SAINT MARY MAGDALENE’S TOMB: Maximum (News of the Wierd)

The Grotto

There is also a grotto area about forty five minutes away which unlike the basilica is a hike in the hills and considered a shrine to Mary Magdalene. The cave represents a place of penance and contemplation.

Basilica and the Tomb of St Mary Magdalene

The Grotto

The instrument

The Saint-Maximin organ along with the one in the Cathedral of Poitiers are the two best and most beautiful realizations, identical to their original condition, of what is referred to as the « French organ». French and foreign organists, all dream of one day playing on this « Stradivarius » of organs.

This double organ-case instrument, was built and completed in 1773 by Brother Jean-Esprit Isnard, of the Tarascon monastery, one of the most skilled organ makers of his time. Besides its bellow, it has kept all of its original pipes. For a total of 43 organ stops, one can count 2 960 pipes. The longest measures 5 m 28 by 30 cm in diameter, the smallest 18 mm by 11.

Basilica and the Tomb of St Mary Magdalene

The Main altar

It was placed on a specially constructed organ loft. The pipes are framed within five turrets topped by domes which serve as a base for remarkable sculptures, two of which measure more than two meters : King David and Saint Cecilia.

It was declared an « historical monument » in 1953. The last restoration was performed from 1988 to 1991 by the organ-builder Cabourdin.

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Mr. Pierre Bardon is titular organist of the great, historical organ since 1961.In November 2008, his nephew, Mr. Philippe Bardon, titular organist at the Pontoise Cathedral, was named co-titular organist.

The authenticity

From the encyclopedic work of Abbot Faillon and other historical documents, Marie-Christine Trouillet, archivist and paleographer, present the events related to the discovery of the relics of Saint Mary Magdalene at Saint-Maximin and their approval Pontifical by Boniface VIII.

These numerous facts which speak in favor of the authenticity of the relics and their discovery in Provence by Charles of Salerno make the link between history and tradition.

Paintings in the basilica of St Mary Magdalene

The basilica contains several works of exceptional quality, the first of which can be found at the upper end of the north nave. It is the 1520 Crucifixion altarpiece by Antoine Ronzen, a painter of Flemish origin, who had first come to work in Marseilles (the famous painting entitled, Preaching, exposed in the Old Marseilles Museum) then in Saint-Maximin.

Surrounding the central panel that shows Christ on the cross, classically looking down at Mary Magdalene before an interesting image of Jerusalem with its « Omar mosque, » there are sixteen panels describing scenes from the Passion. Particular notice should be made of the first representation of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, as well as the Roman Coliseum and Saint Marc’s Square in Venice , birthplace of the painter.

Basilica and the Tomb of St Mary Magdalene

Many other paintings will retain the visitor’s attention. A must see is the inside panel of the altar painting in the seventh, left side chapel evoking the Noli me tangere (Do not touch me) of the day of Resurrection. A huge enigmatic mural, in large part hidden from the eyes by the organ console and pipes, shows the resurrected Christ looking at Mary Magdalene.

Recently returned from restoration in Marseilles are the painted wood panels attributed to Prior Abellon (first half of the 15th Century) that present four saints: Lawrence, Anthony, Sebastian and Thomas Aquinas with their symbols. Further mention is made in the last paragraphs of Chapter 7.

The Skull of Mary Magdalene

By  on January 22, 2015


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Is this the skull of Mary Magdalene? For centuries people have flocked to the Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume basilica in France for a glimpse of Mary’s bones.

The skull of Mary Magdalene encased in a bizarre golden reliquary in the basilica of St. Maximin in France

The relics of Mary Magdalene encased in a bizarre golden reliquary

In the year 1279, excavations of the crypt beneath a small church in St. Maximin in France uncovered 1st century tombs along with a surprising find: a sarcophagus made of marble. Charles II, the Count of Provence who led the excavation, claims he was spurred to do so by a dream in which Saint Mary Magdalene appeared to him.

When the sarcophagus was opened, a “wonderful and very sweet smell” was noted by all present to emanate from inside, which they believed to be symbolic of the the perfume Mary Magdalene poured on the feet of Jesus before his death.

The sarcophagus of Mary Magdalene in the crypt beneath St. Maximin basilica

The sarcophagus of Mary Magdalene in the crypt beneath St. Maximin basilica

The skeletal remains, from which were missing the jaw and lower leg bones, were accompanied by a papyrus note. The text read:

The year of the birth of the Lord 710, the sixth day of December, at night and very secretly, under the reign of the very pious Eudes, king of the Franks, during the time of the ravages of the treacherous nation of the Saracens, the body of the dear and venerable St. Mary Magdalene was, for fear of the said treacherous nation, moved from her alabaster tomb to the marble tomb, after having removed the body of Sidonius, because it was more hidden.

There was also a wood tablet covered in wax, inscribed with the words “Hic requiescit corpus beatae Mariae Magdalenae.” It was estimated to be made between the 1st and 4th centuries.

Provence tradition holds that Mary Magdalene, along with Lazarus and Martha (and a child fathered by Jesus, according to Holy Blood, Holy Grail), fled to the south of France to avoid persecution in a small boat without sails or oars. Miraculously, they landed on the shores of Gaul at a place now called Saintes Maries de la Mer. They continued to spread the gospel and Lazarus conducted baptisms.

Mary eventually retreated to a secluded mountain cave, where she lived in penance until she died. Now known as the grotto, or La Baume of Mary Magdalene, Christians have been making pilgrimages to the site since the 5th century.

The relics of Mary Magdalene on display in the Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume basilica in France

Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume basilica with the relics of Mary Magdalene on the altar

Upon discovery of the tomb, Charles II built a grand basilica, Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, in place of the old church. There, the supposed relics of St. Mary Magdalene are still on display. The skull, now complete with a mandible thanks to Pope Boniface VIII, are displayed behind glass in a reliquary of golden, flowing locks of hair.

Procession carries the relics of Mary Magdalene around town prior to the feast

Annual procession carries the bones of Mary Magdalene around town

Every year on the Sunday closest to the feast of Mary Magdalene on July 22nd, a gold mask is affixed to the reliquary and a procession carries the macabre idol around the town.

Though the majority of the remains believed to be Mary Magdalene have been missing since they were stolen by Barras during the French Revolution in 1794, there are still a few remaining pieces that garner a lot of attention. A shard of her tibia can sometimes be seen on tour, and one of her teeth in an ornate reliquary is on view at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art

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