In the late sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great fashioned a single, polymorphous character out of Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (Martha's sister who sat listening to Jesus's teachings instead of cooking for him), and the unnamed sinner of the Gospels who used her long locks to clean Jesus's feet with unguent. Medieval thinkers quickly identified the sin of this composite Magdalene as sexual, thus developing a paradoxical figure who was at the same time a revirginized prostitute, a contemplative, and the first witness to the Resurrection. They also gave her a history, with dramatic hagiographical descriptions of a Mary Magdalene who had spread the Gospel throughout Gaul and ended her days as a hermit in a cave outside Marseilles. This virgin/whore/apostle had been among the most popular medieval saints, but her legacy was challenged by Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples in the same year that Luther published the Ninety-Five Theses. Heated...

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