From a whore or messenger to a strong woman

From a whore or messenger to a strong woman

Few characters in the Bible are more mysterious than Mary Magdalene. Little is known about her, and written sources about her life often conflict with each other. Was she the wife of Jesus, or one of his faithful followers, a woman of easy virtue or a strong woman in life? Mary Magdalene does not exist and that is what makes her so interesting. How has the image and appearance of Mary Magdalene changed over the centuries? The Catharijneconvent Museum has dedicated an exhibition to him, which can be seen until January 9, 2022.

The only way to deal with the mysterious Mary Magdalene is to look at how she was described and portrayed over time. So the exhibition begins in the first halls with the closest sources. It seems already difficult to understand Mary Magdalene in early Christian texts. Was she a good understanding of Jesus, his favorite disciple, or a sinner? Her role in Jesus’ life is interpreted differently. New Testament evangelists agree that she discovers on Easter morning that Jesus’ tomb is empty and convinces the male apostles of his resurrection. But only in the Gospel of John do we find Mary Magdalene who sees Jesus and speaks to him after his resurrection.

In the New Testament there is nothing else to be found about women. Later theologians filled in the gaps in the story, leading to the description of many anonymous New Testament women as Mary Magdalene. This is how I was first associated with prostitution. Slowly turning into a prostitute, she turns into a prostitute, wiping Jesus’ head and feet in remorse for her sins. That image, of the sinful woman, the whore, and the adulterer, is reflected in contemporary art and film to this day, but a gradual reversal is visible.

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David LaChapelle, Jesus is the anointing of my house

contemporary ideas
As you walk around the gallery, you also see contemporary thoughts about Mary Magdalene and parallels with the discussions currently taking place in the community. Think, for example, about the role you play in pop music, like Lady Gaga’s Judas song. But also in musicals, such as Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), where Mary Magdalene is once again associated with prostitution, and in films such as 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ, where Mary Magdalene is Jesus’ wife.

The image of Mary Magdalene as a mainstream prostitute often appears in the 20th century, but thinking about this woman has changed over the years. In fact, the designation of a prostitute is expressly denied. Just as in science, Mary Magdalene is increasingly becoming a role model, an image that is also reflected in the gallery and contemporary artwork hanging there.

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Egbert Modermann, Maskand

In 1969, the Pope put an end to the confusion about Mary Magdalene and confirmed the conclusions reached by theologians and scholars much earlier: Mary Magdalene had a more important position than had been said over the centuries. Since 2016, the Pope has elevated her feast day on July 22 to the category of canon feast, thus restoring Mary Magdalene.

The exhibition ends with confronting your thinking about Mary Magdalene. In the last room, visitors can look her in the eyes and then draw their conclusions; Who is yours Mary Magdalene? O Messenger of the Messengers, is a transgressor sinner or a strong woman?

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Photo: Fimky Lockefer

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