La Sainte Baume

by Carol Croft

Languedoc legends indicate that Mary Magdalene lived as a hermit in the Sainte-Baume Mountains of southern France. This towering mountain range is located in the heart of Aix-en-Provence and rises equidistant between the Alps and the sea.
The immense natural cave in the rocks is the size of a large house.. It is here, in this place that Mary Magdalene spent the last 30 years of her life in solitude, in meditation and contemplation.

Following 30 years spent in prayer and longing to be reunited with Jesus, the day came when Jesus enlightened her that death was approaching, and He guided her down the hill toward the village of Villalata. On the way there (a pillar still marks this place), she was met by St Maximin who had been divinely inspired to go to meet her and lead her to his church. Once there, having received holy communion from his hand, she falls lifeless before the altar. The date was July 22, around the year 72 A.D.

St Maximin ordered her body to be interred with great dignity and reverence and commanded that he himself be buried near her tomb after his death. And such was her beauty of spirit and soul, that during seven days the oratory was filled with the holy perfume of her sanctity.
In 1279, St. Louis’ nephew, Charles II (Prince of Salerno and Count of Provence) acquired knowledge that the relics were buried in the town of St. Maximin in the church with the same name, so he ordered excavations in Saint Maximin to search for them. On December 10, 1279, deep in the earth, he found the marble tomb. When he tried to open it a wonderful smell of perfume filled the air. Inside lay her entire body except her jaw bone which was missing. Among the dust particles at the bottom of the tomb, a small piece of cork was found. Inside it was a message written on parchment. It read:

“Year of the nativity of our Lord, 710, this sixth day of the month of December, under the reign of (not legible) and during the ravages of the Saracen nation, in fear of the Saracens, the body of the well-loved and venerable Mary Magdalene has been transferred, to be better concealed, from the alabaster tomb to the one in marble, out of which the body of Sidonius has been removed.’

The prince, overjoyed at having found the holy remains of Mary Magdalene, called together on May 5, 1280, in the town of Saint-Maximin, the prelates and a great number of religious of Provence and of France, together with the counts, barons, knights and persons of high rank in his kingdom and the nobles attached to his court, in order to proceed to the solemn elevation and translation of the relics.
The prelates having come to the tomb to remove the holy body, and while in the process of performing this venerable task, discovered a small piece of wood wrapped in wax. On it was a message more ancient than the parchment, and hardly legible. Written in Latin, it read:
“Hic requiescit corpus Mariae Magdalenae”

(Here lies the body of Mary Magdalene)

There were several signs that were remarkable, considering the body had been buried since the 1st century. It was found that the tongue still adhered to the mouth cavity, and from it had grown an aromatic plant.
The most remarkable sign of all was the small piece of skin that was found to be attached to the brow. It was smooth, clear, and lighter than the remainder of the body, and was the size of two fingertips. As it resembled live skin, it was subsequently named the “Noli me tangere” (Do not touch me)-the words spoken by Christ to Mary Magdalene at the Resurrection; it was believed to have been the touch of the risen Christ on the brow of Mary Magdalene.
This small particle of skin remained unchanged for another five hundred years, and no suitable explanation was ever found for the phenomenon. Five centuries after its discovery, it finally detached itself from the brow, and was placed in a separate reliquary.
Mary Magdalene, one of the first women mystics…

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