This morning I hiked up the mountain of St. Baume, through the beautiful, ancient Druid forest, to Mary Magdalene’s cave where she spent the last 30 years of her life as a contemplative. The hike was wonderful, good for my soul to be in such an old forest. The view from the cave was sublime. As was the sheer rock face that rises from where forest meets ancient stone stairs, winding up to the cave entrance.
The Magdalene was vegetarian! Makes sense living in the forest all those years, she was likely ‘gathering,’ rather than ‘hunting.’ They can tell about her diet from analysis of her bones. She was very small, maybe 5 feet tall, with dark hair and skin of North African/Mediterranean origins.
I thought they just made all that stuff up before coming here! Now being here and seeing it all, the historical side of the folklore comes alive. Her bones, the burial in the first century, re-burial of 700 AD, then re-finding her in 1279, with modern DNA analysis showing her origins. Immersed in living oral history, through the people, art, and monuments—as lived and held in place, called “la tradition Provençale.” The story is written into the land and the artwork of its people over centuries. The cave has been a monastery since 400 AD.
I spent some time with a lovely woman historian from the Magdalene society today. She relayed to me the ancient history of the site where the cave is located. It is on a ‘massif,’ a kind of mountain that is a very huge, long cliff, many kilometres long. It was sacred the Celtic peoples who lived here in times past. It is shaped like a dragon, and was revered as a feminine force. People worshipped the mother goddess here, and the sacred source of the waters. Mary Magdalene found her way to this place, by following the route of the waters to their source, seeking the solitude and protection of the forest cover (after brother Lazarus was killed by the Romans in Marseilles). She was not far from the old Roman route, but hidden and safe in this place, where other hermits of the time are said to have lived.
Sacred waters, trees, caves, and mother goddesses go well together. Forces of life, nourishment, shelter and earth.
In the meditative cave, dripping with water from its damp ceiling of rolling rocks, I lit two candles. One for a friend facing a life-threatening illness, the other for care for myself, family and all my relations. I pray and hope for a world of peace, for the gifts of the mother goddess, of the feminine, of the Magdalene who knew great love, loss, and love regained and who dwelt in the heart of the earth.