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Bram Rossano (Schoten/Belgium)

Visualizing the Magdalen: The Depiction of Mary Magdalen in Medieval Literature

Visualizing the Magdalen: The Depiction of Mary Magdalen in Medieval Literature
Mainly thanks to her colourful and varied life Mary Magdalen was one of the most popular saints during the Middle Ages and beyond. Her evolution from the notorious sinner to one of Christ's most beloved friends made her a perfect example for the sinful medieval man. In this paper we will explore how she is visualized in medieval (esp. German and Dutch) literature with regard to the different stages of her vita. Although every text describes her as a very beautiful woman, her beauty is interpreted each time in a different way depending on her moral integrity. As the Bride at Cana her fabulous appearance, supported by luxurious gems and clothing, reflects her virtue and chastity, in which she reminds us of the Holy Virgin. In contrast, as the wordly sinner her outer beauty is no longer idealized, it is now a sign for the seducing man-threatening danger she has become, an utterance of vanity, pride and lust. A semantic shift of beauty (ideal to superficial) corresponds to the different aspects of Mary Magdalen as mirror for the medieval public.

1 Introduction

In this paper we want to explore how Mary Magdalen is visualized in medieval literature. The focal point will be the way how she is depicted in texts written in the so-called 'Theodisc'1 vernacular, i.e. the continuum of varieties spoken and written in the Continental West Germanic area. When discussing Mary Magdalen, the hybrid nature of her character should be pointed out first. The medieval Magdalen is in fact a combination of different New Testamentary characters: Mary called 'Magdalen' or 'of Magdala' (Luke 8: 2; John 20: 11-18), Mary of Bethany (Luke 10: 38-42) and the nameless sinner of Luke 7: 36-50. Especially since the authority of Gregory the Great the identity of these biblical characters has been established, until the sixteenth century, when Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples started the discussion about this topic again.2 Nowadays the individuality of the different women is generally agreed on.

In the Middle Ages all sorts of legendary material, collected particulary in Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda aurea, elaborate her evangelical vita. In a nutshell, Mary Magdalen's life goes as follows. She is born as a daughter of Syrus and Eucharia and a sister of Lazarus and Martha. After her parents' death she inherits the castle (in) Magdala, hence her name, where she spends her youth in sin and lasciviousness. Depending on the legend her sister Martha, an angel or Christ's Sermon (on the Mount) gets her to understand the wickedness of her life, what results in her conversion, the turning-point in Magdalen's vita. She becomes a faithul and beloved disciple of Christ

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and is the first to witness his resurrection. 3 As she goes and preaches Christ's message to the other disciples, she receives the title of apostolorum apostola.4 After the material dealt with in the New Testament she runs ashore in South-France where she starts to preach the Gospel. A large part of the description of her legendary life in Aix-en-Provence and Marseille recounts the story of a French royal couple that first can not have any children, but by the intercession of Mary Magdalen the woman gets pregnant; by way of thanks they pilgrimage to Rome where St. Peter resides. During the trip, however, the queen dies in childbirth and in lack of someone aboard who is able to feed the baby, it is left with its dead mother on a small uninhabited island. When after two years the father returns from Rome, Mary Magdalen has kept the child alive miraculously and raises the mother from the dead. Back in Marseille the king and queen become convinced advocates of christianity, followed by the conversion of the whole population (by the principle of cuius regio, eius religio). Mary Magdalen retires as a penitent in the desert for thirty years where angels lift her up in heaven daily at the liturgical hours. After she is dead and buried she still works a lot of miracles.

We will discuss Magdalen's depiction according to the subsequent stages in her vita. First we will see how she appears as a fresh bride in the poem Der Saelden Hort, then we will examine what she looks like as the notorious sinner. Her conversion and the vita apostolico-eremitica are the closing items of the discussion on Mary Magdalen's depiction.

2 The Bride at Cana in Der Saelden Hort

A large part (about 5800 of the 11304 verses) of the long Alemannic anonymous poem Der Saelden Hort (thirteenth century) is devoted to Mary Magdalen.5 It reports her whole life, from the description of the elderly house to the miracle of the French royal couple.6 One of the most peculiar features of this poem is the identification of the bride at the marriage feast at Cana (John 2: 1-11) with Mary Magdalen. She is the betrothed of John the Evangelist, but is left standing at the altar when John receives his calling from Christ. This event is the reason why she abandons herself to the earthly delights and becomes a great sinner. Although this part of her legendary life is well-known in the Middle Ages,7 only a few Theodisc texts take it into account, Der Saelden Hort being the only one that deals with it so thoroughly.8 The author of Der Saelden Hort gives us a very detailed description of the appearance of Mary Magdalen as the bride at Cana.

Next to the Virgin Mary she is the most beautiful woman ever born, with the most lovely body, ward nie geborn uf erden / noch so mineclich gestalt (vv. 7034-35), and more beautiful than the contemporary girls (v. 7014: vil schoner denn nun megd sint). She has the perfect measurements: she's neither too big nor too short (vv. 7102-04: ir lip ze gross, ze clain / waz, noch ze kurtz noch zelank). Her complexion is a mixture of red

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and white, compared to the colours of the rose and the lily: wie roseloht, wie gilien var, / wa rain rot, wa rain wis / si was (vv. 5790-92). Further on she is whiter than a little goose (v. 7030: vil wisser denn ain gensel). Different parts of her body are described separately. Her eyebrows are small, beautiful and clean (i.e. not bushy) and well curved, as if they have been masterly painted with a brush. They are neither too white nor too dark, but fair and well placed on her forehead.9 Her eyes themselves shine bright and are carbuncle- and violet-coloured.10 Her straight nose is not too big nor too broad nor too small and is positioned right between her two rose-coloured cheeks.11 Her cheeks have the same colour as her lips, often described in terms of 'roses'. Metonomically her red-rose mouth (v. 7055: sam ain ros rot) speaks softly and smiles modestly.12 Her mouth with the rose-coloured lips (v. 7057: lepsen rose var) shines as a fresh rose (v. 7071: munt als ain vrischer rosen schin). Magdalen's teeth appear, immaculate like ivory, as white lilies between the red roses of her mouth.13 With her cheeks her chin has the colour of the rose hip (v. 7051: der lieht buttelbluti schin), whereas her neck is snow-white, straight, long and spherical.14 Her hands and arms are as white as an ermine; her fingers long, straight, white and turned (like on a wood lathe) (v. 7047: wis, gedraejet sam ain zain) with clear nails (v. 7048: ir daz genegel luter schain). Her long, curly hair ressembles the yellow / golden colour of the daffodil.15

In the anonymous Vita beatae Mariae virginis et salvatoris rhythmica16 we read a detailed description of the appearance of the Virgin Mary, which bears a strong likeness to that of the Magdalen's. Mary has the perfect height as well,17 the colour of her skin has the same wonderful combination of red and white.18 Her eyebrows show the same evidence of external care and clear-cut proportion.19 It is striking that both authors use (independently?) the image of the eyebrows as if they were painted; in contrast to Magdalen's fair eyebrows the Virgin's are black.20 The bright shining eyes of both saints are described in terms of flowers and gems: the violet and carbuncle21 in the case of the Magdalen, the hyacinth and the sapphire for Mary's irises.22 About Mary's nose the author of the Vita beatae Mariae knows that it is – like the Magdalen's – straight and not too long nor too short.23 The Virgin's cheeks are red and white, as if one strewed them with lilies and roses.24 Also red are her lips: rubicunda labia fuerunt (v. 703). Like the Magdalen's, the Virgin's white teeth are reminiscent of ivory.25 The fingers of both Marys have the same properties: Digiti tornabiles erant atque recti, / Satis longi, graciles, scabro non infecti (vv. 745-46). The golden colour of Magdalen's long curly hair is compared to that of the daffodil, Mary's similar hairstyle shines like a gem, namely the topaz.26

The similarity between the depiction of both Marys is striking, although it is not a real surprise that they are portrayed in almost the same way. The (aesthetic) world of medieval man is after all a world of symbols, metaphors and allegories.27 This symbolic Weltanschauung reveals itself strongly in the field of colours. The designation of a colour does not only refer to the (optical) spectrum, it also bears a symbolical meaning (e.g. blue for sorrow, green for spring, purple for royalty, etc.).28 However, the relation between signifier and signified is not unambiguous: green can mean for instance both spring and devil, whereas sorrow can be expressed as purple or blue, blue for its part

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can also signify faith, fidelity, etc. Red and white undisputably dominate the Magdalen's coloration in Der Saelden Hort and the Virgin Mary in the anonymous vita. Exactly these two colours offer a large array of possible symbolic meanings, which can be applied to both Marys. Red is often associated with the passion / blood of Christ, shame, love, sin, devil, etc.; white mostly indicates purity and virginity.29 We can certainly attach a lot of these symbolic readings to the portrayals of both saints, were it not that the combination itself of red and white is one of the main means to symbolize (physical) beauty. In his 'Buch der Natur' Konrad von Megenberg outlines the perfect body, which has to be white mixed with a little red.30 The Theodisc adaptation of a French Arthurian story, 'Ferguut', renders a full-length portrait of the beautiful Galiene, whose ansichte [is] lanc ende recht / Wit alse .i. snee te poente roet (CD-ROM Middelnederlands, v. 1187).31 About the colour of Helen's, the most beautiful Greek woman, hair Mathieu de Vendôme says in his Ars versificatoria that it looks like gold (auro respondet coma; Faral 1924: 129), i.e. "die einheitliche blonde Idealfarbe," (Knapp 2002: 187) a feature that Mary and the Magdalen share. The princess, zoo schoon en zoo bemind, of the poem Heer Halewijn wears a golden crown on her schoon blond hair (Komrij 1994: 468). In his Historie van Trojen Jacob van Maerlant qualifies the Trojan Polyxena, king Priamus' daughter, as the most beautiful woman, of course with long, blonde hair.32 Haskins remarks that "the ideal colour of a woman's hair shows a remarkable consistency down through the ages: the crowning glories of Aphrodite / Venus and the heroines of medieval epic romances and the troubadour poets have alwas been blonde or golden." (Haskins 1995: 242)33

The love for symbolization is also expressed in the frequent references to flowers. The ideal colours red and white are often represented by the rose and the lily.34 In the Speculum Virginum, for instance, the lily stands for purity, the rose for passion / martyrdom: Lilia comparantur in pace pure uirginitati, rose passioni (CCCM 5: 147). Mary herself is called a rose that gives birth to a lily,35 but as the chaste and loving virgin she is a lily herself or a rose and a lily together.36 A German poet addresses the Virgin with du rôsen bluot, du liljen blat and later on du rôsen tal, du violvelt (Haupt 1844: 519).37 In his 'Paradise' Dante puts Mary and the saints together as roses and lilies: Quivi è la Rosa, in che il Verbo divino / Carne si fece; quivi son li Gigli, / Al cui odor si prese il buon cammino (Dante, Canto 23, stanza 73).

Let us now have a brief look at the way Mary Magdalen – as the bride of Cana – is dressed in Der Saelden Hort.

First of all no trouble or expense is spared to dress up the fresh bride.38 Besides gold and silver she wears twelve gems: rubin, smaragt, gamahu, adamast, thopasius, saphier, granat, grisolitus, jaspis, baleis, turgis and amatisten. Her skirt (rokel), shirt (kitil) and her silk dress (clait) are set with small white, red and blue pearls and a lot of other precious stones like those decorating a crown. Furthermore she wears noble rings (edele vingerlin), silk veils, finely wrought silver and golden belts, encrusted with red, blue, brown and yellow gems. Her clothes are made out of purpur (Lat. purpura, i.e. a precious silk fabric),39 pladige (Lat. baldakinus), semit (velvet), pliat (Lat. blialdus, a silk purpur fabric interwoven with gold).

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This superb wardrobe is to be compared to the way the Virgin Mary is depicted in the later Middle Ages. Just like her physical beauty reflects her inner beauty, the precious clothes and jewellery are meant to glorify the superior status of the Virgin: "Durch die mariologische Literatur des Spätmittelalters wird der seelischen Schönheit Marias die idealisierte körperliche Schönheit fast gleichgestellt und durch verfeinerte höfische Gewänder, z.B. im burgundischen Stil, geschildert." (Hagendorn-Bartsch 1989: 631)40

A particular aspect of the dressing are the gems.41 Just like colours and flowers gemstones are prone to an allegorical reading. They stand for Mary's beauty in general, though correlating with specific virtues and properties. Konrad von Megenburg discusses in his 'Buch der Natur' more than 80 different gems, ascribing to most of them a characteristic that belongs to the Virgin.

Among the twelve gems that adorn the dress of Mary Magdalen in the alemannic poem, Konrad compares the following to properties of the Virgin: rubin,42 smaragt,43 saphier,44 grisolitus (chrysolithus),45 jaspis46 and amatisten (amethystus)47 . The number – another category strongly susceptible to symbolism – twelve may also refer to the Revelation (21: 19-20), where the foundations of the city wall of the heavenly Jerusalem are made of twelve precious stones. Another obvious reference are the stones of the cloth of the King of Tyrus in Ezechiel 28: 13.48 It leads us too far to discuss these stones in detail in the context of medieval symbolism, but we can certainly assume that the writer of Der Saelden Hort imported the gems to evoke an image of the Magdalen that resembles that of the Virgin's – spiritual and physical –, supported by the likeness in looks and clothes.

In Der Saelden Hort Mary Magdalen, as the bride at the marriage feast at Cana, is described with the same vocabulary as the Virgin Mary. The way in which they are portrayed is embedded in the medieval play of symbolization. The Magdalen is caught in an allegorical web that may ascribe her different properties like chastity, love and purity, but before all it pictures her as the ideal beauty. The association with the Virgin, the most beautiful woman, underscores her aura of perfection. According to the Greek principle of kalokagathia and to the courtly ideal her looks correspond to her inner beauty.49 Mary Magdalen has become a second virgo sine macula; the writer of Der Saelden Hort makes no attempt to disguise his admiration for her:

so was do Magdalene
an tugenden, an schon, ich wene,
daz man sie fur die besten gar
nach der magt dú Got gebar,
noch allenthalben schezze (vv. 7015-19)50

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3 The sinful Magdalen

The piousness of the Magdalen at Cana sharply contrasts with her later profane life. In a legend, formerly ascribed to Isidore of Seville,51 her life as a frivolous flirting girl and the subsequent conversion are described in great detail. At the beginning of the story her sister Martha praises Magdalen's physical appearance by telling her she's the most beautiful woman in the world, but immediately adds that beauty only has a reason to exist because it springs forth from the source of all beauty, viz. God:

O mijn alre liefste suster, so mi dunct, so gaet die heerlicheit uwes persoens ende die scoenheit uwes aensichts boven alle vrouwen deser werlt. Mer segt mi doch waer van u lichaem dese grote schoenheit heeft, dan alleen vanden ghenen die daer is een fonteyne alre scoenheit (de Vooys 1905: 28).

Mary disregards this moral lesson by replying to Martha haughtily (hoveerdich) that she is most aware of her beauty and she will carry on to exploit it in order to live a rich and cheerful life:

O martha, mijn alre gheminste suster, want ghi segt dat mijn suverlicheit ende scoenheit gaet boven alle scoenheit der vrouwen deser werlt, ende ic oec selve wel sie ende mercke dat ic daer om werde ghemint ende lief ghehadt vanden bloeyenden ende ionxten ridderen van desen lande, hier om en mach ic mijn bloeyende ioghet aldus haesteliken niet begheven, mer ic wil mit ghenuechten ende mit vrouden leven, ende mijn vaderlike goet verteren mit enen vroliken herte (de Vooys 1905: 28-29).

This proud attitude is strongly expressed in medieval passion plays. In the Wiener Passionsspiel a devil offers her a mirror,52 so she can admire her own beauty. To assure her that she is the most beautiful woman Lucifer himself gives the Magdalen a spiegelglaß and remarks that everyone who admires her – the most beauty of all women (schonheyt aller frauwen) – will never grow old.53 The idea of idleness and disrespect for the will of God clearly prevails. When later on in the play Mary asks the devil Natyr scilicet servus for her mirror she admits that she owes the hobscheyt (Pride) and the merry mood, which she always wants to keep, to the devil; to honour him she will show her hoch gemude.

The concept of vanitas culminates in the personification of the mirror when she thanks it, as a friend, for its ability to reflect her beauty (Myn frunt spiegel, habe dangk; Janota 2002: v. 1842), later on in the lament at her conversion she will damn it as an attribute of her sinful life. [In the art of painting more than in literature the mirror is one of the most common attributes (as is the skull) to symbolize Magdalen's vanity.54 ] Her self-adoration has come to a climax when she sings in the 'Erlauer Magdalen play': Ich bin ein vil schoenes weip, / ich wil preisen meinen leip (Kummer 1977: vv. 619-620). In the related 'Alsfelder Passion' the Magdalen wants to expose her body in order to dance, surrounded by devils she says:

Ich wel zieren mynen lipp,
want ich byn eyn schones wypp,

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vnd wel auch gern reyen
mit paffen vnd myt leyen. (Janota 2002: vv. 1790-1793)

In the Middle Ages dancing is considered to be an act of indecent behaviour.55 Jacques de Vitry calls the dance a circle of which the devil is the centre.56 The staging of the dancing Magdalen amidst the devils is a clear example of this opinion. Her wish to dance with clergymen as well increases the immoral aspect of her perverted mind.

In the already mentioned 'Pseudo-Isidore-Conversion' Martha tells her sister about the most beautiful and richest of all kings without mentioning his name. Mary, as the material girl that she is, does not grasp the religious intention and believes him to be the Roman emperor Tiberias. In Jean Michel's 'Mystère de la Passion' she even sets out to seduce Christ, of whom she heard he was "the most handsome man," making sure her body is well corseted "derrière et avant" (Haskins 1995: 165).

Although we don't get as many pecularities of her (natural) bodily features as we do in Der Saelden Hort, the colours red and white reappear. In the Erlauer Ludus Mariae Magdalenae a lover, yearning for her red mouth, calls Mary Magdalen a rose and a lily.57 In Eustache Marcadé's Passion of Arras she boasts provocatively: J'ay la char endre que rousée / et aussi blanche qu'une fée.58 It is clear that in this case both flowers (and colours) don't symbolize purity or divine love as they could in Der Saelden Hort, but reflect the secular side of the ideal beauty.

In the 'Künzelsauer Fronleichnamspiel' Mary praises her body (ich bin doch ein schones weip) and immediately adds that her hair is blonde (mein har ist rat von golt; Liebenow 1969: v. 2434), the outstanding characteristic of female beauty. In the 'Alsfelder Passion' she reproaches her vnreynnes hare (Janota 2002: v. 2018) to be the instigator of her sins. Her hair is probably the most striking attribute associated with Mary Magdalen.59 The passage in Luke 7: 36-50, where she dries Jesus' feet with her hair, after washing them with her tears, implies that she has long hair, a feature we have already noticed in the discussion on Der Saelden Hort. Hair, however, had a negative connotation as well: "Because hair was associated with female sexuality, and because it was regarded as a superfluity, but also because preachers believed that upperclass women (in imitation of prostitutes) were spending vast amounts of time and money on their own elaborate hairstyles, the Magdalen's copious hair provoked endless tirades from the pulpit." (Jansen 2001: 157)

Of great significance is Magdalen's desire to cultivate her body. As the bride at Cana the red-and-white combination of her body seems to be ideal and natural, the sinner in the passion plays on the other hand manipulates her complexion by using make-up.

In the famous bilingual Benediktbeurer Passionsspiel (part from the so-called Carmina Burana) she sings the following song to a stallholder on the market:

Michi confer, venditor, species emendas
pro multa pecunia tibi iam reddenda!

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si quid habes insuper odoramentorum:
nam volo perungere corpus hoc decorum (Froning 1891/92: 3, vv. 27-30)60

She wants products like makeup (species) and perfume (odoramenta) to tart up her body. After the mercator praises his goods, she repeats her desire for cosmetics in German, in which she specifies her wish for grease paint to rouge her cheeks: chramer, gip diu varwe mier, / diu min wengel roete (ibid. vv. 35-36). Besides rouge she wants powder to whiten her skin, so in the Wiener Passionsspiel:

Sage mir, hoebescher cramer stolz unt lobbêre,
ich hân silber unt golt, phennige, die sint swêre
wiltu mir dor umbe iht geben rôt vilzel unt wiz mel,
daz ich nû an dirre stunt schoen mache mir mîn vel?
(Froning 1891/92: 1, 287-290) 61

This explicit mentioning of her willingness to spend a lot of money on make-up, accentuates her villainous person. By explaining in the Benediktbeurer Passionsspiel to some girls the wonders of cosmetics, viz. that it makes you schoene unde wolgetane so men will be easily seduced, Mary Magdalen acts like a courtisane instructing her pupils. This lesson in seduction amplifies the immorality of the already reprehensible act of using makeup.

As it happens, the use of make-up in itself was strongly criticised. According to Genesis 1: 27, God created man in his own image, changing one's looks means nothing less than interfering in God's creation. In the Spiegel der Zonden (Mirror of Sins) it is stated clearly:

Een ander van der behagelheiden die die wijve driven Sommige salven oer aensicht om dat si te schoenre souden wesen, ende som vlechten vreemt haer onder oer haer oft oer waer; van die hem aldus vermaken scrivet sunte Jeronimus: 'Die sijn aensicht vermaket dat got gemaket heeft, die en eert sinen scepper niet, want got selver heeftet gemaket, dat si aldus vermaken' (Ed. CD-ROM Middelnederlands, chapter hoverdie).

Tertullian argued "that vanities such as makeup, jewelry, and precious dyes were invented by fallen angels and granted to sinful women, the daughters of Eve" (Jansen 2001: 156).

Not only is Mary Magdalen a pretty lustful woman with a desire to stress her physical beauty, she also dresses herself in a luxurious way. The Benediktbeurer Passionsspiel generally indicates the ornatus seculi and vestimenta secularia (Froning 1891/92: 3, v. 78 and between vv. 81-82). After her conversion she complains in the 'Wiener Play' that she used to wear geverwet rîsen / mit mangen hohem cranze (Froning 1891/92: 1, vv. 413-414).62 In the Egerer Fronleichnamsspiel Mary Magdalen expresses the desire to make a good wreath, with which she will be gay: ich wil mir machen ein krenzlein güt, / Dar untter wil ich froelich sein (Milchsack 1881: vv. 2900-2901). This kind of wreath,

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mostly made out of flowers and also called schappel, adorned men's or women's hair at feasts and dance parties. Although both married and single women could wear this headdress, in courtly times the schapel was before all a symbol of virginity;63 like e.g. in Wofram von Eschenbach's 'Parzival': daz wâren juncfrouwen clâr. / zwei schapel über blôziu hâr / blüemîn was ir gebende (Weber 1981: 196).64 In the sermon von den drien fürstenamten, the thirteenth-century preacher Berthold von Regensburg rebukes each girl that flaunts her virginity, symbolized by the schappel: Daz sint alle die ir magetuom veile tragent ze unê und ze unstaete und sich pflanzent sô mit varwen, sô mit schappeln gên tanzen, daz man sehe daz sie veile sî (Pfeiffer 1965: 2, 187). In the 'Alsfelder Passion' Mary Magdalen damns – as a symbol of her former sinful life – the rosenkrencz, that she offered before to a soldier of Herodes as an invitation to dance,

nu nemmet hyn das krenczlyn.
dar zu wel ich vwer eygen synn
vnd myt vch danczen vnd springenn
(Janota 2002: vv. 1820-1822)

For Berthold von Regensburg a yellow gebende was a sign of female haughtiness.65 Heinrich von Melk in the twelfth century rails against farmers' wives, who wanted to imitate rich women mit ir hôhvertigem gange unt mit vrömder varwe an dem wange unt mit gelwem gibende (Bumke 1987: 209). Hugo von Trimberg describes around the beginning of the fourteenth century a virgin in a yellow swanze (ibid.), as a decoy for sinfulness. In the allegorical world of the Middle Ages yellow stood for prostitution, voluptuousness and pride.66 In the already mentioned lamentation of her former life Mary Magdalen cries in the 'Alsfelder Passion': owe myner swencz! o we gele gebende! (Janota 2002: 1997-1998)

In the same play the scheybenhut, which should protect her from the sun, the spyczenscoe (crakowe or poulaine, i.e. a long-toed shoe), the quak, i.e. a kind of headwear and henszen, gloves that belong to the clothes of the nobility,67 depict her like a snob.

As it is the case with make-up, too much attention to the ornamentation of clothes is considered as improper. Berthold von Regensburg rebukes the youth for dressing elaborately, from which they believe to derive pleasures.68 Because man is subject to sensual appeal, still according to Berthold, women are responsible for the temptations to which they expose others. "Improper dress may be the occasion of sins committed. The wearer, moreover, may lead others to temptation by bad example." (Iannucci 1942: 12) And this is exactly what Mary Magdalen aims for, she wants to trick the jungen man. In the Donaueschinger Passionsspiel, a young man named Mosse warns his friend Yesse, considered to be the lover of Mary, that Magdalena hat dich nit allein, / sy fatzet werlich vns all gemein (Hartl 1937: vv.119-120).

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In the 'Pseudo-Isidore-Conversion' Martha lectures that the purity of the (Magdalen's) soul is tainted by material adornment: Du vercyerste dat lichaem mit goude ende mit silver ende mit duerbaren ghesteenten, dat men schier gheven sal den wormen teten ende te verslijnden; ende die siele, die daer claerblinckende is ende schoenre is dan die sonne, die berovestu snodeliken van alre puerheit mit dinen quaden ende weerliken seden (de Vooys 1905: 28). Martha's moral is sustained by two chapters in the 'Spiegel der zonden' with the following revealing titles: Gordele mit silver beslagen is onbetamelic and Overtoldeliken cleder te hebben is seer sundeliken (Ed. CD-ROM Middelnederlands, chapter hoverdie).

In her secular life Mary Magdalen is depicted as a beautiful woman too. Whereas her beauty is a sign of physical and mental / moral perfection in Der Saelden Hort, it denotes here her nasty way of living. With the features of a prostitute (or as a prostitute)69 she abuses her looks to absorb the marginal pleasures of society. The physical beauty of the Magdalen of Der Saelden Hort reveals her virtuousness and vice versa. In this way she ressembles the courtly lady,70 who as an epitome of moral and physical perfection should fulfill the important social function of giving man the qualities that she represents: wîp sint voller urhap vollekomener dinge guot. [...] , werdiu wîp sint mannes heil.71 The desired courtly lady, however, as Mary Magdalen was depicted in Der Saelden Hort, has turned into an active desiring woman, who is driven by lust and other pleasures. Her beauty is no longer idealized, it is now a sign for the seducing man-threatening danger she has become,72 an utterance of vanitas, superbia and luxuria.

4 Conversion

In the plays the Weltlebenszenen are followed by Mary Magdalen's conversion. In a couple of plays the moment of internal conversion is visualized by her changing her secular clothes for a more devout dress. The Benediktbeurer Passionsspiel emphasizes this action by combining the change of clothes with the exit of a lover and a devil, her blameworthy company; the stage direction indicates: Tunc deponat vestimenta secularia et induat nigrum pallium, et amator recedat et diabolus (after v. 81). The pallium used to be a simply designed cloak, here it clearly indicates the garb of the penitent. The black of the pallium contrasts with the vestimenta secularia that are described 4 verses earlier as vestium candores (v. 78). The same scenario takes place in the Wiener Passionsspiel. After the admonition of an angel she takes off her ornatum and sings (or says?): Hinc ornatus seculi, vestium candores! (v. 415) Most probably the ornatus also include some kind of jewellery. What sort of dress she wears afterwards is, in this play, not mentioned.

In contrast to the plays mentioned earlier, the Ludus Mariae Magdalenae does not viualize the inner conversion of the Magdalen by her changing clothes, but by breaking

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the cornale73 which she throws in the public (maria frangat cornale et iactat ad populum dicens: [...] (after v. 68)). The act of throwing it into the public proves the interactive aspect of the dramatic genre, and is underscored by the accompanying words: mich habent wetrogen all mein sinne; ich wil mich an Jhesum chern [...] was ich hab getan, das ist mir laid, und wil es gern pußen [...] (Kummer 1977: vv. 685-686, 690). By uttering this wish and removing ostentatiously her worldy attributes while facing the public directly, this message is clearly meant for the spectator as well; he or she should follow the penitent example of the Magdalen.

5 After Christ's death

The vernacular literature does not tell us much about what Mary Magdalen looks like after her conversion.

The spare literary comments about her legendary life in the South of France again stress her beauty. When she appears unto the local French population her body is hertteklich gestalt,74 she rises in eneme behegeliken angesichte mit eneme claren antlate.75 In this part of her life she remains beautiful, and this she even uses for the same purpose as in the plays, viz. to attract men. In this case, however, she attracts the heathens to come and listen to her, to hear Christ's message from her (beautiful) mouth.

si was so wunneclich gestalt,
daz sament kamen jung und alt,
bedu, frowen unde man,
swa si da predien began.
(Adrian 1927: 193)

Therefore it's no wonder that her appearance is linked to the beauty of her voice, with which she tends to enchant like a christian siren the heathen population: der minneclichen klugen / zung waz gar redrich, / lip und forme minneclich (ibid.). In the Legenda aurea the eloquence that moved the heathens away from their idols, is metaphorised by her mouth, which has kissed the feet of Christ:

Cum autem beata Maria Magdalena uideret populum ad fanum confluere ut ydolis immolaret, assurgens uultu placido, facie serena, lingua diserta eos ab ydolorum cultura reuocabat et Christum constantissime predicabat. Et admirati sunt uniuersi pre specie, pre facundia, pre dulcedine eloquentie illius; nec mirum si os quod tam pia et tam pulchra pedibus saluatoris infixerat oscula ceteris amplius uerbi dei spiraret odorem. (Maggioni 1998: 631)

