Donatello and Mary Magdalene

Today is the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene, the first person to whom the  resurrected Christ appeared.

One of the first images that comes to my mind when I think of Mary Magdalene is Donatello’s haunting sculpture of her, in Florence.  The statue shows Mary during the 30-year period it is believed she spent fasting and repenting at the end fo her life.  (The myth that she was a prostitute was given up long ago, but – like any of us – she doubtless had things she felt the need of repentance for.)

According to popular biographies of her, Mary Magdalene was said to have renounced material possessions and covered herself only with her long hair. One biographer wrote that she lived without food because she “knew that Jesus wished to sustain her with naught but heavenly meats, allowing her no earthly satisfaction.”

Whatever we do or don’t know about the historical Mary Magdalene herself, Donatello’s sculpture is (in the words of Martha Levine Dunkelman) “one of the most famous expressions of female emotion in the history of Western art. She has become an iconic image of a suffering woman….[and] an example of penitence.” At the same time, the figure shows strength and endurance.

You may find it a good image for meditation on this feast of Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene

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