St. Mary Magdalene is coming to the Chicago area — that is, a relic of the saint often referred to as the “apostle to the Apostles” is coming. A reliquary carrying a portion of her tibia (leg bone) will travel for two weeks beginning Feb. 20 to churches in the Archdiocese of Chicago. It then will continue to other Illinois locations during March.
“The purpose of the tour is to share the holiness of the relic and tell the story of the saint who is recorded as the first witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” said Paula Lawlor, coordinator of the Illinois tour. “St. Mary Magdalene was told to go and tell the others.”
The first stop will be St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in River Forest on Feb. 20.
“St. Mary Magdalene is the patroness of our order,” said Dominican Father Thomas McDermott, pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer. “Dominicans are the custodians of the relic. We are grateful and blessed for the opportunity to have her relic at our church.”
Tradition has it that some years after the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalene was imprisoned. On release she and other followers of Jesus were cast out to sea on the shores of Palestine without sails, oars or supplies. The boat miraculously came to shore on the coast of Gaul (France) in a town near Marseille.
After preaching with her companions and converting the whole of Provence, Mary Magdalene retired to a mountain cave known as La Sainte-Baume, which means holy cave, and spent the last 30 years of her life in solitude.
Since the early days of the Catholic Church the faithful have had a tradition of venerating the relics of saints and holy people of God. Relics are parts of a saint’s body, “something used by the saints, or objects touched to the bodies of the saints that have enjoyed for centuries the reverence offered by the church,” according to the “Catholic Dictionary.” These relics are divided into three classes: first-class (parts of a saint’s body); second-class (something used by the saint); and third-class (an object touched to a first-class relic), the Catholic dictionary explains.
Several churches in the Archdiocese of Chicago have their own collections of relics, including Queen of All Saints Basilica, 6280 N. Sauganash Ave., and St. John Cantius Parish, 825 N. Carpenter St.
In the case of Mary Magdalene, a letter of authenticity from Bishop Dominique Rey reports the relics were hidden at the time of the Saracen invasions. In 1279 they were rediscovered in a chapel crypt in the town of St. Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. The relics were found in a sarcophagus — a stone coffin. Upon opening, the air was filled with an aromatic fragrance. Along with the relics was a piece of old parchment wrapped in wax dated 710 A.D. and a wooden tablet with the words, “Here lies the body of Mary Magdalene.”
Shortly after this discovery, Pope Boniface VIII published a pontifical bull for the establishment of the Dominicans at La Sainte-Baume and St. Maximin, the town where the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene is located, 20 miles from the cave.
The Dominicans have remained guards of the relic ever since. One of the friars always travels with the reliquary.
“Pilgrims over hundreds of years have traveled to La Sainte- Baume to pray and give thanks for the intercession of St. Mary Magdalene. Now those in the Chicago area and other Illinois towns will only have to travel to our parish or one of the other churches hosting the reliquary to do the same,” said McDermott.
She knew Jesus
St. Thomas More Parish, 2825 W. 81st St., will host the relics on Feb. 21. Father Charles Fanelli, St. Thomas More’s pastor, expects great interest in St. Mary Magdalene’s relic based upon previous experience with the relics of other saints that have visited the parish.
“Last November our parish had a day devoted to relics of saints,” he said. “It was so moving to see the way people reacted to them. This relic of St. Mary Magdalene, is really special. It does not just date from the past few hundred years like most of the saints about whom we have learned,” he said. “She actually lived during the time of Christ and knew him.”
That’s one of the benefits of the tour, Lawlor said.
“The presence of St. Mary Magdalene’s relic reminds us she was real, made of flesh and bones, just like us. Through this tour, St. Mary Magdalene will be able to preach more, even though it’s some 2,000 years later.”
For more information, visit www.magdalenepublishing.org.