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After thirty years of penance in the desert, Mary Magdalen finds the time ripe to die and wants her last communion from the bishop Maximinus. She is brought in his church by a host of angels, beaming like the sun: Appropinquante autem illo, [...], ita uultus domine ex continua et diuturna uisione angelorum radiabat ut facilius solis radios quam ipsius faciem intueri quis posset (Maggioni 1998: 638). Completely in contrast to her appearance in the plays, this kind of beauty rises from the divine origine, which is symbolized by the perfection of light: "Haec [lux] per se pulchra est 'quia ejus natura simplex est, sibique omnia simul'. Quapropter maxime unita et ad se per aequalitatem concordissime proportionata, proportionum autem concorda pulchritudo est. (Robert Grosseteste quoted in Eco 1993: 74) Thus identity was the proportion par excellence, and was the ground of the invisible beauty of God, fount of light [...] Light was thus the principle of all beauty [...]." (Eco 1986: 49-50)

After her death Mary Magdalen works a couple of miracles. A prominent constituent of these miracle stories is a sinner who sees her in a vision. The sinner is overwhelmed by the beauty he is confronted with: et ecce, quadam nocte mulier quedam speciosa sibi apparuit (Maggioni 1998: 641). To the dastardly Flemish clergyman Stephanus Mary Magdalen is brought by two angels as a mulier formosa (ibid.). In the German 'Engelberger Mary Magdalen legend' the formosa is elaborated, so Stephanus sees dv aller shoneste vrowe dv ie gesehen wart mit den aller edelsten kleidern vnd der groestvn vnd wunneklichostvn gezierde so dehein herze erdenken alde betrahton mach.76 The edelsten kleider and the most precious jewels should be evaluated like it has been done in the commentary on Der Saelden Hort.

6 Conclusion

In each of the three stadia of her life (as a bride, as a sinner, as a follower of Christ) Mary Magdalen is always depicted as a beautiful woman. Depending on the context the concrete interpretation of 'beauty' varies.

As the bride in Der Saelden Hort she represents the courtly (and classical) ideal of the kalokagathia: just like the Maria immaculata her physical beauty reflects her moral perfection. When describing her as a wordly young woman this ideal is distorted. The noble features that characterize the appearance of the Magdalen at Cana are now out of all proportion. The use of make-up, i.e. the illegimate, haughty human interference in God's creation, and the arrogant way of behaving and dressing typify her luciferian Pride.77 The ideal beauty has turned into a superficial beauty.

Considering Mary Magdalen after her conversion, from a medieval point of vue the three main criteria78 of beauty, integritas, proportio and claritas, have been totally restored. In brief words the hagiographers depict her as a complete beauty: her integrity

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is manifested in her zealous preaching work (and in her later miracles), in which her beauty plays a supporting role. It can be assumed that her body, hertteklich gestalt,79 possesses the desired well-proportioned qualities. The claritas we encounter in her claren antlate80 and in the way she appears unto the (morally) destitute people.

Although Magdalen's beauty strongly depends on her biographical stadium, the vocabulary used to describe her before and after the conversion is to be situated in the same (lexical) field. Together with the semantic shift of beauty (ideal to superficial) the potential meaning of symbolical utterances has undergone the same movement. The gems lose their 'mariological' qualities and turn into mere shining stones that mean no more than the idle expression of richness. The white (in combination with red) can not refer to the idea of purity or perfection anymore, but gives up its moral aspect in favour of a pure physical and therefore idle conception.

If we now take the different facets of the Magdalen's description into account, we encounter a woman, who is both the incarnation of all evil (Eve) and of complete immaculateness (Virgin Mary).

And here the essence of the functionality of Mary Magdalen in medieval Christianity reveals itself. The Magdalen is a mirror for the sinful medieval man; a reflection that can not be made facing the Virgin, who as the embodiment of ultimate perfection is unapproachable anyway. A comparison to Eve on the other hand would be ridiculous, for nobody wants to identify oneself with the representation of all evil, without any direct prospect of redemption. Mary Magdalen, then, is the outstanding example of how a sinful human being can become the dulcis amica dei, who even washed out Eve's mistake by witnessing the protophany.81 She proves that, as long as one expiates his sins, Christ has mercy on every soul, even on hers that has been defiled with the capital sins. The sharp contrast between Mary's pious and sinful life stresses the greatness of Christ's mercy on which each penitent soul can always rely on: si gaff exempel allen menschen tot hoep der penitencien.82


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1 From a linguistic point of view this term is more adequate than the separate terms Middle (High/Low) German and Middle Dutch. See e.g. de Grauwe 2003; 2002; Rossano 2003; De Groodt / Leuschner 2004.

2 Gregory the Great, homilia 33, CCSL 141: 288: Hanc uero quam Lucas peccatricem mulierem, Ioannes Mariam nominat, illam esse Mariam credimus de qua Marcus septem daemonia eiecta fuisse testatur; see for the discussion on her identity e.g. Hufstader 1969; Saxer 1959; Haskins 1995: 1-29; Hansel 1937: 48-52; Jansen 2001: 32–35.

3 For this term see Boxler 1996: 40 note 4; Jansen 1998: 57-96; Jansen 2001.

4 Adrian 1927. See Ochsenbein 1992. Adam 1996: 127-135; Masser 1976: 84f.

5 As the poem breaks off at this point, it is probably unfinished. See Adam 1996: 127.

6 See Jansen 2001: 150–151; Haskins 1995: 155–158.

7 Probably the flat denial of the truth of this story in the Legenda aurea, which was most influential in the late Middle Ages, restrains other authors to embed it in their texts: Aiunt quidam Mariam Magdalenam sponsam fuisse Iohannis euangeliste, quam duxerat tunc, quando Christus de nuptiis ipsum uocauit. Ex hoc ipsa indignata, quod scilicet sponsum sibi abstulerat, abiit et omni uoluptati se dedit. [...] Hec autem falsa et friuola reputantur; Maggioni 1998: 640–641. Three Theodisc adaptations of the Legenda aurea, however, do confirm the story of Mary Magdalen being John the Evangelist's bride at the marriage feast at Cana, see Boxler 1996: texts 7, 8 and 10 as listed on p. 68. The so-called alte Passional also records this story, Hahn 1845: 369, vv. 55ff.

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8 Quotations from the edition of Adrian 1927: vv. 7087-90: reht als si warint maisterlich / vil claine, schoene, raineclich / mit bensel dar gezogen / und doch ze vast nit gebogen, / ze wis, ze brunn. / si warent val, / du stirn in rehter brait smal.

