Backstage at San Francisco Opera > April 2013 > Five Things You Probably Didn't Know About Mary Magdalene
Five Things You Probably Didn't Know About Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene has been called "the most misunderstood woman in history." She is also one of the most fascinating and inspirational. From Rembrandt to Rilke, Bach to Bernini, she has been a muse for artists, poets, writers and composers.

In the many myths that developed about her, she has served as a mirror of a culture's deepest fears, hopes and longings—expressing sensuality when the body was considered taboo, deep emotion during the Age of Reason, and embraced in our own scientific era as a mystic visionary. 

While scholars vigorously debate whether she might have been married to Jesus and contemporary fiction writers imagine her as a priestess initiating Christ into Goddess mysteries, here are a few facts, showing that Mary Magdalene is hiding in plain sight where you might least expect it—including your local Peet's coffee shop.

1) She is the only person that the Gospel writers Mathew, Mark and John agree was present at both the crucifixion and resurrection.

2) Two cathedrals in France claim to possess her body—Vezelay in Burgundy and St. Maximin in Provence. Both celebrate her feast day on July 22 with parades and musical spectacles.

3) While ostensibly named for the woman who first baked them, "Madeleine" cookies (made famous by Proust) bear the French version of Mary Magdalene's name and come in the shape of one of her symbols—a scallop shell.

Close up of delicious Madeleine cookies.

4) In Catholicism, Mary Magdalene is the patron saint of contemplatives and penitents—but also of glove makers, pharmacists, hairdressers and perfumers.

5). The word "maudlin" (meaning excessively emotional, sentimental  or tearful) comes from the British pronunciation of Magdalene College, the Oxford College established in the 15th century under her name . Throughout art history, Magdalene has frequently been depicted as highly emotional and wrought with tears, such as in this well beloved painting by Titian:

Penitent Magdalene by Titian, 1565.

For more on the Myths of Mary Magdalene, see For an upcoming in-depth webinar series that will help you get the most out of Mark Adamo's opera, see


Posted: 4/4/2013 1:54:57 PM by Kayleen Asbo
Filed under: 2012-13Season


Backstage at San Francisco Opera is a fascinating, fast-moving, mysterious and sacred space for the Company’s singers, musicians, dancers, technicians and production crews. Musical and staging rehearsals are on-going, scenery is loaded in and taken out, lighting cues are set, costumes and wigs are moved around and everything is made ready to receive the audience. From the principal singers, chorus and orchestra musicians to the creative teams for each opera, in addition to the many talented folks who don’t take a bow on stage, this blog offers unique insight, both thought-provoking and light-hearted, into the life backstage at San Francisco Opera.


Blog postsRSS