Cassian opened.On the 9th of December 1277, after efforts that had been unfruitful up to then, he removed his cloak, took a pick-axe, and dug up the earth with the workers.Soon they struck the stone of a tomb.It was that of St.Sidoine, to the right of the crypt.The prince ordered them to raise the entablature, and the perfume that wafted out of it alerted him instantly to the fact that God’s grace was near.He leaned forward a moment, made them close the sepulchre, sealed it with his seal, and summoned the bishops of Provence to assist at the ceremony of the recognition of the relics.
Nine days later, on the 18th of December, in the presence of the archbishops of Arles and of Aix, and many other prelates and gentlemen, the prince had the seals he had affixed to the sarcophagus broken.The sarcophagus was opened, and the hand of the prince, while brushing aside the dust that covered the bones, encountered an object that broke from age in his fingers.It was a piece of cork from which fell a leaf of parchment in barely legible handwriting.It contained the following:“In the year of the birth of our Saviour 710, the 6th day of the month of December, in the reign of Eudes, the very pious king of the French, in the time of the ravages of the perfidious nation of Saracens, the body of the very dear and venerated Mary-Magdalene has been very secretly and during the night transferred from its sepulchre of alabaster into this one, which is of marble, and from which the body of Sidoine has been removed, so that it will be better concealed and out of reach of the same perfidious nation.”
The King Eudes named in the inscription was Eudes of Aquitaine, who declared himself independent when Pepin the Short took possession of the Kingdom of Austrasie, and who ruled France in sovereign fashion from the South of France to the Loire.
A report of the inscription and of the manner in which it had been discovered was drawn up by the prince, the archbishops and the bishops present, and Charles, at the height of joy, having again sealed the tomb, summoned for the 5th of May of the following year an assembly of prelates, counts, barons, knights, magistrates, both from Provence and from neighboring states, to assist at the solemn translation of the relics that he had in a manner revived, or at the very least extracted from the obscurity of a long succession of centuries.Their fame advertised the miraculous circumstances attending them, and on the 12th May 1280, a considerable gathering of dignitaries and of people stood at the tomb of St.Mary Magdalene.It was the first time that glory took around her body royal proportion.Buried in alabaster, under a modest crypt, it had been, through the era of persecutions and that of barbarians, always venerated and always loved, but without any pomp answering to this veneration and to this love; and the very precaution taken to save it had ended up by digging in the memory of men a tomb deeper than that in which it rested.Now gold and precious stones will succeed to alabaster, a basilica of the first rank to the humble oratory of St.Maximin, a famous monastery to the cloister of the Cassianites; kings and pontiffs will come to this sepulchre in so great number that the footsteps of bishops and great lords will no longer be able to be counted, and, after the Sepulchre of our Lord and of his apostle Peter, there will not be in the world a tomb comparable to that of Mary Magdalene.
A third time then, in the presence of an illustrious and numerous assembly, the Prince of Salerno opened the monument that had been sealed, and its seals were recognized as being intact.The head of the Saint was whole, save for the lower jawbone, which was lacking; the tongue survived, dried up but still within the palate; the limbs showed to the eye only bones stripped of their covering of flesh, but a sweet perfume enveloped these remains exposed to the daylight and to the piety of souls.They were lifted from their couch of dust to be venerated more closely, and every look was glued to this forehead that had rested on the feet of our Lord, these empty cavities that had once been filled with the most beautiful tears that had ever fallen before God, this tongue that had spoken of Jesus Christ to Jesus Christ, these bones that had bent before him and had adored him, this entire dead being that Faith had revived and which she at the same time brought to life.An eternal glory had been promised to Mary Magdalene by an infallible mouth, and this glory, all the world saw it, felt it, breathed it in himself and in others.Thirteen centuries had passed over this body, and it was there; it was there without voice, without life, without a soul, and yet immortal.They went on looking after having looked their fill, and the unction of Christianity filled this scene, and entered into the actions and witnesses of an ineffable ascension towards God.
