Powered by Bravenet Bravenet Blog

Subscribe to Journal

June 1, 2007

2:00 AM

Lessons from Sainte Baume, or how Mary Magdalene continues to teach me about the power of love and forgiveness

This is a long post, but I think an important one, so I hope you will bear with me and read on…

There is a place of extraordinary beauty in Provence that Mary Magdalene fans have known about for centuries.  It’s called the Grotto of Sainte Baume, and local tradition indicates that our Mary lived their following the crucifixion.  There are many versions of this legend, and is often the case with someone who was forced into hiding, many of them are contradictory or otherwise obscured in mystery.  Some say she came there immediately following her exile from the Holy Land before moving on to preach throughout Provence and the Languedoc (this is my preferred version), some say she lived here a short time, some say for 40 years, others say she died here.   There is even a legend that she was born aloft daily by angels from the top pf the mountain where she was kept alive solely by divine love and the periodic communion wafer.  

Whichever version of the legend works for you, there is one constant factor that is absolutely undeniable:  Mary Magdalene was here, in this place, and her grace and beauty and faith and strength infuse every inch of the area.   Many of you know that I am outspoken in my opinions about the biblical “authorities” who love to claim that there is no “proof” that Mary Magdalene was ever in France.   As I have said many times before, there is plenty of proof for those who choose to leave the comforting shelter of their academic libraries and go in search of it - but this sometimes means climbing a few mountains and getting dirt on your loafers.   Heaven forbid.  What would the Dean say?

The climb to the cave system at Sainte Baume is either rigorous or excruciating, depending on your level of fitness.   As we near the summit, I always tell those who are climbing with me “you may hate me at this moment, but you will love me when we reach the top.”   And it is always true.  For the reward at the top is an extraordinary and unique place where the love of Notre Dame is there for all to feel and understand.  I have seen many a self-proclaimed “stable and rational” human turn to jelly in this place.  It is difficult to describe the potential emotional responses to it as it affects everyone differently, depending on their own spiritual frame of reference.

Yet as powerful as this pilgrimage is, I know a number of devoted Magdalene fans who will not go to this place at all, despite the fact that they are very clear that she lived here and that the entire region is suffused with her energy and spirit.  Why?  Because since 1296 it has been run by the Dominicans.

Dominicans, you say?  The so-called “Dogs of God” who led the Inquisition(s)?  The same order that called our people heretics and subsequently tortured and massacred the Cathars by the hundreds of thousands in a tragically successful attempt at ethnic cleansing?  Yes, the same.

For some of my friends, it is unbearable to think that a place which is so sacred to Our Lady can be in the hands of those who destroyed her children.  They simply cannot endure the Dominican presence, both here in Sainte Baume, but also in the neighboring town of Saint Maximin, where Mary’s relics are housed in “their” basilica.   It feels like a hostile occupation, and indeed it may have been exactly that in the earlier stages of Christianity.  I don’t think it is an accident that the Dominicans “claimed” this place as their own within 50 years of the final Cathar persecutions.   

Like many of my friends in France and elsewhere,  I have always had a strong reaction to Dominican presence in what I feel is one of her most sacred places.  While I did not allow it to stop me from going there, it  has always been a shadow on a place that was otherwise full of light.  Further, while I would love to stay in those mountains for a prolonged period of meditation and prayer, I have refused to do so when the opportunity presented itself because the hostel there is run by the Dominican nuns.  These women were an imposing presence in their full habits, and also a sharp reminder to me of where I felt the church had misrepresented the true teachings of Jesus - and of his wife and successor, Mary Magdalene.

But last week, my friend Isobel changed all of that on a beach in Southern France.

Let me digress to tell you about Isobel.  She is a remarkable, inspirational woman, someone I consider a great friend, sister and extremely wise teacher.  She lives part of the year in Southern France, where she teaches travelers about the true nature of the Cathars and their desire to create a Church of Love.  She lives part of the year in Bosnia, where she works with the women who survived the horrific, nearly unimaginable, genocide of Srebinca in July of 1995 where 8,000 men were slaughtered in the worst act of mass murder since the Holocaust.  One of the many things that Isobel has taught me is that these circumstances are not different - the campaign against the Cathars and the campaign against the Bosniaks.  Genocide in all of its forms is the greatest of horrors, and caused by hate.  We look at the torture of the Middle Ages and we like to think that we have progressed as human beings over 800 years.  But the events in Bosnia in 1995 and in Darfur today show us that we are still capable of unspeakable crimes against our human brothers and sisters, and we will  be until we can conquer the hate with forgiveness.  