9 vv. 7081-83: du ogen luter und clar / wand viol und karwunkel var / und gabent minneclichen schin.

10 vv. 7077-80: weder zegros, zeprait, zeclain, / du nas in rehter lengi schain / und stuont enzwuschent eben sleht / zwen hufeln, die wan roseleht.

11 vv. 5798-5801: wie zuhteclich smierte / der rot roseleht munt, / so lacheclich ir wol kunt / mit suesser rede machen.

12 vv. 7072-75: denn helfenbainin, / sus sach man sam die gilien / die zene wis Marien / us roten rosen schinen.

13 vv. 7049-50: sne wis so was der megt kel, / in rehter lengi, sinewel.

14 I quote from the cited fragments in Knapp 2002, esp. 184–186.

15 vv. 671-73: Decens sui corporis fuerat statura / Nec longa nimis, nec brevis, sed eam natura / Condidit in mediocri decentique statu.

16 vv. 675–76: Carnis sue cutis erat triticei coloris, / Alba cum rubedine mirique decoris. In the poem Clausule vander bible (fourteenth century) Jacob van Maerlant praises the Virgin's head: Haer vorhooft slecht ghelijc den plade / Ende witter dan die lelieblade; ed. CD-ROM Middelnederlands, vv. 329–30.

17 vv. 695-700: Eius supercilia fuerunt elevata, / Bene super oculos decenter incurvata; / Nigra non pilosa nimis non lata neque densa, / Nec fuerunt nimirum ad invicem protensa; / Sed sese deprimentia fuerunt bene stricta, / Velut in imagine pulchra forent picta.

18 In his 'Buch der Natur' (1348/50; an adaptation of Thomas Cantimpratensis Liber de natura rerum) Konrad von Megenberg also uses the metaphor of the painter to denote the ideal of female beauty: aller zierleichst sint die pravnen (berprâwe an den frawen, wenn si chlain gechraisselt sint, reht als si ain maler gepinselt hab; Luff / Steer 2003: 10. According to Jacob van Maerlant (clausule vander bible, ed. CD-ROM Middelnederlands, v. 332) the Virgin has brown eyebrows as well: Wijnbrauwen bruun, sonder ghegade. Jacob van Maerlant adopted the liber de natura rerum in the vernacular too, Der naturen bloeme (c. 1270), probably this is the reason why he chose the colour brown for the eyebrows.

19 In clausule vander bible van Maerlant compares Mary's eyes to carbuncles: Die oghen blide ende ghestade / Ghelijc den carbonkelstene; ed. CD-ROM Middelnederlands, vv. 334–35.

20 vv. 685-86: Circulus in oculis fuit Jacinctini / Coloris, satis lucidi sive Saphirini. 'Hyacinth' can also mean 'sapphire'. Remark "that the Latin word gemma means both a bud on a plant and a precious stone." Dronke 1984: 81.

21 vv. 711–12: Nasus eius rectus erat, [...], / Nec longus nimis nec brevis.

22 vv. 719–20: Candide ac rubicunde gene speciose / Fuerunt, velut lilium substratum foret rose.

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23 vv. 705, 708: Dentes eius candidi fuerunt [...] eburnei candoris. In the (slightly) scabrous Brabantic poem Dmeisken metten sconen vlechtken (c. 1400) the teeth of the girl are wit met yvore gemanct (white like ivory), Kruyskamp 1957: 24. For Maerlant, clausule vander bible, ed. CD-ROM Middelnederlands, v. 345 the Virgin's teeth are wit, reine ende pure.

24 724–25: Capilli quoque capitis fuerunt subcitrini, / Velut aurum micantes coloris topazini. In clausule vander bible, ed. CD-ROM Middelnederlands, v. 326 Jacob describes the Virgin's hair as scoonre dan goutdrade (more beautiful than gold thread).

25 See Eco 1993: esp. pp. 79ff.; Eco 1986: 52–64.

26 See Meier 2001; Meier 1972; Meier / Suntrup 1987.

27 See the studies of Meier / Suntrup 1987. Meier 1972: esp. pp. 270f. notices that in contradiction to the 'canonical use' of colours Hildegard associates red with the virginitas. See also Eco 1993: 82; Wackernagel 1872b.

28 weiz und dar ein ain clain roeten ist gemischet; Luff / Steer 2003: 50. Konrad interprets the complexion physiognomically, p. 43: mitelvarb zwischen rît und weiz bedäut ain geleich nâtûr, deu niht ze vil noch ze wênig hât hitz noch pluots. A colour between red and white suggests a balanced nature, that has neither too much nor too little heat or blood. See other examples in Wackernagel 1872b: 155f.

29 See also Pleij 2002: 8ff.; van Uytven 1999: 61.

30 vv. 7037: Lanc haer, blont int ghevoech (ed. CD-ROM Middelnederlands). See Pleij 2002: 93; for more instances on blonde hair see Wackernagel 1872b: 164-165; van Uytven 1999: 62, 63, 74 ff.

31 If we compare the description of the beautiful Étaín in the ninth-century Irish prose epic 'The Destruction of Dá Derga's Hostel', with later texts, like those used in this paper, the general ideal of female beauty seems to be rather consistent. See Dronke 1984: 60ff.

32 See Jacob van Maerlant's description of Polyxena in his Historie van Troyen: Haer aenschyn wit, haer wanghen blosen, / Ghelyc die lelyen ende die rosen. (ed. CD-ROM Middelnederlands, vv. 7041–42), see also Pleij 2002: 93.

33 vv. 711-13: dî frouwe generosa, / scône als eine rosa, / dî gebar daz scône lilium; von der Leyen 1977.

34 See Konrad von Wurzburgs Goldene Schmiede (Grimm 1840: xlii).

35 Nevertheless Eco (1990: 508) reminds us in his postscript to the Name of the Rose: "la rosa è una figura simbolica così densa di significati da non averne quasi più nessuno".

36 vv. 7007–10: so wol gezieret, so rich beklait / wart nie brut noch edel mait / von richem gewande, / von gezierd meniger hande.

