MS H.8, fols. 187v–188r

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St. Mary Magdalene: Mary Magdalene Washing the Feet of Christ

Hours of Henry VIII
Illuminated by Jean Poyer

France, Tours
ca. 1500
256 x 180 mm

Gift of the Heineman Foundation, 1977

MS H.8, fols. 187v–188r

St. Mary Magdalene: Mary Magdalene Washing the Feet of Christ
Border: Levitation of Mary Magdalene (fol. 187v)

In the miniature of Christ's dinner at Simon's house, the Magdalene dries Christ's feet with her long, flowing hair, while the Savior leans to the Pharisee, who is stiff with indignation, and defends her actions. At the left, the Apostles huddle together in disapproval.

The legend of Mary Magdalene, the archetypal repentant woman sinner, is a conflation of three New Testament persons: Mary of the village of Magdala from whom Jesus drove seven devils; Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus and Martha; and the un- named sinner at Simon the Pharisee's (or Leper's) house who washed Christ's feet with her tears and then anointed them. Be that as it may, Mary Magdalene witnessed Christ's Crucifixion, prepared his body for burial, and was the first witness to his Resurrection. Mary Magdalene is depicted in The Prayer Book of Anne de Bretagne.

The immobilized hermit witnessing Mary's celestial feeding is shown in the border. The iconography of her ascension via angels, begun in the twelfth century, is based on the Assumption of the Virgin. The Magdalene's hair, which has grown to her feet, covers her body. (Feast day: July 22)

After Christ's Ascension, according to an eleventh-century Provençal legend recorded in the Golden Legend, Mary, with Sts. Martha and Lazarus, was cast adrift in a rudderless boat by infidels; guided by an angel, however, they reached Marseilles, France. After a period of preaching, Mary retired to the cave of Sainte-Baume in the Maritime Alps, passing thirty years in penitence and contemplation. Never eating, she was refreshed by the songs of the heavenly hosts, which she heard when angels carried her aloft every day at the canonical Hours. On one occasion, a hermit, who had built a cell near her grotto, witnessed the angels lifting and returning the saint to earth. Wanting proof of what he had seen, he ran to where she appeared but was paralyzed. The saint then revealed her identity.