Saint Mary Salomé: The Iconography

In Jerusalem, St. Mary Salomé, mother of SS. James and John the Apostles. We read in the the Gospel that she visited the sepulture of the Lord. – Roman Martyrology for October 22

In Mark's Gospel Mary Salomé is a witness to both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. As the Catholic Encyclopedia points out, comparing Mark 15:40 with Matthew 27:55-56 lends great credence to the tradition that she was the mother of James the Greater and John the Evangelist, and thus the wife of Zebedee.1 However, medieval writers tended to stretch out the genealogy of Jesus and his mother rather beyond credence. A chart developed by one of them is printed in the Acta Sanctorum's article on Salomé:


Acta Sanctorum, October vol. 9, 437

The people named in charts like this are called the "Holy Kinship," which is the subject of many images (example).

The Acta Sanctorum discusses the three different locales that have claimed to have been visited by Mary Salomé in the time following St. Stephen's death in Jerusalem (October vol. 9, 441-44). In Spain it is believed that she accompanied her son James to Galicia. In France, the small town of Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer on the coast near Marseille claims to have her remains in the shrine shown in the second picture at right. The story is that she and a servant sailed there with "Mary Jacobé" (the mother of James the Less), Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Lazarus. The latter three struck off in different directions, but the two mothers built a small oratorio and hermitage that became the nucleus for the medieval church there. In the picture we see the two in the boat, Salomé holding a spice jar to reference the spices she took to Jesus' tomb on the day of the Resurrection.

In the Camargue, the region around Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a number of churches have chapels and statues dedicated to the two Marys (example).

The third locale is Verulana, present-day Veroli, in Lazio. The tradition there also has the two saints sailing away from Palestine in a small boat, in this case to Rome. There they conferred with Pope Clement, who encouraged them to make for Verulana, where they remained until they died and were interred in the same sepulchre. I have not yet seen any images related to this tradition, though it seems likely that some exist.

Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

HOME PAGE


Statue in the Cathedral of St. James in Compostela (See description page)


The shrine of the two Marys, in Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer (See description page)


Mary Salomé in her boat (See description page)

DATES

  • According to the Verulana version of the story, Salomé died on October 22, her feast day, and Mary Jacobé on May 25.

HAGIOGRAPHY

  • The medieval legends are available only in Latin in the Acta Sanctorum, October vol. 9, 435-476.

ALSO SEE

NOTES

1 Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Salome." Mark 15:40 is "And there were also women looking on [the Crucifixion] afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joseph, and Salome." Matthew 27:55-56 is "And there were there many women afar off [i.e. from the Crucifixion], who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: Among whom was Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.