Leonardo and the mistery of Maria Magdalena

 

There are at least three issues about which Leonardo is explicit in his drawings and paintings, and however maintained in silence in his writings. The first is his presence in Catalonia, of which I have spoken in my books El viaje secreto de Leonardo da Vinci and Los mensajes ocultos de Leonardo da Vinci. The second is his interest by America, of which he don't say a word in his notebooks, but that depicts in his world map (with that same name) as a new continent detached of Asia. The third is the character of Maria Magdalena; he don't say anything about the sainte in his notes, but she is omnipresent -though in a hidden form- in his paintings.

Leonardo makes mention only once to this figure of the New Testament, when he says literally: "Giacomo [Salai] came to live with me the day of Sainte Magdalena [July 22] of 1490". This attests to the circumstance that Leonardo was well aware of the festivity of the sainte; a circumstance which has much merit, as we will see at the end of this article. Surely he would have had it very present in his life, if we take into account that in the Church of the Santa Croce in Vinci, where he was baptized, there was a Gothic sculpture, in polychrome wood, representing it.

            But, what could mean the Magdalena in thecomplex symbolic universe of Leonardo? To find it out we first will have to divein the biography of the sainte, as is referred in the canonical Gospels. Yes;but also in the apocrypha.

¿Who was Maria Magdalena?

            The Gospelsrefer repeatedly to Maria Magdalena, one of the women that followed Jesus. Luke(8.2) says that He had pulled out of her seven demons, what makes think innervous, hysterical or epileptic crisis. This may make sense if we take intoaccount that she was the sister of Lazarus (John, 11.3 and 11.21), to whichJesus "resuscitated" after four days of "dead". Very possibly, Lazarus wouldhave suffered a cataleptic attack, as says the same Onethat healed him: "Thisdisease is not of death, but for God's glory" (John,11.4).

            Maria lived inBethany, near Jerusalem, with her sister Martha and Lazarus. According to theGospels, Jesus frequented their house (Matthew, 21.17). Martha was good,attentive and diligent, but was not interested in the doctrine of the Master.Maria Magdalena was, on the contrary, afaithful follower of Him,loading thehome-work to her sister. Answering to the complaint of Martha, Jesus said (Luke,10.41-42): "Martha, Martha, you are restless and you worries by many things; butfew are necessary, or rather a single one. Mary has chosen the better part,which will be not snatched fromher".

            John clarifies(9,10) that is Maria Magdalena who anointed the Lord with an expensive ointmentand wiped His feet with her hair in the House of Simon the leper (at Bethany).Because of her faith, she has been made creditor of a perennial fame (Mark,14.9). This action would indicate, from my point of view, two facets of herpersonality: a genuine devotion (or love) to Jesus; and a hysterical (orpassionate) behavior, in a place and in a momentsomewhat inappropriate (thesocial meeting with Simon the leper, a well-known pharisee: Lucas, 7.36 etseq.).

paris.jpg - 189.04 KB 

 

Maria Magdalena cleaining with ointment the feet of Jesus, in a mural painting of the Cathedral of Paris

            This was theMaria Magdalena that accompanied to Christ in all time, that received Him in herhouse, that listened toHis preaching and to His speeches, that wept Himin theCalvary, that discovered the disappearance of His corpse, and that saw Himbyfirst time after His resurrection (Luke, 16.9). She was, without a doubt, Hisfavorite, either among His apostles, or among the women who surroundedHim.

            Does it meanthat Jesus and Maria Magdalena were lovers? Or spouses? John (2.1) alludes to awedding held in Cana in which Jesus and His disciples are invited. Can weunderstand that this wedding, where He performs His first miracle (theconversion of water into wine), is "His own wedding"? His wedding with MaríaMagdalena? This is justa pure speculation. But there are many passages-especially among the apocryphal gospels- which hint at a strong emotional bondbetween Jesus and Maria Magdalena.

            The gospel ofPhilip is prodigal in references around narrow relationships between One andanother. In the paragraph 32 it appoints heras His "partner", and in theparagraph 55 indicates that He "kisses in the mouth" her repeated times. WhenJesus knew the criticism -and jealousy- of the rest of His disciples answered:"Which is the reason that makes me to like her more than I likeyou?". 

            The gnosticgospels say that Maria Magdalena is heiress of the wisdom (and the secrets) ofJesus, for being His favorite. It is an unquestionable fact that she was Hisdisciple, to the same level -at least- as His apostles. This is evident in thecanonical Gospels. John (the most gnostic of the canonical evangelists) claimsin John, 20.16: "Jesus said [after resuscitated]: Maria!" [Magdalena]; "Herturning to Him, said in Hebrew: Rabboni!, that means master". For John theEvangelist, Maria considered Jesus asher teacher; This means that she was Hisdisciple.

The gnostic gospel of Maria Magdalena

            It is betweenthe gnostic gospels that we can find, in a more conclusive form, the relevantrole that the Magdalena played among the followers of Jesus. In Thomas (&21) Maria Magdalena asks Christ: "What are your disciples like?", what meansthat she is included in this select community. Another apocryphal document, theLetter of Tiberius toPilate, says literally: "It has come to my presence [ofTiberius] a woman, which is a disciple of Jesus (is María Magdalena, fromwhich,allegedly, wereexpelled seven devils) [sic.], and testifles that Jesusdid these cures..."

            It is evidentthat this is an apocryphal story (legendary) without any historical value. Butleaves well clear the important role that the Magdalena played in the communitythat remained faithful to Christ. Her, together with "John the virginal" (theonly one that is not bearded between the apostles; i.e., a single "notmarried"), acquires a protagonist role in the gnostic stories. For example, inthe Pistis Sophia Christ says: "Where I am, there will be also My twelveministers. But Maria Magdalena and John the virginal will protrude among all Mydisciples and among all those who receive the mysteries of the ineffable. Andthey are to My right and to My left. And I am them and they areMe." 

            In the PistisSophia Maria Magdalena is part of the four "female disciples" of Jesus, togetherwith Martha, Salome and Mary (mother of the Lord). Perhaps because of thisreceives the hostility of the male apostles. In the gospel of Thomas is said(&114): "Simon Peter said to them:be Mariham [Maria Magdalena] away fromus!, as women are not worthy oflife".

            Another one ofthe apocryphal gospels, the gospel of Maria Magdalena, alludes to a "vision"that has been given her to know "many secrets about the soul" (this viewconforms to the Christian interpretation of the Holy Spirit, called Paracleteamong the Gnostics). The reaction of Peter, in a new show of fury (and jealousy)was predictable: "But is that, asked the Lord by these issues, was to talk to awoman secretly in order we all listen toit through her? Would He pretend topresenther as more worthy than us?" Thus Levi responds: "If the Saviour hasjudged her worthy, who are you to despise her? Anyway, the Lord loved her nodoubt". This apocryphal gospel ends in the following manner: "Ended Levi havingthese words, left and began to preach the gospel according to Maria[Magdalena]".

sainte baume 2.jpg - 188.69 KB 

 

The iconography of the Magdalena is distinguished by three symbols: the pot of parfum, the skull, and a book; Perhaps "her book"?, the gospel of Maria Magdalena? To the left, Sainte Baume (France); to the right, El Pinell del Brai (Tarragona)

            The memory ofthis tradition has had continuity in christian heresies of gnostic type.Leonardo Da Vinci reflected it in several of his paintings. In the Last Supperthe Magdalena replaces to the "disciple beloved of Jesus" (John Evangelist),being warned (if not threatened) by Peter with an ostentatious gesture. In theMagdalena Leggente of Barcelona sheis lying, reading a book that could verywell be her own gospel. This image is derived from a similar one, found in theso-called place of burial of the Magdalena: the Sainte Baume in Saint Maximin,in French Provence.

santa cena.jpg - 215.77 KB 

 

 John/Magdalena is threatened by Peter in The Last Supper of Leonardo

 lolleria.jpg - 797.40 KB

The Magdalena Leggente of Barcelona, and above, a relief in the parish church of L'Olleria, in the Vall D'albaida (Valencia)

The Magdalena, in Leonardo's work 

            From my point ofview, Leonardo portrayed Maria Magdalena at least inthree occasions. The firstone, as we have seen above, in the Last Supper of Milan, replacing to John "thevirginal", who according to the tradition was next to Mary (mother of Jesus) andto the Magdalena (John, 19.25) in the mount Golgotha, in the moment of the deathof Christ.

caras.jpg - 166.42 KB 

Comparison of the face of John/Magdalena (above to the right) with the others female characters of the work of Leonardo. Note the similarity with the Virgin Mary on the Verge of the Rocks (down to the left)

 

 sainte baume.jpg - 181.32 KB

 

Mary (mother of Jesus), Maria Magdalena and John (beardless) at the Calvary. Note the cups in which the angels collected the blood of Christ. These glasses have a clear grialic symbolism (Sainte Baume, France)

 

            Leonardo would have been author, accordingto Carlo Pedretti, of a picture of the Magdalena, attributedbefore to one ofhis disciples (Giampetrino). See the newspaper El Pais, Sunday 19 of August of2007.

 

pedretti.jpg - 226.24 KB

 

 

The Magdalena of Leonardo identified by Carlo Pedretti. Note the red hair of the sainte, who poses nude, according to tradition

            And as alreadymentioned in another place, Leonardoalso would be author of the MagdalenaLeggente of Barcelona, in which this sainte goes accompanied of a book, whichcould allude to the gnostic gospel of Maria Magdalena. This apocryphal gospelwas circulating in catalan and occitan lands between devout cathars and"beguinos" (that is why these two religious currents were considered "heretical"by the Church).

            Look at theskull that goes with it. Here it is written the word "JesuX" (Jesus Christ),perhaps referring to the human (not divine) nature of the Saviour. Since theMagdalena Leggente seems to be pregnant, according to some experts, it ispermissible to guess that she appears herenot only as an "apostless" of her owngospel, but also as a mother-to-be. That is a guess, but whatever it is the word"JesuX" attests an extremely heretical concept for its days (in the early yearsof the 16th century).

magdalena leggente.jpg - 448.95 KB 

In the skull that accompanies the Magdalena Leggente of Barcelona is written the word "JesuX" (Jesus Christ) 

Cult to the Magdalena in Catalonia and Occitania

            The Magdalena wasvery venerated in catalan and occitan lands. This devotion is derived from theso-called "Golden legend" of the Sainte, according to which she would havelanded at the mouth of the Rhône, along with some of her faithful, fleeingpersecution of the Jewish clergy. After preaching among the inhabitants ofMarseilles, she retired to a cave, where she made a life of penance, until shedied. She would be buried, accordingto ones, in Vézelay (Burgundy), and toothers in Saint Maximin (la Sainte Baume), inProvence. 

 MAGDALENA EN MARSELLA.jpg - 245.68 KB

 

The Magdalena landed in Marseilles. Work of Pere Mates (1526). Museum of the Cathedral of Girona

saintes maries.jpg - 181.08 KB  

The Magdalena, and another woman (maybe Sara, or Mary Salome), in the boat without sails which took her to the coast of Saintes Maries de la Mer (where has been obtained this photo)

 

            In the area of the Catalunya Nord, where wecan find the village of Vinça (called Vincia in the 13th century), perhaps thecradle of the family of Leonardo before fleeing for religious reasons to landsof Tuscany, Maria Magdalena is very venerated. We can find many chapelsdedicated to this sainte; for example in Perpinyà, in Serdinyà, in Llentillà andin Saorla.

 

saorla.jpg - 567.79 KB 

    

In the Catalunya Nord, we find a large number of chapels and hermitages of the Magdalena, like this one from Saorla (below). There is an important cult to the Virgin Mary (above right, work of art in the town of Eus; on the left, "Madonna crucified" in Vinça)

 

            In the vicinity of Barcelona we find anothercharacteristic clusterof chapels of the Magdalena. In the town of El Pont deVilomara (province of Barcelona) there is a church, called Santa Magdalena delPla, dated around the middle of the 12th century, although it is believed isstill more ancient (from around the year 1077). This indicates that the devotionto this sainte is ancient in Catalonia. And near Gelida, also in Barcelona,there is a small - and very nice- church, called Santa Magdalena del Puig. Fromthis temple, the views of the mountain of Montserrat areimpressive.

 

iglesias magdalena.jpg - 336.27 KB 

 

Above, Santa Magdalena del Pla in El Pont de Vilomara. Below, Santa Magdalena del Puig, in Gelida

 

            There is anexplanation of this link between Catalonia and Occitania;it refers to theveneration of the sainte. It is well known that Vézelay and the Sainte Baume, inFrance, have disputed her body. As well, Catalonia, according to tradition,retain some relics of the Magdalena. The first (and most important) would be hertongue, in the cistercian Monastery of Santes Creus (Tarragona). According tothe Chronicles, it would have been a gift of Blanche of Anjou, married to KingJaime II of Aragón. Jaime Villanueva, in theViaje literario a las Iglesiasde España(book XX, Tarragona), writes what follows: "Another famous relicis the tongue ofsainte Maria Magdalena, placed inside a crystal of the samefigure, and covered with a great sapphire. It is a gift of Doña Blanca, wife ofthe King Don Jaime II".

            On the other hand the church of El Pont deVilomara would have, according to the archaeologist who excavated the temple(Angels Aguilar i Guillén:Memòria de les excavacions de l’església de SantaMagdalena del Pont de Vilomara), "another relic, perhaps from a piece ofclothing", in a rectangular box made of oak wood. Finally, Maria de Gràcia Salvài Picó, author of the workLa leyenda provenzal de Santa María Magdalenasegún las pinturas góticas de Sant Vicenç de Rus(Castellar de N’Hug,Barcelona), noted that Violante de Bar, wife of the King of Aragon John I, wouldhave left other relics of the Magdalena in the monastery -now gone- of the Valld' Hebron, in Barcelona. And adds also that in the region of the Berguedà (as inthe Catalunya Nord, and in the vicinity of Barcelona) can be found aconsiderable amount of chapels dedicated to Santa Maria Magdalena (Figols,Guardiolans, Soriguera, Bagà and Malosa). Some of them are founded on the XIIIcentury.

 

            In my bookLos mensajes ocultos de Leonardo daVinciI highlight the possibility that Leonardo daVinci was inspired in a catalan paintingof the first half of the XV century,the socalled Sant Sopar of Solsona (perhaps of Pere Teixidor), to paint hisLast Supper of Milan. This is evident if we compare both pictures (form of thetable, the two easels, the fretwork and ornaments of the tablecloth, the partthat is missing in the center of the composition,etc.).

 

solsona.jpg - 709.13 KB 

 

Comparison of the Holy Supper of Solsona and the Last Supper by Leonardo

And it is still more evident the similarity of both paintings if we take into account that in preliminary sketches of Leonardo the coincidences are even more pronounced. If we reverse the drawing (below), we will see how St. John is lying to the left of Christ and Judas is on the other side of the table, on His right. This is an indication, as I point out in my book, that Leonardo could have made use of some symbolic "motifs" of the Pere Teixidor Holy Supper (a gothic altarpiece with obvious gnostic and cathar elements) in its own composition. This would have taken place on a visit to Navès (the painting of Pere Teixidor was deposited in Santa Constança de Linya, not far from this town), perhaps at the home of an acquaintance of the family Olivella, as explained in Los mensajes ocultos de Leonardo da Vinci.

 

 

solsona 2.jpg - 203.08 KB

 

Note how the preliminary studies of the Last Supper of Leonardo repeated similar motives of the Holy Supper of Pere Teixidor

The symbolism of the Magdalena

 

            It is well known that Dan Brown, in hisbestseller The Da Vinci Code, has done a literal reading of the thesis of theauthors of El Enigma Sagrado (from M. Baigent, Leigh R. and H. Lincoln), whichbasically boils down to the following assertion: María Magdalena, as bride ofChrist (according to the apocryphal gospels; see above), would be guardian ofHis "seed" (of His blood, in short), and would have had children in France,which would be at the base of the merovingian dynasty, which united andchristianized this Kingdom. This belief, according to these authors, would callinto question the religious doctrine of the Church, and therefore would havebeen fought to the fullest by Rome andParis.

 

            As I discuss inLos mensajes ocultos de Leonardo daVinci, it is a fact that the cathars and the"beguinos" of Catalonia and Occitania had a great veneration by John theEvangelist, and especially by the Magdalena; to the extent that catharism inthis region is different from the professed in the rest of Europe (especially inItaly). According to some authors, the occitan catharism is especially linked tothe cult to the Magdalena, which would explain the killing of Béziers takenplace precisely on this date (22 July of the 1209, Sainte Magdalena), as a"warning" to those who professed it.

 

            The grialic doctrine of the"blood" (theSangreal, or Sang Réal) is evident in the picture of La Sainte Baume (see above)in which we observe a few angels who collected it in two cups.

           

            The Cup is associated with the Magdalena, andwith John the Evangelist, in their respective Iconographies. In the first caseit contains the ointment with which the sainte bathed the feet of the Saviour;in the second the poisonwith which was "proven" the "virginal" apostle (John),also called the "beloved disciple" ofChrist.

 

            In the altarpiece of Saint John theEvangelist, in the monastery of Santes Creus (Tarragona), we can see two curiousfacts. Firstly, the Magdalena appears, next to the cross of Christ, with a bellythat shows anotorious pregnancy (it is saidthat it is the only "pregnantMagdalena", but this is not exact). Second, John the Evangelist shows anoticeable resemblance with the figure of a woman; and given that isred-haired,all makes think that represents the figure of MariaMagdalena.

 

santes creus 2.jpg - 453.47 KB

 

The pregnant Magdalena of Santes Creus (Tarragona). Photo by Jose Luis Gimenez

 santes creus.jpg - 829.19 KB

 

Saint John the Evangelist has all the appearance of being the Magdalena (Santes Creus, Tarragona). Photo by Jose Luis Gimenez

 

            Let us remember that Santes Creus had,according to Jaime Villanueva, a relic of the sainte (in particular, herembalmed tongue). This makes this altarpiecea conspicuous example of thepopular "cult" to the cathar Magdalena, the one which -according to legend-moved to Provence, with the son of Jesus, to proclaim His hidden message(gnostic) and to preserve in time His "seed" ("dynasty of the Grail", accordingto the authors of El enigma sagrado).

 

            Think what you want, but these images arevisible and real. The dentification John the Evangelist-Magdalena, and theallusion to the pregnant Magdalena as Jesus wife (and mother of their children),seems clear in the altarpiece of Santes Creus(Tarragona).

 

            This is not the only altarpiece in Cataloniathat identifies John the Evangelist with Magdalena. In the Church of Santa Annain Barcelona we find a figure of John that, as it happens in Santes Creus,allows us to see an androgynous figure who has more of woman than of man. Inshort,we come back to contemplate the figure of MariaMagdalena.

 

santa anna.jpg - 468.74 KB 

 

John as Magdalena in the Church of Santa Anna (Barcelona)

Remember the Holy Supper of Solsona. There the Magalena appears in a wrong place at a wrong time. Her presence at the Last Supper is untimely, because according to the Scriptures would have washed the feet of Christ in the meal with Simon the leper, happened some time before. Let us look at the aura that defines it, which shares with John the Evangelist (recumbent) and with Christ. The rest of the apostles don't have it. This indicates that John, the Magdalene and Christ are here the unique "saints" that count; a clearly gnostic (and cathar) message that Leonardo collected at the Last Supper in Milan. But unlike the Holy Supper of Solsona, in his mural Leonardo identifies both characters (John and Magdalena), in the way was in use in medieval Catalonia (altarpieces of Santes Creus and Santa Anna).

Leonardo identifies the figure of Magdalena with a compositional trick. Converts the characters of Peter, John/Magdalena and Christ in a M profile hidden in the composition. This (an abbreviation of Magdalena, possibly) acquires a grialic character in the Church of Sainte Maria Magdalena at Rennes le Chateau, built under the supervision - and design - of Berenger Saunière, a key character in the myth of Dan Brown (the Da Vinci Code). Note how in the interior of this church different sculptures make up the acronym Graal, opposite to the figure of the Magdalena. Here this sainte is identified, again, with the grialic myth.

rennes.jpg - 411.46 KB 

The grialic M in Rennes the Chateau. Compare with the M of the Last Supper by Leonardo

The M, in relation to the Virgin Mother, because that's what the Magdalena (mother of the sons of Jesus) symbolizes, is found in a statue of Artemis, in a neocathar centre of cult (from my point of view) not far from the city of Barcelona. Here the M stands out on a rose (symbol of the secret) in the hands of the "Goddess of the Moon and fertility", which is adorned, as in the Artemision of Ephesus, with many breasts.

artemisa.jpg - 575.50 KB 

 

A M, on a rose (symbol of the secret), in a centre of neocathar worship, near Barcelona

 

            May we conclude that Leonardo acceptedwithout nuances the grialic symbolism of the"blood", as it was known in catalanand occitan lands? From my point of view not necessarily. Note the date ofcelebration of the feast of Maria Magdalena. If we divide the day (22) by themonth (July, i.e., the number 7), we obtain the number 3.14. This represents thenumber Pi, which allows to solve the "squaring of the circle" (one of Leonardo´spurposes throughout his life). The Magdalena, as Patron of pharmacists, was alsolinked to the practice of Alchemy. I think that Leonardo always saw her as asymbol of the grialic "hidden knowledge" ; but not from the point of view of the"blood" (and the lineage of Christ), but ofthe alchemical "renewal". TheMagdalena would symbolize the "raw material" of the alchemists (term derivedfrom "mother"). Therefore, the Mona Lisa, as the Magdalena of Santes Creus, ispregnant. But this is another topic...

 

The Magdalena in Rennes le Château

 

            Above I wrote somewords about the legend of the Magdalena and the mystery of Rennes le Chateau.After reading theinterview that Andrew Gough did to Jean LucRobin(former owner of the Villa Betania ofBérenger Saunière), on his Internet "Arcadia" page, I think necessaryto do somequotations of his thinking, in relation to the subject that concerns us. Hereare the words of Robin:

            "Saunière alwaysleft evidences behind him. He had something to hide; He had a secret, but at thesame time was leaving traces, and these traces and this evidence always lead usto the same place: 1) dualism [the Gnosticism of which I have spoken above],which was a fundamental aspect of the cathar religion, and 2) Maria Magdalena.Whatever it is what Saunière left in his Church, always leads to these twopoints. Obviously we try to say something in relation to thisaspect.

            ... When you lookcarefully, you will find interesting things in the churches in this region. Itwas invested a lot of money; millions in gold were spent in the churches in thispart of France in the 17th century. Why? The evidences left by Saunière arefoundin other churches. For example, if you go to the church of Mirepoix [aregion with cathar past], one of the stained glass windows shows the famousscene of Maria Magdalena drying the feet of Christ with her hair; only that isnot Maria Magdalena who dry the feet of Christ, but John [Evangelist]. Magdalenais behind Christ... And this dates back to the 14th century.

            Since I have beeninterested in this story, I've been watching things with different eyes. And Irealized that in many representations of Maria Magdalena, especially statues,she appears pregnant. At least one in five... Perhaps Bérenger Saunière liftedthe lid of secrecy. It is a fact that he knew it".

            Robin does notmention the remarkable fact that in the Church of the Magdalena of Rennes leChateau there is one of these images in which this sainte appeared pregnant (seebelow).

MAGDALENA RENNES.jpg - 288.61 KB 

The Magdalena at the altar of Rennes le Chateau

 

            Moreover, the text confirms some of the ideasthat I have shown in this article: identification John/Magdalena, catharism, theMagdalena as wife and mother. This aspect opens new and unsettling perspectivesto the study of the works of Leonardo da Vinci, as well as its links with secretsocieties of heretical character.

 

 

Return