I once asked Isobel what the women in Bosnia wanted in terms of assistance.  Financial aid?  Political support?  What would help?  And her answer floored me then as it does now.  The response, when asked, was simply this:  “We want people to live their lives with more tolerance and more forgiveness.  That is the only thing that will change the world.  The rest is useless without those two things first.”  And this from women who often live in the same neighborhoods with the men who murdered their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers.   But I shall quote these women again: “We know what hate can do.  Now let’s see what love can do.”

And so it was that I was sitting on the shores of the Mediterranean with Isobel, where we meet annually to celebrate the arrival of Mary Magdalene here 2000 years ago.  She had just returned from the Dominican convent at Sainte Baume.  “How can you stay in that place?” I asked with disdain, nearly spitting out my sangria.  “How can you not stay there?” was her reply.  In her gentle but firm way, she then went on to explain that resisting the Dominican presence in Sainte Baume was not only useless, but counter-productive.  She told me that she looks forward to it, that she speaks with the nuns and learns from them and that they are really quite lovely and didn’t I need to get myself back there asap and try to approach all of this differently?  What would happen if I went into this place with a feeling of love and forgiveness, rather than one of anger and bitterness?   After all, the nuns who are running the hostel today didn’t burn anyone at the stake.  It isn’t exactly fair to blame them for the sins of their forefathers, is it?  And what was it that I always tried to ask myself?  What would Mary Magdalene do?

And so I agreed to give it a try and went to Sainte Baume the next day.  I fortified myself by making the climb first, before venturing into the chapel and hostel that is run by the nuns.  The chapel itself is very special, covered with marvelous murals of our Magdalene’s life, my favorite of which is one that shows her standing tall and firm on a rock, preaching to the fishermen of Marseille.  Wait a minute, if the Dominicans commissioned a mural of Mary Magdalene preaching in Marseille, didn’t that indicate that they were respectful of her as an apostle in her own right?  The murals in this chapel, painted in the early 1900s, depict none of the negative stereotypes that have haunted Our Lady for 2000 years.  Instead, they show her in her power and grace!  Hmmm… it was already starting to make me think…

There were several nuns in meditation in the chapel and I didn’t want to disturb them, so I went into the lobby where there is a small gift shop.  In the window was the most exquisite little statue of Magdalene I have ever seen (and I’ve seen quite a few).  She is beautiful, wearing a crown and carrying her jar, with one foot placed lightly on a book.   I wanted to see it closer, but this meant actually having to address one of the fearsome Dominican nuns whom I have spent so many years avoiding.  Well, here was the test.  I asked her in my broken French if I could see it, and… she smiled at me.  Then she went to retrieve the statue, and as she brought it down she looked at it with the most beautiful reverence.  “She is magnificent,” she said, as she handed the statue to me.  And in that moment, the two of us from entirely different worlds came crashing together.  For a few seconds we were holding Mary Magdalene between us, and we both welled up with tears.  It hit me then that this woman loved Magdalene every bit as much as I did, and perhaps more.  She had devoted an entire life to the memory of her legacy here at Sainte Baume.  And I had no right - no one does - to judge how she chose to express that love in her lifetime.   But most of all, I realized that there was no separation between us, there was only love - the love for this extraordinary, inspirational heroine who has inspired so many of us for so long.

The wonderful post-script to this story is that in finding my forgiveness and operating through love, I also discovered that these Dominicans have more information on the history of Magdalene in France than arguably anyone in the world!  And, they’re happy to share it with anyone who asks.  In fact, the lobby of the hostel itself is full of historical information that is displayed openly on the walls in a celebration of her presence here.  Some of it is borderline heretical, yet I think there is more value on the walls of Sainte Baume then in all of the history books I have ever waded through.  It was subsequently in this convent at Sainte Baume that I found crucial, nearly priceless evidence to back up something I am writing about in my next book.   While the feeling of love and well-being that I now experience at Sainte Baume is reward enough, I am most grateful for the additional blessings that were bestowed upon me in my research.

Viva Magdalena!

With LOVE,

- Kathleen

22 Comment(s).

Posted by Mary:

When we went there last year, I didn't know it was run by Dominicans! Those murals are breathtaking. I especially love the one of Magdalene watching Easa go to off to preach. And the one she's looking at the cloud patterns from the cave at St. Baume. And of course the statue of her in the back of the chapel.
Oh, I loved the whole place. But, I was such a "young-un" back then, didn't know what the *h* I was looking at or for!
I'm very happy you're starting to make peace with the Dominicans. Maybe now we can pick up post cards even if there's a Dominican priest overseeing the table ;);)
June 1, 2007 @ 7:10 AM

Posted by Lisette:

Thank you Kathleen for sharing this story! We can miss out on a lot if we don't forgive. Great treasure can be hidden behind barriers of resentment and prejudice if we don't forgive and look at things in a new way. Sounds like you unearthed such a treasure!

