Mary Magdalen and the mendicants: The preaching of penance in the late Middle Ages
Jansen, Katherine L.(Princeton University)
Journal of Medieval History 21 (1995)
This essay examines de sanctis sermons written to commemorate the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalen in order to extract the social meaning of penance in the late Middle Ages. Since sermons were the ‘mass media’ of the day, they provide a glimpse into how the obligation of penance was presented by preachers, mostly friars, in the later medieval period. Through an analysis of what the friars preached about Mary Magdalen – the paradigmatic penitential saint – light can be thrown on how the reformulation of the sacrament of penance at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 helped to rejuvenate the cult of the Magdalen and how, in turn, the saint came to represent the sacrament of penance in the late medieval period.
In the year 1279 Charles of Salerno had a vision. It was disclosed to the Angevin prince that the body of Saint Mary Magdalen was not interred in Burgundy, as the canons of Vezelay claimed; it remained, rather, in the city of Aix-en-Provence, where it had been buried since apostolic times. On 9 December of that same year, a tomb in the crypt of the church of Saint-Maximin was opened and the saint’s relics were miraculously discovered. According to the inquisitor Bernard Gui O.P., a contemporary witness, the body contained an identity card of sorts.