If you are travelling in Provence, stop at La Sainte Baume, the cave of Saint Mary Magdalene. Tradition, truth? Just go there to breathe a very special air, and to smell the scent of lavender. For 15 years we have been going on pilgrimage to Provence, to rediscover the strength and determination of Mary Magdalene.
The story of Mary Magdalene in Provence. Truth or tradition?
Scholars do not agree on the story of Mary Magdalene, but in this case I believe that the truth lies in the heart of the seeker. So we think of her, Mary, receiving the mission first from Jesus in the garden, “Go…announce…quickly.” From there on, there follow tales of persecution, and of an escape in a boat with Lazarus, Martha, Maximinus and others among the first disciples. And the boat docks at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, west of Marseilles. That too is a very strong place to visit.
Lazarus remains in Marseilles, Martha in Tarragona, Mary Magdalene follows the course of the Huveaune that takes her to Sainte-Baume. It is a cave in the middle of a limestone wall, immersed in a plateau that strongly resembles the environment around Jerusalem. Here he spends the years of his life in prayer and adoration. Truth or tradition? It doesn’t matter, what is certain is that over the centuries saints such as Catherine of Siena, popes, kings and pilgrims of all kinds have come here. Even the great Charles de Foucauld arrived at the grotto, and it seems that he heard his call here.
How to get there?
La Sainte-Baume is a place of enchanting beauty. There are two ways to get there: from St. Maximine le Sainte-Baume, exit of the freeway before Aix en Provence, or from the south, by a beautiful road that winds along the rocks starting from Marseille. There is public transportation, but it is much easier to organize yourself either by your own vehicle, or by bicycle. The ascent is for a few, but with electric vehicles is more within reach. At the base of the wall there is the Dominican convent and the reception house with comfortable beds and food service. Or there are hotels and apartments in nearby villages.
From the convent starts the main path that in an hour’s walk leads to the cave, the path is uphill but very easy. The arrival at the cave is intense and full of nuances. If you can get there at the time of some celebration, you can also listen to very spiritual French songs. Also check the closing times.
If you want to walk another half hour, you can reach the top where the ancient church of Pilon stands, with an unforgettable view from the Alps to the sea. Here the architect Le Corbusier had planned to build the Sanctuary of Peace in the rock.
“Women of the Resurrection,” a book to follow the life of Mary Magdalene.
“Silence. The smell of the approaching storm. Restlessness. Fear. Breathlessness… Suddenly, something new breaks through: a ray pierces the blanket of clouds and spreads the colour of gold in the air. The clouds remain there, but they are no longer the end; they are merely a curtain beyond which the sun begins to shine. The contemplation of God’s sign, which intoxicates with hope. A glance can change the course of personal history…”. This is the beginning of the book I wrote on Mary Magdalene and the encounter with women who live the power of the Resurrection: “Women of the Resurrection”, Pauline editions. In Italian, you can order it HERE.
I wrote it just looking for La Sainte-Baume, the first time, when there were no signs along the way. In Spanish, you can find it HERE.
Who lives there today?
Today La Sainte-Baume is a place much frequented by Christians, Muslims, Jews, non-believers. It is a place of silence, peace, and spiritual search. It is kept by the Dominican friars, a presence for 7 centuries. We meet Father Olivier Marie, who welcomes us with a smile and tells us about Mary Magdalene, forgiveness, and the spiritual rebirth of France since the beginning of the Covid.
The group Women of Faith for Peace, which we founded in Jerusalem 13 years ago, is inspired by Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene, the strong, revolutionary woman who knows how to stand up in life is waiting for you there, in Provence.