It was already known that a particular sign and one absolutely divine had been recognized on the forehead of Magdalene.It was a piece of moving and transparent flesh that was shining on the left temple, on the right consequently of the spectator, that had inspired in all at the same moment, by an act of unanimous faith, that it was there, there indeed, in this blessed spot, that the Saviour had touched Magdalene when he said to her after his Resurrection:“Noli me tangere – do not touch me.”There was no proof of it.But what could one believe in seeing in this place a touch of life so palpable, and which obstinately resisted thirteen centuries of burial? Chance has no sense for the Christian, and there where nature is clearly violated in her laws, the Christian goes back immediately to the final cause, to this Cause that never acts without reason and whose reasons are revealed to hearts that do not reject the light.Spoken language has passed on the impression of those who first saw this point of life remaining in the body of Mary Magdalene:it is still called today the Noli me tangere:sublime name, because it has been created by faith for someone worthy of it.Five centuries after this first translation, the Noli me tangere survived still in the same place, with the same character, and a deputation of the Cour des Comptes of Aix, consisting of the first president, of a general councilor, and of two councilors, made an authentic recognition of it.It did not detach itself until 1780, on the brink of a period that would not spare any memory and religious relic, and yet, at this very moment, the doctors, called upon as witnesses by the highest law court of the land, testified that the Noli me tangere had adhered to the forehead by the very force of a life that had been conserved there.
Charles divided the body of St.Magdalene into three parts:the head, which represented par excellence the heart of the Saint; a bone of the right arm with which she had poured the perfume onto the feet of our Saviour; finally, the limbs that did not correspond to any particular idea.Through his care, the first of these relics was enclosed in a gold bust, the face covered with a crystal mask and that in turn with a moveable gold mask.The father of the prince, Charles I of Anjou, sent from Naples his own crown, which was also of gold encased in precious stones, so that it might rest for ever on the saint’s head.The second relic, the bone of the right arm, was deposited in a reliquary of gilded silver, itself in the form of an arm borne on a pedestal that was sustained by four sculpted lions.The other parts of the body were conveyed into a silver reliquary.An ingenious piety thus graded the honours without dividing the glory.
One must not forget that, during the course of the translation, while they took the bones one by one, a second inscription had been discovered engraved on a wooden tablet wrapped in a ball of wax.It bore these simple words:“Here is the body of St.Mary Magdalene.”
The first step had been taken in the royal glorification of this very holy body.It had come out of the earth victorious over the centuries, with a certainty that defied all incredulity, and a pomp that testified to the progress of the faith and love in the hearts of men.A prince of the blood of St.Louis had dug the soil with his own hands to discover it, bishops had touched it with trepidation, a king had sent it his crown; gold, silver, precious stones worked artistically provided it henceforth with a couch and with ornamentation; a numerous crowd of people had greeted its re-appearance and from end to end of the Christian world the rumour of it had moved all the friends of Him whom she had loved.But it was necessary that Rome, which is the source of glory as it is of truth, consecrate by its approval this solemn triumph.Charles was thinking of this, when the misfortunes of his family and of his own relatives placed an obstacle in the way of his pious interest.A prisoner of Spain for six years, called to the throne by his father’s death while he was still a captive, for a long time he could only wait for a better day.Free at last, he went to Rome.It was Boniface VIII, a friend of his family, who occupied the apostolic seat.He presented to him the two autographic inscriptions found in the tomb of the Magdalene and attached to an act which attested its authenticity under the signature of a large number of prelates.He also opened in front of him the gold bust which enclosed the saint’s head, and the Sovereign Pontiff was able to see with his own eyes the extraordinary sign of life that death had left.As we have said, the lower jaw bone was missing from the relic.Boniface remarked on it, and, remembering that there was conserved at the church of St.John Lateran, under the name of St.Magdalene, a bone of this kind, he ordered it to be brought to him.The two relics brought together and placed side by side fitted to each other with an accuracy so perfect that there could not remain any doubt that they belonged to the same person and to the same head.
