Retablo Series. Saint Magdalene


Mary Magdalene

Feast day 22 July

Mary Magdalene at Crucifixion. Wooden sculpture mounted on wood, located at the top of Gospel altar, framed sculpture of the Cross with Mary Magdalene kneeling. The polychrome sculpture depicts the mourning lady in white tunic and black cloak kneeling on the right side of the crucified Christ. Striking is the presence of a skull, typical motif for the lady and to some scholars symbolizes Adam or the humanity. Other motifs associated to her are a box, a jar of ointment or an egg.

She is the patroness of Amadeo (in Cavite Province), then a barrio of Silang until 1872.

Her name, Mary of Magdalene, refers either from her origin, Magdala near the west shores of Galilee or a “Talmudic expression meaning “curling women’s hair,” which the Talmud explains as of an adulteress” (Pope, newadvent.org). Her presence high up in the tableau signifies a place of honor and that repenting sinners are raised and highly valued by God, just as he searched for the only lost sheep of his flock. The skull at the foot of the cross refers either to the myth that Adam was buried in the site, now known as the Calvary, or symbolizes repentance of sin (Unabia 178) and even perhaps foretells the triumph over death by Christ. This motif first appeared in 17th century crucifixes while the crown of thorns was as early as the 13th It was in the 17th century that the crucified Christ in brief loin cloth knotted on the side first appeared (Gatbonton 23). Philippines imagery of crucifixes portrayed the agony of Christ in a more “placid” fashion compared to western renditions.

Similar to Mexican carvings, the Philippine artisans portray the passion of Christ in submissive way, “the emotion evoked is one of gentle pathos…with beseeching soulful eyes…” (22). Note this same gaze in the wooden relief at the Epistle altar. This mourning image calls the congregation to repent on their sins by truthfully following Christ and eventually be pardoned and raised on his right side, a place of honor.

Sources:

Gatbonton, Esperanza B. Philippine Religious Carvings in Ivory. Manila: Intramuros Administration, 1983.

Pope, Hugh. “St. Mary Magdalen.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.

Unabia, Teresita. Silang: Kasaysayan at Pananampalataya. Dasmarinas, Cavite: De La Salle University, Dasmariñas, 2000.