Written in 2007 when I was going through a phase of intense interest in the early history of the Church, the 20 years or so after the crucifixion. Before Paul. Twenty years before the then-general-and-future-emperor Titus obliterated Jerusalem and the Temple and Judaism as it had been for more than three millennia.
Before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, too.
Those were dangerous, chaotic times for the disciples and other companions. The Jewish Temple authorities tried to suppress them, and the Romans were annoyed at any group they thought subverted good order and tax collection schedules. They killed people who annoyed them.
So…. They scattered, fearing both Rome and Jewish authorities. With good reason.There’s a whole body of legend about one of them, Mary Magdalene, including the unproven and problematic idea that she was Jesus’ wife and mother of a child, and that she was a co-equal disciple– until Jesus died, that is.
The whole story plays into the modern mutual smear campaign between men and women, and her story is used by some to say “see, those bastards have been repressing women for a looooooong time…the fascist bastards.” Personally, I think it’s a mistake to put modern interpretations on ancients, but I did become intrigued with the what-ifs: what if the legends contained some kernel of truth, including the one that said she and 40 others were set adrift on the Mediterranean on the west coast of Italy (she’d had an audience with the Emperor, pleading for justice for the proto-Christian movement) and eventually landed on the coast of Gaul, near modern-day Marseilles. This poem was an attempt to see things from her point of view, based on all the early history scholarship I could find.
The legend says she stayed in Gaul for 40 years, preaching and founding churches.
*This is my Last Testament, left here for my friends to find when they bury me among the rocks that have been my bed these many years.”
Because I was true,
My bones grind each night on bare rock, but I remember what was;
I wish that you were beside me again; the pain reminds me that you are not
And I welcome it.
In the pain and dreams, my stony bed becomes a wedding bower and I dream of times long past–of Jerusalem, and Rome and my girlhood home in Magdala.
Because I was true to You, all fell away, save a few who suffered with me in those hungry weeks on a stormy sea.
In times long ago, those I thought my friends were not, and my enemies grew numerous and cast me out with slashing lies, abandoning me on the waves in a boat with no sail or rudder—telling me I would die a worthless and forgotten failure.
And when the tides brought our starving bodies to this shore, those that knew me not walked past quickly, scowling, on the other side of the road, never knowing who it was they passed, or whose child was curled, safe at last, in my belly.
Because I was true, my enemies made the world believe my name was female sin writ large, The Harlot branded with letters of flame and shame forever; my body forsaken by other men; my words tossed aside as the rantings of a mere woman; my womb barren save the one girl child— who walks as a light in my life–and my life was seen as worthless, or dangerous, even as yours was thought to be.
Because I was true, and stood almost alone, sharing your final agony; because I and I alone saw you rise when no one else believed; because, when you were gone, and no longer protected me, those who desired only a return to the old ways finally tossed me aside and thought themselves righteous;
Because I was true I was—and remain—a nothing, a nobody, forgotten and shamed.
But I am not what the World says of me. I am nothing, a nobody, but I am not forgotten and wear my shame like a crown. I live. I know the truth and it has warmed me in this lonely cave.
Because I was true, my heart is glad; I have lost everything men value but have gained the heavens; I forgive and forget the actions of those who did not understand. I am blessed beyond measure, and lay my head on a stone every night, content and filled with gratitude. The owl calls in from the gnarled spruce in the night and the stars above the great inland sea whirl above me. My soul is one with the Infinite, and I know that this barren cave will be my grave, but can never hold me.
Because I was true…I wait with a light and singing heart.
Mary of Magdala (as I was known); the Harlot; companion of the Son of Man, and one who, for 40 years, has never forgotten what we began together.
On the southern coast of Gaul, ready to leave this life and join my soul.