Moved by what he had seen, Boniface VIII issued, under the date of 6th April 1295, a bull in which he recognized as genuine the discovery of the body of St.Magdalene, and authorized Charles II, King of Sicily and Count of Provence, who had the merit of the discovery, to transfer the monastery of St.Maximin from the Order of the Cassianites to that of the Brother Preachers.This new order in the Church was making a great sensation, and Charles judged it capable of responding to the plan he had conceived of building at St.Maximin, on the same grounds as those of the ancient oratory, a basilica worthy of receiving and of keeping the treasure newly come to enrich Christianity.It was the last honour in the world still lacking to St.Magdalene, and the greatest of all, because it is the most splendid and the most popular.Eloquence and poetry are less subject to perishing than is a monument, but they only speak to the cultured in books that are always rare and only fall into the hands of the privileged.The monument addresses itself to the eyes and to the hearts of all – the poor man has his place as well as the rich; the simple man can admire it as much as the artist.Thus every great thought has sought expression in a great monument, and from the tower of Babel to the temple of Solomon, from the temple of Solomon to the basilica of St.Peter’s, the distant peoples of the world have been seen to create in marble or granite a representation – the most memorable possible – of their love and of their faith.It was appropriate, therefore, that the friend of Jesus Christ have somewhere on the earth a temple worthy of her, and there was no better plan for it to rise but there where had been her burial ground for thirteen centuries, there where piety had just rediscovered her body and near the mountain where she had finished her life in the highest mysteries of contemplative life.
By 1295, Charles had the plan drawn up and the work began.It took the form of a basilica, that is to say of a building consisting of three long naves without a cross, the form of the primitive oratory that it had to replace; but at the same time there was imprinted in it in every structural detail the characteristic of a Gothic vessel, so that it might be a faithful image of two periods, ancient and modern times.Charles II did not finish, despite his generous donation, the monument he had put his heart into; it was the work of his entire race for two centuries, and when the second but last of his successors to the County of Provence, and to the Kingdom of Naples, the good king René, died in 1480, he had the good fortune of seeing the church and the monastery almost finished such as they are today.This was also the time assigned by Providence to the sovereign house of Anjou, as if it had only been called to the throne to give to St.Mary Magdalene all the luster that a piety and munificence transmitted from reign to reign, for many generations could alone communicate.There was no prince of this house who did not visit, in different states of good or bad fortune, the Sainte-Baume and St.Maximin, nor confirm its privileges, and who did not give his aid to the completion of the basilica.It rose up at last, after two hundred years of effort often assailed by difficulties, as posterity still sees it, a monument of a severe and simple art, where grace is united to grandeur, and which, in this solitary plain at the foot of these high mountains, between these poor and few habitations, seems like a ship gone aground by chance and waiting for the powerful hand that will launch it on the waves.The waves have come; in fact, they have come from the peoples agitated to their depths; revolutions, after the kings and the popes, have visited the basilica of St.Magdalene, and these thunderbolts that have hurled down thrones have only flashed over the humble friend of the Saviour’s feet, respecting her roof.Bethany is no more, but Jesus Christ has given to Magdalene the house she lost, and the one and the other, the Master and the Disciple, the God who was loved and the woman who loved, live together at St. Maximin, as in other times they lived on the sides of the Mount of Olives.Marseilles is the Jerusalem of this new Bethany, and France is the greater and more faithful Judea.
I say France; because it was she that inherited Provence, and with her St.Magdalene.One might have feared that this last part of the heritage would have been neglected, and that our kings might not understand the gift that Providence had made them.Nothing of the sort.Louis XI, the first who united the crown of the Capetians to that of the Counts of Provence, set the example of a limitless veneration of St.Magdalene.He treated her like a princess of the royal house, and bequeathed to his descendants his pilgrimage as the special pilgrimage of the French monarchy.Charles VIII and Louis XII made it a point of glory to imitate him.Anne of Brittany, the wife of one and then of the other king, visited St. Maximin and the Sainte-Baume, and had herself represented under the form of a golden statuette at the front of the reliquary that contained the head of St.Magdalene.Francis I, after the battle of Marignan, went there to offer up thanks, with his mother, his wife and his sister.He had the hospice for foreigners at Sainte-Baume repaired, and wished to have constructed there three rooms for the three principal people of the court:these apartments took the names of the king’s chamber, the queen’s chamber and the dauphin’s chamber.That of the king was in the very interior of the convent inhabited by the monks.The same prince adorned with a portico the entrance to the grotto.His successors, Charles IX and Louis XIII, followed him there and rediscovered there these traces of his royal munificence; Louis XIII went there in 1622, after the siege of Montpellier and the submission of the heretics of Languedoc.
