As Christians celebrate the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene on July 22, we want to announce a new study by Fr. Steven J. McMichael, OFM Conv., STD, that examines the key role she played in medieval Franciscan spirituality and art: Mary Magdalene in Medieval Franciscan Spirituality: Beloved Disciple and Apostle of the Apostles.
In his new study, Dr. McMichael shows how the popular image of Mary Magdalene in the Middle Ages was a conflation of three different New Testament women into the same person, a process that originated in a sermon of Pope Gregory the Great in the late 500s: Mary of Magdala, a woman Jesus healed who became his faithful supporter and companion; an unnamed sinful woman in Luke’s Gospel (7:36-50) whom Jesus forgives; and Mary of Bethany.
Thus, Franciscans focused on Mary Magdalene in their preaching as a paradigm of authentic penance, as they called people to heartfelt conversion to the Gospel message. Through penance, repentant sinners were called to love Christ with all their heart and strength and to express it through concrete acts of service.
It is not surprising then, that Mary Magdalene is often found in Franciscan art. It is also interesting that the great Franciscan church and study center in Paris was dedicated to her (again, medieval legend had Martha, Mary, and Lazarus of Bethany ending their life in France).
Dr. Steven McMichael, an associate professor in the theology department at the University of Saint Thomas (Saint Paul, Minnesota), teaches courses on medieval theology and Christian-Muslim dialogue. He wrote The Glory of Paradise: Risen Life in the Easter Octave Sermons of Bernardino da Siena (Tau Publishing, 2016). He is researching and writing on the topic of the resurrection of Jesus in late medieval Franciscan theology, spirituality, and preaching, focusing currently on the resurrection theology of the fifteenth-century Franciscan Roberto da Lecce.
Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor.