Mary Magdalene, at the entrance to the crypt.
The entrace of the Basilica.
St Maximin la Ste Baume
We have often passed by the town of St Maximin la Ste Baume on the way to other areas of Provence but decided to make a special visit there in light of all of the interest in Mary Magadalene, especially with the popularity of The Da Vince Code by Dan Brown, for it is here that her tomb is said to be.
We drove a rather circular route to get there avoiding the busy and unattractive highway. On the way we stopped for lunch at a little village called Rians. As usual, there is a cathedral at the top of a hill with the buildings of the village spilling down with narrow, winding streets and scrapes on the sides of buildings where trucks have forced their way through. After a delightful lunch on a square under the shade of some mulberry trees where we discussed the ages of various buildings-we decided 16th and 17th century-we walked a short way uphill to the surprising little cathedral at top. It appeared very well- kept to me and I got the impression that it had an active membership as it was very well maintained and there were many printed signs either explaining various statues, or prayers to them. Many of the statues were guilded and painted, not the usual stone carvings and we spent quite a while there roaming around. Our visit there was enhanced by a man upstairs practicing on the organ sending down spiritual music to enhance the feeling of the church.
The basilica at St Maximin was much larger. We wandered first into the cloister and it has been made into what looks like a really good hotel and restaurant. The cathedral is without a bell tower and looks unfinished from the front. To its left side is the impressive Hotel de Ville holding the tourist information office. The cathedral is full of magnificant chapels and is, itself, the gothic treasure of Provence, with those high soaring walls that are so breath-taking upon entering. We made our way down a short flight of stairs to see the crypt where the body of Mary Magadelene is said to lie. There is a cinderella like gold tomb and inside is a dark skull topped with some long red hair-this said to be Mary. There are also some impressive carved sarcophagi there.
There is a legend that says Mary Magdalene, with others including her brother Lasarus, escaped persecusion in Palestine and came to France (in a boat without sails) landing at Stes Maries de la Mer-there is a festival there in May celebrating this by the gypsies-and she made her way to this area, where she lived in a cave for 30 years for contemplation and prayer spreading Christianity to Provence. When she died, the angels took her to the site of the Basilica where she was buried along with St Maximinus.
As we wandered around here, there was a choir practicing wonderful chants, all female with high, soaring voices to give goosebumps to accompany our sense of wonder being inside this great building.
A rather primative statue, behind glass, of Mary and Jesus at Rians.