St. Mary Magdalene at the Last Supper

12th-13th century
Cathedral of the Assumption, Monreale, Sicily

This image, like some others, conflates the Last Supper with the episode of the previous week in which Mary the sister of Lazarus anoints the feet of Jesus.

In the first episode (John 12:1-8) Jesus dines in Bethany with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Mary anoints Jesus' feet with a costly ointment "and wiped his feet with her hair," just as we see in this mosaic. As in this 13th-century image from the Cloisters and this one from the 14th, she is on her knees and kissing the feet as she wipes them. Across from Jesus, Judas extends his arms in expostulation and asks, "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" Jesus points to Mary and answers, "Let her alone, that she may keep it against the day of my burial."

But like the Cloisters image, the setting is explicitly the Passover meal that Jesus and the apostles took at the Last Supper. On the table are the lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs prescribed for Passover (Exodus 12:8).

The inscription at the top of this mosaic identifies the woman as Mary Magdalene. It was the received belief that she and Mary the sister of Lazarus were the same person (see my Mary Magdalene page, note 1).

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