The Tradition of the Saints of Provence
The Tradition of the Saints of Provence is the explanation of the arrival of Mary Magdalene and her companions in Provence.
Note that I do not use the term “legend” because it is a matter of tradition, that is to say of an oral transmission, from generation to generation, facts really rooted in the history of men and that the Church later “formalized”.
The departure from Palestine to Provence
After the execution of James, son of Zebedee and Mary Salome, in Jerusalem, and the arrest of Peter, the faithful companions of Jesus, including Mary Magdalene, her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus, their servant Marcelle, Maximin , Sidonius ( the blind-born to whom Jesus gave back sight), Joseph of Arimathea and other disciples of Jesus Christ; because they preached highly the resurrection of the Savior of the World, and that they had loved him dearly during his life, were thrown by the Jews into a ship without veils, oars, and rudders to kill them by abandoning them off the coast of Palestine.
The arrival in Camargue
They narrowly escaped death during a storm at sea, and finally reached the coast of Gaul in a town today called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the Camargue.
Shortly after disembarking, the group separated to go and preach the Gospel in all the rest of Provence. Maximin and Sidonius preached in the city of Aix, where they were the first bishops. Martha and Marcelle directed to Tarascon. Magdalene and Lazarus remained in Marseilles, preached the Gospel on the steps of the Temple of Diana. They converted these idolatrous people to the worship of the true God.
Finally, Magdalene, who remained for some time in Marseilles on a former island of the Rhone, and at Aix en Provence, retired to Sainte Baume, in a grotto.
As for Lazarus, Tradition represents him praying night and day, fasting, preaching the Gospel in this colorful city, indefatigable sower of the Good News of the Living Christ. He spent the rest of his days in Marseilles, where he became the first bishop until the year 80. He died as a martyr. He was beheaded on the current place of Lenche.
The authenticity of this Tradition is the subject of controversy between specialists. Nevertheless, even if the Church somewhat “embellished” some facts, we can not deny that our land of Provence saw the arrival of the first Christians on its coasts.
They left Palestine to escape to the persecutions of Herod Agrippa I, who recovered the throne of Jerusalem in 41. “About this time, King Herod laid hands on some members of the Church to mistreat them. He destroyed by the sword James, brother of John. Seeing that it was agreeable to the Jews, he again arrested Peter”. Acts of the Apostles (12, 1-3).
Also, Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History and Clement of Alexandria confirm that the dispersion of the apostles and disciples took place twelve years after the Ascension. Mary Magdalene and the first evangelizers of Provence would have arrived in Provence around the year 43 – 45.
Because Provence was invaded in successive waves by Saracens from the 8th to the 10th century, there are very few writings left before the 10th century. They looted the area, destroying everything in their path. Those left are of great importance because they all support the Tradition:
– a “Life” of Saint Madeleine, written in the 5th or 6th century and other lives, written later, which contain apocryphal elements.
– a more extensive “Life of Saint Madeleine and Saint Martha” written by Raban Maur, Archbishop of Mainz (766-856)