May 19 the film “The DaVinci Code” will be released worldwide to church controversy. Many will boycott the film, because it goes against traditional church teaching about Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene. (Since when do books and movies have to be based in fact? Well, but when you’re talking about the marriage status of Jesus, the figurehead of one of the world’s great religions . . .)
I had my own Paris adventure with Mary Magdalene in 2004.
That year I was reading the book The DaVinci Code at about the same time I was learning more about Mary Magdalene (MM) from a spiritual teacher I met. Before then I didn’t know, for instance, that MM and others of Jesus' disciples may have escaped persecution in the Holy Land to Provence.
Mary, the name of the spiritual teacher, told me I was a “Magdalene” in a previous life, a follower of MM who joined her in fleeing Israel to France. I don’t accept or deny this claim, nor do I feel any particular attachment to MM, other than to find her story interesting theologically and sociologically. (Was she really a prostitute? Or did church leaders over the centuries misrepresent her because her role in Jesus’ life was outside social norms and thus beyond acceptance and comprehension?)
But because of the claim that I was a Magdalene, and because MM was said to have settled in France after fleeing Israel for her life after her friend and lord Jesus was killed, I set out on an already planned visit to Paris in October with companions with the new intention of visiting the Church of the Magdalene (Église de la Madeleine) and paying attention to any statuary I saw of her elsewhere in the city. Perhaps she would speak to me?
Église de la Madeleine, or simply “La Madeleine” was originally built as a temple to the glory of Napolean’s army in the 1760s. But after the fall of Napolean, King Louis XVIII decided to use it as a church. In the apse there is a statue of Mary Magdalene that looks very much as though she is pregnant, interestingly enough. Unfortunately I don't have a photograph to post here so you can decide for yourself. But believe me, either she is bending back in a limbo position, or she has a large abdomen!
After touring La Madeleine, Ginnie, Donica and I went to the Louvre on Monday, believing we had hours to browse (always check updated “ouverture” – opening and closing times at museums; old travel books don’t always have the current hours). It is said that if you spent 10 seconds standing before every display in the Louvre, it would take two months to see everything. It covers half a million square feet. We had 45 minutes before the museum closed.
We decided to go ahead and do “Louvre Light” (Louvre EXTRA Light) and feverishly dash around to see the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory and Venus de Milo. Just before sprinting off to view these treasures, Donica noticed an enlarged photo of a Mary Magdalene statue on the Louvre map. Of course I had told my travel buddies about the “MM watch” and so we knew we had to go check out the statue.
Gregor Erhart was a 16th c. German sculptor who carved this gorgeous statue out of limewood c. 1500. From a distance, walking up the gallery toward her at the end of a long hallway, La Belle Allemande (as she is also called) is stunning in her life size elegance and quietude. But the true awe comes when you stand below her and gaze into her eyes, or rather, receive HER gaze. The only way to describe it (for when you feel it, it is indescribable) is to say that she comes alive, looks into your soul and communicates love and acceptance. How Mr. Erhart accomplished this I can’t comprehend. But I’m grateful to the museum designers and engineers who placed the statue at a perfect height to allow the effect.
Then, the museum was closing, and we had to leave, pulling ourselves reluctantly from MM’s captivating gaze.
Later in the week, we went back to the museum to see other rooms and displays, spending the two hours we’d anticipated on Monday. In spite of the intimate experience we’d had with her earlier in the week, we all agreed that we didn’t need to see MM again this visit. So we found the nearest elevator and began our exit from the Louvre. Reaching the lower ground floor (from where you enter and exit – under the glass pyramid), coming out of the elevator, we looked both ways to get our bearings, and there we were within a few feet of the Erhart MM statue! There she stood, bronze hair flowing, rose cheeks, mouth half smiling, eyes gazing down at whomever was standing beneath her. Stunned, we agreed that SHE wanted to say good-bye to US, and so, she did.
Photos courtesy Ginnie Hart and Donica Detamore