June 1, 2007 @ 11:16 AM

Posted by Tina:

Hi Kathleen, I'm glad I was able to hear you speak to our group (with Ani and Nancy) on the beach at St Marie de la Mer. I'm glad you have allowed love to color your experience at St Baume. I just returned from my Mary Magdalene pilgrimmage. I went on this journey with absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of Mary other than what was read to us in Catholic sermons during my childhood. St Baume was absolutely incredible! It was here that I realized that for me Mary Magdalene is the female side of Christ Conciousness. Oh, how this changes everything! It was in the chapel that I lit my first candle offering of my life and prayed to a saint. The energetic impact was immediate and intense and to top it off, although only a few minutes before breakfast, one of the nuns came in and played the harpsichord. Coincidence or did she actually hear my prayer? Thank you for your efforts and research; now I'll have to read your book. Blessings, Tina (ps. I also realized I don't have to find that yogi master to give me my spiritual name, I've had it since birth - Christine Marie)
June 2, 2007 @ 5:18 PM

Posted by Kelly Schneid:

Thank you Kathleen for your incredible book and your work to empower woman. I am a spiritual counselor and it is amazing how many woman give their power away so easily and without realizing it. Since I have read "The Expected One", I have recommended your book to numerous woman and now will recommend your web site. Thank you for choosing your Master to be the Divine part of yourself.

Love and light
June 4, 2007 @ 9:44 AM

Posted by Kelly Canull:

Hello there-
I am great friends with young Shelby that you met through Izzy a week ago as she was traveling through France following the journey of Mary Magdalena. I have loved your book and have just published my first book (An Inward Journey: A Guide to Living Your Best Life)three months ago as well. The common theme throughout our books is about How To live as Divine Love. If we all lived from our Divine Essence, there would be no doubt that Jesus and Mary came together in Sacred Union--contracted to work together before their incarnation---and fulfilled their Divine purpose Together. I was never taught this, but deep within I have always known this as a Truth. When I read I Remember Union 8 years ago, I knew it as Truth then too. I appreciate the work you are doing in this world. All is aligned with the Great Feminine coming forth within all of us at this time to bring back this Balance that Sacred Mother Earth and Father Sky have designed since the beginning of All That Is. Thanks again for being a Beacon of Light in this world. Kindly, Kelly:)
June 4, 2007 @ 1:15 PM

Posted by Mimi:

Dear Kathleen,
I am writing from Barcelona (Spain)and I would like to contratulate you for your excellent work with "The Expected One" (In Spanish, "La Esperada"). I would like also to tell you that few months before I "casually" met your novel in a bookshop I started to find references to Mary Magdalene's story everywhere I went. I have been carrying a research on the Cathars for a book since I first knew about their story, seven years ago in the South of France. I felt "strangely" connected with them since then. Now I feel the same with the Magdalene, but I don't know where this is going to lead me...Not at this moment. Well, we will see... When I was on my research, I met the Pierre Plantard's story, that is connected with the best seller book "Holy Blod, Holy Grail". Some research have stated that Plantard story about her connection with Jesus and Mary Magdalene was proved to be false. What do you think about this?
Thanks for your reply!
June 5, 2007 @ 1:20 AM

Posted by Léia:

Dear Mrs. Kathleen, sorry but my English is terrible. I live in Rio, Brazil. I read your book - O Segredo do Anel. I found wonderful. Congratulations to you. Excuse me if don't write right.
Kisses to you.

Your admirator.

Léia Araujo
Rio de Janeiro - RJ
June 6, 2007 @ 12:23 PM

Posted by Lisa:

Howdy Kathleen. I came across your blog and have never heard of Saint Baume. We have a family name, de LaBaume, a French Officer who came to Texas in the middle 1700's he came from the Province of Avignon, France. You have strengthened my desire to view this site as I want to feel the presence of Mary Magdalene. Can't wait until your next books comes out.
June 14, 2007 @ 10:51 PM

Posted by Rene Silverman:

Hi Kathleen, I am glad to hear how well you are doing in your research, I have passed on "The Expected One" to my mom, dad, stepmom, and stepdad. I have so many places I want to travel to now, I want to learn so much more about the teachings and life of MM. Thanks to you, I feel closer to her and to Christianity than I ever have before. I very much enjoyed meeting you at Barnes and Noble in Encino.
Now every day I ask myself-- WWMMD?
Love and thanks
Blessings and good wishes,
June 21, 2007 @ 11:08 AM

