Collage by Christine Irving

This collage represents the arrival of Marys Magdalene, Jacoba and Salome at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the capital of Camargue (Provençal Occitan Camarga) in the south of France.  Medieval legend has it that Magdalene and her companions landed here in a small rudderless boat after having been cast adrift by enemies.

In my collage the ship is guided by angels and welcomed by the women of the world.  Mother Mary has blessed the voyage with her presence and protection.  The three Marys are Black women to honor the African Mother of us all and to remind us that the red-haired Caucasian who so often represents the Magdalene looks nothing like the Semitic Jew she really was.

The African women also represent Sara, the mysterious dark-skinned woman who accompanied Magdalene as her handmaiden or possibly her daughter.  Alternative legends say she welcomed the Marys from the shore.  Sara is revered by European Gypsies who travel hundreds of miles each year on pilgrimage, visiting other Black Madonna sites along the way, to reach  Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer by mid-July.   Their journey culminates in a great annual celebration, wherein  they carry the statue of Sara into the sea in a ritual procession that reenacts her arrival in France.

Over 400 Black Madonnas still exist in Europe today.  Though embarassed by them, the Church can neither rid themselves of these odd medieval relics, nor explain them.  France is home to 180 of the mysterious figures, carved  from wood or stone and dating from between the 11th and 15th centuries.  Some are free-standing, but many sit formally posed on a “throne of wisdom.”  In this position they distinctly resemble more ancient depictions of the Egyptian goddess Isis holding her son, Horus.           

The Egyptian background in my collage honors that connection and also refers to the legend that the journey of Magdalene and her companions began in Alexandria.  I created this collage long before I ever thought of writing Magdalene A.D., but her journey fascinated me from the first time I heard about it; eventually it became the inspiration for the novel.

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