What is the dazzling reliquary that contains the skull of Mary Magdalene and allowed us to see what the saint was like?

Did you know that the supposed skull of Mary Magdalene is kept safe in the crypt of a French basilica? Or at least that’s what the legend says. It is one of the three relics of the disciple of Jesus that survived the passing of the centuries.

The skull is found next to the sarcophagus of the saint in the Vézelay Basilicain Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, in the south of France.

The doubts about its origin lie in the fact that the only thing that is known about it is that it was there at the time of the construction of the church, in 1295. Then, all legend.

The relics of Mary

It is said that Mary Magdalene was buried by the first bishop of Aix and that her tomb was opened in 1279 by order of Charles II.

Inside the coffin there was dust and Mary’s remains were intact. There are historians who maintain that “a wonderful smell of perfume” came out when they opened the tomb. Furthermore, the coffin was inscribed with the phrase: “Here rests the blessed body of Mary Magdalene”.

The same coffin contained a papyrus that specified that “the body of the beloved and venerable Saint Mary Magdalene was, for fear of said treacherous nation, transferred from her alabaster tomb to the marble tomb, after having removed the body of Sidonius, because it was more hidden.”

The enormous reliquary of Mary Magdalene, in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.

Another relic of Mary Magdalene found in the tomb is the Holy Ampoulea glass sphere that supposedly contained soil stained with Jesus’ blood and would have been collected by Mary herself.

The third relic is a small piece of skin known as “don’t touch me” (noli me tangere) that was attached to the skull in the area where Jesus would have touched it after his resurrection.

The three relics were desecrated during the French Revolution and later recovered by the basilica.

What is the reliquary of Mary Magdalene like?

Around 1600, the skull was separated from the body and placed in a vessel. This relic and the “do not touch me” were placed in a gold reliquary, in a glass mask adorned with a golden mane next to the sculptures of four angels.

The Holy Ampoule was stolen and its whereabouts are unknown.

The reliquary contains the sculptures of 4 angels.

The reliquary containing the skull is an anthropomorphic gold sculpture that weighs about 400 kilograms. It was built in the 19th century and represents a head with long golden hair, supported by 4 angels, where the skull takes the place of the face.

The reliquary can be seen behind a bulletproof glass case in the crypt of the basilica and is displayed in procession only in the week of July 22, the feast of Mary Magdalene (when it is taken out they place a golden mask over the glass capsule in order to protect it).

The reconstruction of Mary’s face

Thanks to the reliquary, the skull remained in good condition until our times, which made it possible for a French scientific team to reconstruct the supposed face of Mary from her in 2017 using a modeling program for 3D reconstruction.

The skull is that of a woman of about fifty years old, of Mediterranean type, high cheekbones, dark hair and a prominent nose. “We are not entirely sure that this is the real skull of Mary Magdalene”Versailles University biological anthropologist Philippe Charlier told National Geographic. “But it was very important to remove him from anonymity.”

The 3D reconstruction of Maria made in 2017 from the skull.The 3D reconstruction of Maria made in 2017 from the skull.

Charlier and the forensic visual artist Philippe Froesch They built a 3D model of its features using more than 500 photographs taken from every possible angle.

Who was Mary Magdalene?

Mary Magdalene, one of the most important and controversial characters in the New Testament, is considered a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. The Catholic, Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion consider her a saint and celebrate her feast day on July 22.

There are authors who also consider her a sentimental companion of Jesus and a symbol of feminist Christianity hidden by the Catholic Church.

In 2016, Pope Francis ordered the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to publish a decree elevating the celebration of Saint Mary Magdalene to the level of a feast in the Roman Calendar.

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