Posted by David:

Hi Kathleen,
This is not a post directly related to yours, though I am happy to say that I do get it. I just finished The Expected One last night, and the explanation that Easa gives to Mary the night before his death gave me an understanding I have been looking for, I guess most specifically since the Passion of the Christ was released. The anger and confusion I felt about all the hype around the film was painful. I asked my minister about it (I belong to a Unitarian church), and while his counsel was helpful, it was, I guess, beyond me at the time. But Easa tells Mary that we need examples to show that we can stand up for what we believe, with and without fear. It was not for our sins that he gave himself up but to show us the essential power of love and forgiveness. What is more, if we choose to see his gift as an act of martyrdom, then we are still "clinging to him". I am finding in the few hours since I finished your book a growing clarity that may help me to put aside my frustrations and judgements, perhaps in the way that Isobel helped you to put yours aside. Thank you.
June 23, 2007 @ 7:23 AM

Posted by Kerri:

Hi Kathleen,

What a moving story! I did not visit Sainte Baume when I was in France. I do hope to return and if I do, Sainte Baume will be on my list of places to see and feel. Your story speaks of such a simple truth that I/we all need to live by. I struggle with it every day. I've come a long way and still a long way to go. To me this is the essence of what touched me the most dearly when I read the Expected One - forgiveness, no matter how hurt or angry I feel, no matter how awful the event seems - still forgiveness.

I hope all is going well with you and i hope to see you again soon!

Thanks -- Kerri
July 2, 2007 @ 8:06 PM

Posted by Marisa:

Thank you for your beautiful insights. Tolerance and forgiveness are good lessons wherever learned. You have written a beautiful book that I feel so connected with. Even before the recent hype around MM, I have wondered about this enigmatic woman who was unjustly labeled by the Church so long ago, and have always felt there was an extraordinary mystery to be solved. Thank you for bringing her to light.
July 8, 2007 @ 9:55 PM

Posted by Julie:

Thank you for your lovey thoughts on love and forgiveness. Although at first blush to many it may seem to take effort to move from bitterness/anger to love and peace...yet really it is simply a change of perspective...from shadow to light. (With continual vigilance I must admit) I have not had the opportunity to visit Sainte Baume, but just the thought of the chance brings me happiness.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Expected One shortly after its release...shared it with many...and I look forward to your next book!
In love and light,

July 12, 2007 @ 7:11 AM

Posted by tahir:

as someone who has both filmed and been to bosnia in war - and i was not just horrified by srebrenica and the Unitd nations 'peacekeepers' non-efforts to secure that safe haven - i was equally horrified to learn of the phenomenon of 'rape camps - dsogned to impregnate women through repeated rape - and release rape orphans into bosnian society to create social trauma and havoc.
these horors - and the comparative lack of interest in women's experience in war - led me to dig into the history - local and general.
and so i learned about the cathars - who were originaly inpired by the Bosnian Bogomils - who in turn recieved their 'heresy' from armenian paulicians.
the critical elements of this europewide spiritual movement - which eventually ledeto the loolards and quakers in england for example - was the status of women.
that isobel lives in both france and bosnia - the birth places of the bogomil-cathar movement - has a certain poetry.
August 19, 2007 @ 6:00 AM

Posted by eve:

Ah so you have reached there :) when I was travelling and at some point alone desired "MM show me the way" the butterfly very gently lead me out of nowhere directly into there... o:)
September 9, 2007 @ 3:13 PM

Posted by Susan:

Dear Kathleen,
I have just read 'The Expected One' and wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it. It was beautifully written and the detailed information you give really 'touched a sensitive chord in me' as they say in French. I was further amazed when half way through the book I realised that Mary's ring is identical to the one I received this Christmas. The 9 planets revolving around the sun. Thank you for your book. I look forward to reading more of your work.
Susan (Paris, France)
January 15, 2008 @ 11:36 AM


February 28, 2008 @ 8:09 AM

Posted by Suna:

Your story of Isobel brightened a glow in my heart. I find that moving into/with heaven is like slipping in through "curtain slits" that allow me to escape the "reality" of this world of antithesis to faith in love. I expereinced your story of approaching the Dominicans with a fresh attitude as one of slipping through the norm of the world onto a path of heaven through the vehicle of forgivness. I beleive that Jesus was constantly moving through the slivered openings of this hellish world into/through heaven. This is my visual of his statement "living in the world but not of the world".
My personal focus recently is living the Teaching of treating others as I would want to be treated and "being born again". (If I want to be accepted as new after repenting of my wrong doings, then I must accept others as new - divorced of past wrongdoings.) I believe this lesson of mutual forgiveness is the building of Heaven on earth and a key message Jesus gives to us.
Thank you for this story - I experienced your allowing for a new identity of the Dominicans as a movement through the fine openings into heaven that I could participate in through reading your story.
Thank you Suna
July 19, 2008 @ 9:34 PM

