Who was the mysterious woman, Mary Magdalene – penitent whore, or empowered priestess, prophetess and healer? We set out on a quest to find answers in the south of France.
We entered the silent Forest of Baume* in Provence, France, hand in hand. Ascending the well trodden pilgrim stairs, it was as if the ancient Druid forest welcomed us. Some trees – oaks, elms, and beech – are over two thousand years old and could well have witnessed the arrival of the small grief stricken figure of the woman known as Mary Magdalene.
*(Baume translates as ‘balm’ referring to the Spikenard balm Mary anointed Christ’s feet with at the Last Supper.)
Legend has it that Mary was exiled after the crucifixion, and that she and others, including Jesus’ uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, were set in a boat with no oars or sails from the Holy Lands, and were meant to perish. She arrived safely on the shores of Provence and was met by the Druids who knew intuitively she was coming. Joseph of Arimathea travelled on with the Holy Grail chalice of the Last Supper to Britain.
It is said that, in her grief, she tore the clothes from her body as she entered the forest, to begin her time of solitude, yet overnight her hair grew to her feet, covering her nakedness. There are many works of art in France depicting her thus.
Queen of the Gypsies
Some say that she was there with a young woman, Sara; possibly the child of the union of Jesus and Magdalene, and some say her Egyptian hand maiden. The Gitan, or Gypsies, later adopted Saint Sara as ‘Queen of the Gypsies’, and this is celebrated every May in Stes Maries de la Mer.
Crossing a field strewn with Star of Bethlehem flowers, we entered the sacred druidic forest. Our footsteps fell lightly upon the ancient marbled steps worn by the feet of pilgrims for over two thousand years. Not a bird sang, but silent beauty was all around. The atmosphere was drenched in the gentle energy of the Magdalene. We were excited, in expectation of an experience rarely felt in a lifetime.
Mary Magdalene became Abbess in this area of Provence for 22 years. After her death, her relics were kept in the local monastery. Centuries later the monks feared their being stolen by barbarian tribes. They wrapped them in an oilskin cloth and hid them at the back of a cave. After their discovery in the 12th Century, they were taken to Rome, and the Catholic Church authenticated the relics as belonging to the Magdalene, and she became the Patron Saint of the South of France.
Patron Saint of the Knights Templar
Much later Mary Magdalene became the Patron Saint of the Knights Templar. She inspired their acts of courage and chivalry as they fought the battles of the Crusades to hold Jerusalem. Today she is the returning Divine Feminine, an example to all women of her power, endurance, love and spiritual prowess.
For centuries the pilgrim path has dutifully been trodden by kings, emperors and heads of state of France, who were all obliged once in their lifetime to walk this path and venerate the relics of Magdalene. This has been a place of power and wondrous beauty for 2000 years. Today, statues of golden angels guard the casket of glass that holds her tiny skull and bones.
My body trembled, my eyes welled with tears as, incredulous and full of awe, I realised I was standing before the remains of Mary Magdalene, Christ’s companion, prophetess and priestess of the House of Bethany. We turned to one another, moved beyond words by this deep and profound experience. Together we were united in devotion, our male and female energies entwined in our own personal sacred marriage.
by Gerry Taylor-Wood and Richard De Welles