St. Mary Magdalene relic 'reminds us she was real,' says tour organizer
(CNS photos/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)
By Hilary Anderson
Catholic News Service
CHICAGO (CNS) -- St. Mary Magdalene has come to the Chicago area -- that is a relic of the saint often referred to as the apostle to the Apostles.
On Feb. 20, a reliquary carrying a portion of her tibia (leg bone) began a two-week tour to churches in the archdiocese. It then will then continue to other Illinois locations during March.
"The purpose of the tour is to share the holiness of the relic and tell the story of the saint who is recorded as the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ," said Paula Lawlor, coordinator of the Illinois tour. "St. Mary Magdalene was told to go and tell the others."
The first stop was St. Vincent Ferrer Church in River Forest.
"St. Mary Magdalene is the patroness of our order," said Dominican Father Thomas McDermott, pastor. "Dominicans are the custodians of the relic. We are grateful and blessed for the opportunity to have her relic at our church."
Tradition has it that some years after the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalene was imprisoned. Upon her release, she and other followers of Jesus were cast out to sea on the shores of Palestine without sails, oars or supplies. The boat miraculously came to shore on the coast of Gaul (France) in a town near Marseille.
After preaching with her companions and converting the whole of Provence, Mary Magdalene retired to a mountain cave known as La Sainte-Baume, which means holy cave, and spent the last 30 years of her life in solitude.
A letter of authenticity from French Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon reports that relics of the saint were hidden at the time of the Saracen invasions. In 1279, they were rediscovered in a chapel crypt in the town of St. Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. The relics were found in a sarcophagus -- a stone coffin. When it was opened, the air was filed with an aromatic fragrance. Along with the relics was a piece of old parchment wrapped in wax dated A.D. 710 and a wooden tablet with the words, "Here lies the body of Mary Magdalene."
Shortly after this discovery, Pope Boniface VIII published a papal bull, or proclamation, for the establishment of the Dominicans at La Saine-Baume and St. Maximin, the town where the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene is located, 20 miles from the cave. The Dominicans have remained guards of the relic ever since.
One always travels with the reliquary. Father Henri-Dominique de Speville, a French Dominican priest, is accompanying the reliquary from its permanent home at La Sainte-Baume on the Illinois tour.
"Pilgrims over hundreds of years have traveled to La Sainte-Baume to pray and give thanks for the intercession of St. Mary Magdalene. Now those in the Chicago area and other Illinois towns will only have to travel to our parish or one of the other churches hosting the reliquary to do the same," added Father McDermott.
Another Chicago parish that hosted the reliquary was St. Thomas More.
In an interview before it arrived, Father Charles Fanelli, the pastor, anticipated great interest in St. Mary Magdalene's relic based on previous experience with relics of other saints at his church.
"Last November, our parish had a day devoted to relics of saints," he told the Catholic New World, Chicago's archdiocesan newspaper. "It was so moving to see the way people reacted to them. This relic of St. Mary Magdalene, is really special. It does not just date from the past few hundred years like most of the saints about whom we have learned. She actually lived during the time of Christ and knew him."
Lawlor simplified the significance of the tour.
"The presence of St. Mary Magdalene's relic reminds us she was real, made of flesh and bones, just like us," she said. "Through this tour, St. Mary Magdalene will be able to preach more, even though it's some two thousand years later."
- Anderson is a contributor to the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Chicago Archdiocese.