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A Patron Saint for Hairstylists

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St. Mary Magdalen
Feast day: July 22

You can find the story in St. Luke's gospel. A woman, a notorious sinner, bearing an alabaster jar of perfumed oil enters unannounced into a house where Jesus is a guest. Without saying a word to the host or to the apostles or even to Christ Himself, she breaks open the jar and pours the scented oil over the Lord, washes His feet with her tears, then dries them with her hair. For nearly 1,700 years, tradition has identified the unnamed penitent woman as St. Mary Magdalen. Ever since, artists have depicted St. Mary with a luxuriant head of hair, which led hairdressers to take Mary Magdalen as their patron saint.

It was St. Gregory the Great who popularized the idea of conflating three separate women in the gospels into one. According to Pope Gregory, the unnamed sinner who wiped Jesus' feet with her hair, the sister of Martha and Lazarus,and the woman who was the first to see the Risen Christ were all Mary Magdalen. Since Gregory's day it has been common to add a fourth woman to the mix — the adulterous woman Christ saved from being stoned to death is also said to be Mary Magdalen.

Who was the real Mary Magdalen? She was one of the women who traveled with Christ and the 12 apostles. St. Luke says Jesus cast seven devils out of Mary, but he does not say that she was promiscuous let alone a prostitute (another bit of "common knowledge" that has attached itself to poor St. Mary). Her surname, Magdalen, refers to her home, Magdala, a fishing village on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. In the first century, the residents of Magdala were notorious for their lascivious behavior, which may have been the ancient source of Mary Magdalen's bad reputation.

We also know from the gospels that Mary Magdalen followed Our Lord to Calvary and witnessed His death and burial. On the first Easter morning she encountered the Risen Christ in the garden but did not recognize Him until He spoke her name.Then the Lord sent her to tell the apostles that He had risen from the dead.

Because St. Mary Magdalen was granted the privilege of announcing the Resurrection,St. Hippolytus (c.170-c.235) gave her the title, "Apostle to the Apostles." The unique grace Mary received is celebrated each Easter in the sequence, "Victimae paschali laudes," when the Church asks, "Tell us Mary, what did you see on the way?" And Mary answers, "I saw the sepulcher the living Christ and the glory of his rising. I saw the angel witnesses, the linen that covered his face and the shroud. Christ my hope is risen!"

As with so many of the Lord's disciples, legend steps in where the New Testament leaves off. The most persistent tradition claims that Mary Magdalen, Martha, Lazarus and Maximinus (one of the Lord's 72 disciples) traveled to the south of France where they preached the gospel. Later Mary Magdalen is said to have retired to a cave east of Marseilles to live the rest of her life as a hermit. Pilgrims have visited the Holy Cave at least since the fifth century. During the Middle Ages a great basilica was built over the site, and among the church's most treasured relics were strands of St. Mary Magdalen's abundant hair.

Craughwell is the author of Patron Saints Catholic Cardlinks (Our Sunday Visitor, 2004) and Saints for Every Occasion (Stampley Enterprises, 2001).

(c) Copyright 2007 by Arlington Catholic Herald

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2007