The official Church version is that Mary Magdalene was buried in Ephesus and that in 899 the Emperor Leo VI had her relics transferred to a monastery in Constantinople.
This has the effect of keeping Mary Magdalene well away from Western Europe and any theories about the Sangreal, the bloodline of Jesus. But a strong contender in the burial probability stakes comes from Provence in France, where there is, as mentioned before, what amounts to a ‘Mary Magdalene industry’.
It was Gregory of Tours, chronicler of the Frankish kings in the late 6th century, who recorded the older tradition that Mary Magdalene died in Ephesus where she had lived for many years with Jesus’s mother, Mary, and John the Evangelist, thought to have been the author of the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John.
This account was, however, contradicted in a document in Latin (c. 5th to 6th century) which, referring to an earlier record, claimed that Mary Magdalene had travelled to Aix-le-Provence with Saint Maximin and had lived there for many years before she died in Aix at the age of 60.
In keeping with the mission of Jesus entrusted to Mary Magdalene and the apostles, she and Maximin had preached the gospel in Gaul, and Maximin had become the first Christian bishop in Gaul (usually referred to as Bishop Maximus). He placed her embalmed body in a crypt and had a Basilica built over it to honour and protect it.
The body was said to have been removed during the Saracen invasions as it was feared it would be discovered and destroyed. Rumour has it that part of the remains were taken to the French monastery of Vezelay in Burgundy, the church of which carried Mary Magdalene’s name.
Years later, a monk of the Vezelay monastery is reputed to have found a crypt at the Basilica of St Maximin’s in Provence. Reference to the Magdalene was chiselled into the stone.
Margaret Starbird draws attention to a published report that the Vatican sent an Apostolic Nuncio with six bishops and several priests to celebrate mass at the Basilica of Marie Madeleine in 1950 to honour the 700-year Jubilee of the discovery of her grave in Provence. She asks questions we would all like to have answered. What did the Catholic Church know about Mary Magdalene to induce them to participate in this event? How long had the Church Fathers known whatever it was that they seemed to know? And, since they were willing to lend support to the Jubilee, why were they at the same time continuing to discount the stories that placed Mary Magdalene in Provence both during her lifetime and after her death?
Certain documents favouring the Constantinople (Byzantium) account of Mary Magdalene’s burial place claim that part of her relics were transferred in the 9th century to the monastery Church of St Lazarus and that, some time after the final Crusade, were moved to Italy where they were buried beneath the altar of the Lateran Cathedral in Rome. Other documentation places part of her relics near Marseilles where, as mentioned, the splendid St Maximum’s Basilica was built over them.
Then there is the contention that Mary Magdalene’s remains were buried, along with secret documents, on Temple Mount in Jerusalem and were found when the city was conquered during the First Crusade.
Where, then, is Mary Magdalene buried? Legends, rumours and traditions – both oral and written – abound. Again, the only honest answer is: we don’t know.
Is she buried in Ephesus in Turkey, as the Church believes… or does it?
Was she buried on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and were her remains moved to the West when the crusaders took Jerusalem?
Is she buried under the Basilica of St Maximin?
Are some of her bones hidden in a crypt at Vezelay?
Or are her relics buried in more than one place?
Finally, could it really be that her bones are buried within the glass pyramid at the Louvre Museum? Of all possibilities, this is surely the most unlikely.
It would be understandable had some of her bones been placed in different burial places after her initial burial in order to ensure that at least some of them survived being discovered and removed and perhaps even destroyed.
Perhaps this mystery will also be solved in due course if contemporary documents are ever discovered.
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