Giotto, The Voyage of Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Lazarus

Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi, Italy

According to the Golden Legend, "miscreants" in Palestine put Mary Magdalene in a rudderless ship with her siblings, St. Maximin, and a chambermaid of Martha's named Marcelle. They pushed it out to sea in hopes these Christians would drown. Instead, "by the providence of almighty God" they made it to Marseille, where they preached the gospel with some success. Giotto's panel shows them in the rudderless ship with their homeland on the left and their arrival in Marseille on the right. God's "providence" is expressed by the angel leading them on.

The Legend continues with the story of "the prince of this province" and his pregnant wife. At Mary Magdalene's urging the two go on pilgrimage to Rome, but a storm comes up that makes the wife give birth and die. The crew insists on leaving the bodies of mother and son on a rock in the sea, covered only with a mantle because the rock is too hard for digging. Arrived in Rome the prince meets St. Peter, who tells him to return to the rock because his wife and son are alive and well. This is the story to which the lower left corner of the panel alludes.

The panel is part of the Mary Magdalene cycle in the lower level of the church. It is most likely Giotto's work, but for questions about the attribution see Brooke, 433.

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Read more about images of St. Mary Magdalene, St. Martha, and St. Lazarus.

Photographed at the basilica by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.