Posted by RhiONA:

THis is the first time I read about the Dominicans at St. Baume .I was brought up catholic in St.Petersburg Florida at St.Judes School .I do not have fond memories . They were an astere and strict(to the point of being mean )group of wombin.
I actually went to St.Baume in 1998 after reading Margaret Starbirds"Woman with the Alabaster Jar". It began a mythical journey for me to the Magdalene as I was already engrossed in "Remembering " the Goddess in all her forgotten aspects.As I walked up the hour incline to the site I felt as if I had been there before .I have no doubt that I was in another life and another body.That year there had been a landslide in the early spring at the front of the cave .As I got to the beginning of the entrance there was a blockade and i was unable to go any further .i even went passed the blockade but got to the point of the rock-slide and could see I was not going any farther. I began to sob uncontrollably because this was the purpose of my trip .I sat down and allowed this grief to wash over me .I then began to "tune in " and ask "WHY". The answer I got was "You are out of the Cave and you can not go back in ".I then looked down and found a very unique black and white feather . .I knew this had some meaning but I didn't know what at the time .I had been researching alot about the grail and after a few months came across a book that described the Magpie Bird as a representation of the grail ..That bird is black and white ..I kept the feather for a long time and burned it in a future ritual .I have followed the Jesus /Mary Magdalene myth obsessively since then .It is part of me and I am part of it .I try not to "mentalize "why .She is such a rich part of the story of the lost feminine and I am in awe of her ability to transcend time and space to talk to sooo many individuals.I also have a daughter Sara and feel she is part of this story also .what I have experienced is beyond words in relation to Mary's story .I loved the Expected One an
December 3, 2008 @ 5:00 PM

Posted by Martin Gravel:

Wow! Your newsletter could not have come at such an opportune time as I have lost the one whom I love and shall always love. The part in the newsletter that really caught my eye and got me to write something which I will post further down, but the part is this.

Every loss is an opportunity to bring something new into that void; each rejection or betrayal is a test of our compassion and ability to love and forgive.

The above truly helped and gave me hope that I've lost in these past few days. To start off, I just want to say that I enjoyed the Expected ONE in which it brought tears to my face here and there as some parts reminded me of myself and the one whom I love. I know who I am more over I know what I am. My ancestry is also from France, I have tried to trace it back as far as I can, but gets hard the further you go. If the Bloodline truly does exist many others may have it in their Ancestry under different names I would think. Now I will post what I wrote to someone I deeply care about and miss greatly.

To the One I Love and shall always Love.

You were the light of my days that shined brighter then the sun could ever have. You were the light during the darken nights where no shadows or darkness could ever cross its path. All I ever needed was to see your simple imperfect smile, yet it was always a beautiful perfect smile. When I was with you, for me to be happy was to see you smile and be happy. Everything else in life while I was with you became irrelevant. Being with you made me feel like I was the richest man living, richer then any man who has ever lived on this Earth.

When you hurt or cry I'm devastated, when your upset it makes me upset, when your happy I'm the happiest. I never cared about what I wanted, I only cared about what you wanted because for me the only thing I ever wanted was you, my love. Nothing in the world could make me as happy as when I'm with you as it always made me feel at peace. I don't know, maybe all this is because
December 3, 2008 @ 11:04 PM

Posted by julie:

I'm French and I was born in Marseille. I've also spent my whole childhood through sainte-Baume beautiful landscape and in a way I've always felt happy and calmed there...I know why now!
The expected one gives a message I've always believed in : love and forgiveness are everything...It's the most beautiful gift someone can make. You've strengthened my faith, Kathleen, and I want to thank you for that. I see the world differently now.

Love from France

May 6, 2009 @ 12:41 PM

Posted by Nefertari:

Hello Kathleen, depuis le temps que je lis votre blog je n'avais pas vu ce message sur la Ste Baume. Moi aussi, comme Julie je suis née à Marseille. C'est vrai qu'en Provence on y est bien. Cependant, je me sent beaucoup mieux dans le Languedoc, à ça s'est sur ! Même si je ne monte que 2 jours, ce sont 2 jours de vacances pour moi ! C'est fou ça. Kathleen, grâce à vous, j'ai la confirmation de ce que je pensais. Merci:)
October 14, 2009 @ 4:57 AM