Dates: August 20 – 29, 2020
Location: Southern France
Faculty: Jim Garrison, Andrew Harvey, Banafsheh Sayyad and other faculty
Academic Credit: Masters and Doctoral – 4 credits
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Mary Magdalene and the Black Madonna: A Pilgrimage to Southern France
Deep in the heart of Christian history is a love story that profoundly shaped the life and destiny of Jesus of Nazareth and the birth of Christianity – the story of Mary Magdalene as lover, disciple, wife and confidant of Jesus. Unfortunately, that story was lost for reasons that are only today being recovered due to the discovery in 1945 in Egypt of the Nag Hamadi library. One of the many texts discovered was the Gospel of Philip, which says that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ koinonos, which can be translated as either “wife” or “special companion.” The Gospel records that Jesus kissed Mary “on the mouth,” to the consternation of the other disciples. Several traditions record that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child together, in some traditions after the resurrection, an assertion that explodes everything the Church has taught and what most of us think we know about Christian origins.
Several Gospels in the Nag Hamadi collection describe Mary Magdalene as the only one of the disciples who understood Jesus’ deeper meaning. There are accounts that Mary frequently had to explain what Jesus meant to Peter, James and John and the other disciples, something that ignited jealousy and rivalry. What is certain in all the Gospel accounts is that while all the twelve disciples fled from Jesus when he faced his final trial, Mary Magdalene did not. In all accounts, she was there at the crucifixion and was the first one to see the risen Christ at the empty tomb.
There is mounting evidence that Mary Magdalene, along with John, was the “beloved disciple” of Jesus. Recent scholarship on the Gospel of John by the late R.E. Brown, a prominent Catholic theologian, indicates that John could not have written the Gospel attributed to him. Evidence points to Mary Magdalene as the real author of the Gospel of John and that John was assigned authorship when Mary Magdalene was all but erased from history except as prostitute and repentant sinner as the patriarchal spirit gripped the Church as it gained political power in Rome. Mary Magdalene was at the heart of the life and ministry of Jesus but she was all but expelled from Christianity as it morphed into the imperial religion of the Caesars.
To reclaim the role and power of Mary Magdalene in the life of Jesus is to reclaim eros as central to the life and teachings of Jesus. Eros is a critical value for all of us today who contemplate these matters. Jesus was not a celibate ascetic only in love with his mother. He certainly loved his mother and he was a man full of humanity and passionately in love with a woman companion with whom he shared his deepest thoughts and teachings. The fact that Jesus loved both Mary and John in a special way has major implications to our understanding of the scope and sensuality of Jesus’ love for his friends. To love a man and a woman equally is a powerful theme for humanity today as we experience and evaluate gender and sexual fluidity and transmutation.
To explore the stories and the latest scholarly research associated with Mary Magdalene, we will journey to sites in France that are associated with the tradition that places her in France about ten years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. We will start this journey at Rocamadour, the site of the greatest of the Black Madonnas of Europe.
Tentative Itinerary in Southern France (see map)
NOTE: This itinerary will evolve in response to many factors between now and August 2020 – and will be updated here.
The Black Madonna
Thu Aug 20: Morning depart Chartres & drive south
- Visit Black Madonna in Vichy: Notre Dame des Malades, (more info)
or Black Madonna in Limoges (image) a slightly shorter route south
Fri Aug 21: Rocamadour (Black Madaonna on the side of a cliff)
- Visit Black Madonna in Rocamadour: Original site was dedicated to Cybele and later Venus, Roman love and fertility goddesses.
Sat Aug 22: La Madeliene & Notre Dame de Marceille
- Visit Black Madonna in Limoux, Notre Dame de Marceille, near Carcassonne. This Black Madonna was found in the earth to which she returned several times.
- En route south we may stop at Visit La Madeliene Cave, a rarely visited cave with rare prehistoric female relief
Sun Aug 23: Mary Magdalene’s Arrival Story at Saints-Marie-sur-la-Mer
- Visit Mary’s Mediterranean point of arrival: now also a Gypsy pilgrimage site
Mon Aug 24: Drive winding scenic road (via Gémenos) up into forest hills
- Meditate: Mary’s Grotte de la Sainte Baume hermitage view of Mediterranean
Tue Aug 25: Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, Basilica & relics
- Visit Mary’s Remains: Earlier it was believed that remains of Mary Magdalene
were at Vézelay, but later they discovered in the crypt of Saint-Maximin a sarcophagus with an explanatory inscription stating why relics had been hidden.
[No intercity driving, Sleep Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume (25th)]
Wed Aug 26: Drive north to Vézelay Abbey (for Mary’s relic)
- Visit Basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine , its exquisite program of imagery in sculpted capitals and portals, one of the outstanding masterpieces of Burgundian Romanesque art and architecture, honoring Mary Magdalene with her relics
Thu Aug 27: Drive to Paris
Fri Aug 28: Free Day in Paris – Evening closure
- Visit Sainte-Chapelle: one of the most extensive 13th-c. stained glass collections
anywhere, hearing many species in “a revolution in musical conception.”
- Closing Meditation at Notre-Dame de Paris (rebuilding is near Ste Chapelle)
Sat Aug 29: End with breakfast. On your own to depart or linger in France.
Jim Garrison, Andrew Harvey, Banafsheh Sayyad
Michael Baignent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, The Holy Blood, Holy Grail
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity
Margaret Starbird, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar