For centuries, people have come to the Basilica of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in France to look at the bones of Mary Magdalene.
In 1279, excavations in the crypt under a small church in St. Maximin in France, uncovered 1st-century tombs along with a surprising discovery: a sarcophagus made of marble. Charles II, the Count of Provence who led the excavation, claims that he was prompted to do so by a dream in which St. Mary Magdalene appeared to him.
When the sarcophagus was opened, all those present noticed a “wonderful and very sweet smell” coming from the interior, which they believed symbolized the perfume that Mary Magdalene poured at the feet of Jesus before his death.
The skeletal remains, of which the bones of the jaw and lower leg were missing, were accompanied by a papyrus note.
The text reads: “The year of the birth of the Lord 710, December 6, at night and very secretly, under the reign of the very merciful Eudes, king of the Franks, during the time of the ravages of the treacherous nation of the Saracens. The body of the beloved and venerable St. Mary Magdalene was, for fear of that treacherous nation, moved from her alabaster tomb to a marble tomb, after having removed the body of Sidonus, because it was hidden.
There was also a wooden tablet covered with wax, with the Latin inscription “Hic requiescit corpus beatae Mariae Magdalenae” which means: This is the body of the Holy Mary. It was estimated to have been made between the first and fourth centuries.
Provencal tradition holds that Mary Magdalene, along with Lazarus and Martha, fled to the south of France to avoid persecution in a small boat without sails or oars. Miraculously, they landed on the shores of Gaul in a place now called Saintes Maries de la Mer. They continued to spread the gospel and Lazarus performed baptisms.
Mary finally retreated to an isolated cave in the mountains, where she lived in penance until she died. Now known as the cave, or La Baume de Maria Magdalena, Christians have been making pilgrimages to the site since the fifth century.
After the discovery of the tomb, Charles II built a large basilica, Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, in place of the old church. There, the so-called relics of St. Mary Magdalene are still on display.
The skull, now complete with a jaw thanks to Pope Boniface VIII, is shown behind glass in a reliquary of loose golden locks.
Every year, on a Sunday closest to the feast of Mary Magdalene, 22 July, a golden mask is placed on the reliquary and a procession carries the saint around the city