The last king of France to perform the pilgrimage to the Holy Places of Provence was Louis XIV.He arrived at St. Maximin on the 4th February 1660 with his mother, Anne of Austria, and ascended the following day to the Sainte-Baume and to Saint-Pilon.On his return he presided over the translation of the body of St.Magdalene into a porphyry urn that had been sent from Rome by the general of the Friars Preachers, which was placed on the high altar after the reliquary it was to contain had been opened, re-closed and sealed in the presence of the King.Thus, at the time when the monarchy reached its highest point of splendor and inscribed one of the centuries of French history amongst the great centuries of the world, it came, in the person of the king who had the good fortune to give his name to this memorable era, to kneel before the relics of the humble penitent sinner of Bethany and to leave there a ray of this majesty that is still called and will always be called the age of Louis XIV.
What did there remain to be done to fulfill the promise of Jesus Christ? Over sixteen centuries ago a bark had brought Mary Magdalene to the soil of France, and since then a prodigious succession of things had, one after the other, confirmed and increased the splendor of her cult.The Sainte-Baume, where Jesus Christ had resumed with her the conversations interrupted at the Holy Sepulchre had become one of the mountains celebrated by the visit of God.It had received near there, from the hands of an apostolic bishop, a burial that was never forgotten, and the alabaster vase where her body lay, more long-lasting than that from which she had poured the perfume over the feet of the Saviour, met nothing from time and from men but the immortality of respect.It still survives in the same earth and under the same sky.A holy guardian was given it, once the persecutions were over and piety was permitted to stand up and be visible at the entry to the great tomb.When Europe rose to reconquer the first of its tombs, that where Mary Magdalene herself had waited nearby in prayer, Christian knighthood took her for its lady, and her name, carried in the hearts of the Crusaders, came to die on their lips on the fields of battle with a supernatural honour.An entire race of princes was finally consecrated to her service.The first amongst them discovered her body hidden for an age out of fear of the barbarians, and exposed it to the light, more splendid than it had ever been.The scars of God’s friendship appeared in living form on her forehead, and indescribable tears fell at the sight of her from eyes the most worthy to let them fall.A basilica illustrious by its grandeur and its beauty rose up over the well-beloved relics, rendered more dear by absence, and kings and popes were seen to follow after one another there in great numbers.A single day saw five kings; one century brought eight popes.When it was over, the blood of St.Louis that had given to the tomb of Magdalene the counts of Provence and the kings of Sicily, gave it finally kings of France.The first monarchy of the world became the protector and client of the friend of Jesus Christ, and when, having reached the summit of human splendor, it was on the brink of experiencing a catastrophe as amazing as its past fortune, there came a king greater than the others to represent them all, and this one, heir to the glory and piety of his fathers, brought to the tomb which they had honoured the final homage of France.
Was it to be the last? One might so believe.A mocking scepticism had taken over people’s minds, and an unforeseen revolution was about to throw down beneath its feet, together with the throne of France, the very throne of God.But while the most venerated sanctuaries did not escape the tempest, a special protection covered the monastery and basilica of St. Maximin.An unknown man whose name would soon be aggrandized beyond all measure, the brother of a young captain destined one day to reopen the temples and to fill the world with the surprise of his glory, Lucien Bonaparte, was the savior of the monuments raised by the faith of the princes and the people to the love of Mary Magdalene.Not a stone of that respected mass fell, not an altar was destroyed, not a picture disappeared from the walls; and when the divine anger, appeased by so many misfortunes, withdrew from us, an astonished France rediscovered still standing the work of the nephews and sons of St.Louis, having at its frontispiece the name of a new race and the beginning of another history.Even the relics of St.Magdalene had not perished, and her head and the bone of her right arm, piously collected by a faithful hand, were authenticated; and if the gold or precious stones were lacking to this treasure, the grace of God manifested by so many marvels survived more living than ever.Less fortunate, the Sainte-Baume had suffered the outrages of an implacable devastation; there remained only the rock itself and a part of its forest.Repaired a first time, damaged again in 1815, it was finally blessed solemnly in the month of May 1822, the Monday of Pentecost, in the presence of more than 40,000 people who rushed to this spectacle that bore witness so markedly to the impotence of ruin against God.From the top of the terrace that is above the Sainte-Baume, the Archbishop of Aix raised his hands with the blessed Sacrament over the multitude that covered the plain and the forest, and the Sign of the Cross fell, in the midst of an absolute silence, on those sites and on those men who once again found together Jesus Christ the vanquisher of the world.An immense acclamation, issuing from 40,000 mouths, succeeded suddenly to the religious silence of the blessing, and the centuries, brought back to life by this cry of faith, were able to hear, in the eternity where they all return, the profound echo of this feast given by so many souls to the soul of Mary Magdalene.
When the stranger comes down towards the river that divides Paris, he encounters a square whose extent and monuments give rise to reflection.On one side is the palace of the kings of France, and opposite him, at the edge of a long avenue, a military triumphal arch.In a second perspective that cuts the first in the form of a cross, two temples correspond to one another:one, which is that of the laws; the other, which is that of God.In the middle there rises up an Egyptian obelisk, but which disappears under an invisible monument nevertheless present to all minds, the scaffold of Louis XVI.All France on this square:royalty, military glory, liberty, religion, revolution.If, moreover, one approaches the temple that is like the part of God in this representation of the country, one will read on it this inscription:“To the very good and great God, under the invocation of St.Mary Magdalene.”Mary Magdalene is there, under the eyes of France and of the world, in the 19th century of Christ, and the triumphal spot that she occupies, a conqueror, a man elevated by fortune to the summit of human affairs, had destined to receive, in marble, in bronze, in gold, the name of his battles and the image of his soldiers.He was supposed to preside himself, in a kind of apotheosis, over this pantheon of his person, and he had called it in advance, by the temerity of pride, the Temple of Glory.In his place, he suddenly having fallen, has come the humble penitent sinner who washed with her tears the feet of Jesus Christ; one sees her on the pediment of the monument, kneeling as once before her Master, and in the interior, under a splendid canopy, she appears, borne up by angels, in the drunkenness of the ecstasy that was from here below the price of her love.
By an infinite delicacy of providence, this temple contains not only the glory of Magdalene, it also possesses a part of her mortal remains, amazingly escaped from that which would perish.In 1785, the heir of Spain, Ferdinand, Duke of Parma, wished to have for his chapel a portion of the holy relics.Louis XVI, to whom he had communicated his desire, ordered the monks of St. Maximin to satisfy his wish, and the porphyry urn where Louis XIV had transferred the ancient relics, having been opened with the required precautions and solemnities, the prior removed from it a long bone that he himself carried to the duke of Parma.Furthermore, in 1810, this treasure was with many others brought to Paris in the wake of our conquest and, after having passed from the hands of an exiled cardinal into those of the venerable Mme. de Soyecourt, the abbess of the Carmelites of the rue de Vaugirard, it was finally ceded to Monsignore de Quélen, archbishop of Paris, who made a gift of it to the church of St.Mary Magdalene.
Thus, of the three parts that Charles II of Anjou had made of these renowned relics, namely:the head, a bone from the right arm, then the rest of the bones; the first two were saved from the Revolution, and have not left St. Maximin.The third part, placed by Louis XIV in the porphyry urn of the high altar, has disappeared, but a fragment of it has been saved as we have just said, and to the porphyry urn of Louis XIV that had contained it, has succeeded the most magnificent temple that has ever been elevated on earth in honour of the penitent sinner of Bethany.
This glory has not only travelled across the centuries, it has grown with them, in spite of all events.And I do not know if there is in the history of the saints an example of so persevering and divine a progress.And yet the guard placed at the saint’s tomb, that had not missed its watch for a single day in fifteen hundred years, this guard no longer existed.The basilica stood with its monastery, with its crypt and its burial places, with its saved relics, with the immense memories of a life that goes back to the cradle of Christianity and attaches itself to the very name of Jesus Christ; it stood, and yet the pilgrim did not enter without a request and without a sigh.He looked, astonished, at this immobile mass, victorious over men more even than over time, and it seemed to him he was penetrating into the silence of the desert rather than into the silence of God.He prayed on his knees to the great and holy friend of the Redeemer of souls whom he had come to visit; he saw everywhere the picture, the name, the glory, the virtue, and yet the unction of his prayer was not without sadness, like those tears that one carries to beloved places, but where there is lacking something that the heart had seen there and which it would like to find again.Oh goodness of God in answering our wishes, we have seen with our own eyes the empty cloister fill up, the ancient ceremonies resume their interrupted harmony, the past emerge from the tomb with a youthfulness of which one did not believe it capable, and we believed we heard Jesus Christ say to the faithful friend who could not believe in his resurrection this word of reproach and of enlightenment:“Mary!”