37 A purpur can also mean the dress itself, made out of that kind of fabric which could have a different kind of colours and needn't necessarily be purple. See Lexer 1974, 2, 310–311, s.v. 'purper, purpur'. Purple mostly refers to (royal) luxury and expensiveness.

38 The madonnas of Jan van Eyck are in this respect a highlight. See e.g. Lechner 1976: 186–191.

39 For a thorough study on gems in history see Meier 1977.

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40 According to Konrad a kind of 'second-hand' carbunculus. Quoted in Luff, Steer's edition, page numbers are indicated. 473: Dem stain hân ich geleicht vnser frawen weizhait, da mit si die g(tleichen driualtichait vnd daz g(tleich wesen durch schavt.

41 496: Dem smaragden han ich vnser fravn geleicht mit irr rainichait vnd mit irr k(usch […]. See de Grauwe 1995: 213.

42 495: du [Maria] pist ain saphyr der heyligen hoffenung, [...].

43 478: Den han ich geleicht vnserr frawen in irr wirdikait, wan si sichert den sůnd(r vor den naht forhten vnd vor der vinster des ewigen todes.

44 486: Aber ich han in vnserr frawen geleicht in meinem lobsang mit irr mazichait, wan deu selb tugent, di ze latein temperancia haizzt, [...].

45 467: si ist suzz vnd senft mit iren genaden sam der stain mit seinen chreften.

46 The Rheinische Marienlob (thirteenth century) describes the nine stones of the King of Tyrus' garment, in whom the Middle Ages saw Lucifer, who lost his cloth in favour of Mary. See de Grauwe 1995: 208; Engelen 1973: 359; Tschochner 1989: 279; Bach 1934: vv. 4375–4557.

47 See Ulrich von Straßburg: Est ergo pulchritudo realiter idem quod bonitas, quoted in Bumke 1987, 423 and Hugh of St. Victor in his Commentaria in hierarchiam coelestem, PL 175: 949: [...], quoniam visibilis pulchritudo invisibilis pulchritudinis imago est.

48 Vgl. vv. 5674-77: nie kain mentsch [wart] so gelich / in himel noch uf erden / an werken noch angeswerden, / an wishait, adele, schone and: vv. 5736–37: si muos du liepst sin / nach Got und siner muoter.

49 See Theunissen-Nijsse 1992; De Vooys 1905; Boxler 1996: 48–49; Hansel 1937: 114-127.

50 Froning 1891/92: 1, vv. 329–330: alter dyabolus: "maria, sich in den spigel clar unt tu diner schone war". About the mirror in the Middle Ages see Wackernagel 1872a.

51 Janota 2002, Alsfelder Passionsspiel, resp. vv. 1776 and 1773.

52 See Anstett-Janßen 1974, 524; Baert 2002; van den Wildenberg-de Kroon 1979, 76-77.

53 See Bumke 1987: 311; Jansen 2001: 159–60; de Grauwe 2001, 177–178.

54 Chorea enim circulus est, cujus centrum est diabolus. Quoted in Bumke 1987: 311.

55 Kummer 1977: vv. 454 -56: seid ich mich annen sol / deines roesenvarben mund, / von dem ich aber wuerd gesund. Ibid., v. 634: Gott grueß dich ros und liligenweis.

56 Quoted in Cohen 1956. See also Haskins 1995: 163.

57 See Haskins 1995: 150–151, 227–229, 241-243; Jansen 2001: 19-21, 130–34, 157–58; Anstett-Janssen 1974.

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58 See Jean Michel in his Mystère de la Passion (Angers 1486); Jodogne 1959: vv. 8542–44: Mary Magdalen says: Et si vueil porter les senteurs, / doulces et fleurantes odeurs / pour inciter tous cueurs a joye.

59 It would be no surprise that the powder Magdalen uses to whiten her skin is made of nothing else than the well-praised lily; for Konrad von Megenburg reports in his encyclopedia the skin-caring properties of this flower: der lilien wurz macht diu antlütz schoen, wenn man daz antlütz dâ mit wescht, und vertreibt die rünzeln (Das Buch der Natur, 406), after what has been said about the ideal complexion it is no idle hypothesis that we can equate schoen with white.

60 A rîse is a kind of coloured veil falling down over the face, in a broader sense it also could mean gebende.

61 See Weinhold 1897: 2, 296f.

62 The gebende is also a kind of headwear for women. See Bumke 1987: 204–205; Schultz 1889: 1, 236–241.

63 Pfeiffer 1965: 2, 242; see also Bumke 1987: 209.

64 Bumke 1987: 210. See the reddish-yellow that stresses the Magdalen's past in Mary Magdalen by the master of the Mansi Magdalen = Picture 13 in: Pleij 2002.

65 See van den Wildenberg-de Kroon 1979: 66.

66 See Iannucci 1942: 10.

67 See e.g. Karras 1990; Jansen 2001: 168–177; Haskins 1995.

68 Bumke 1987: 453 remarks that the courtly image of the woman is an invention of the poet.

69 Ulrich von Etzenbach, Wilhelm v. Wenden, quoted in Bumke 1987: 453.

70 For the evolution from the begehrte Frau to begehrende Frau, see Wenzel 1997: 265.

71 A cornale used to be a kind of jewellery, see Kummer 1977: 117.

72 Churer Maria-Magdalena-Legende, ed. by Boxler 1996: 232.

73 Niederdeutsche Legenda aurea, ed. by Boxler 1996: 340.

74 Engelberger Maria Magdalena-Legende, ed. by Boxler 1996: 439.

75 See her dance with the devil(s).

76 See Eco 1993; esp. relating to these three criteria in Thomas Aquina: pp. 130-139; similar Eco 1986.

77 See note 74.

78 See note 75.

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79 See Odo of Cluny, PL 133: 721: Et sicut per beatam Mariam semper virginem quae spes est unica mundi, paradisi portae nobis sunt apertae, et maledictio exclusa Evae; ita per beatam Mariam Magdalenam opprobium feminei sexus deletum est, et splendor nostrae Resurrectionis in Dominica resurrectione exortus, abea propinatus est. See Rossano 2004.

80 From Die ghetiden [the Hours] van Sinte Maria Magdalena, Kestner-Museum in Hannover, MS 3939, fol. 216r.