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Image © Hildesheim, St Godehard

Luke 7:36-50

Christ sits at the end of a long table, rebuking Simon the Pharisee and pointing to Mary Magdalen below. She anoints his feet from an alabaster jar and wipes them with her tears and hair. Behind Christ an attendant enters bearing another jar. The assembled company are eating fish, not the meat mentioned in Luke, and loaves, one of which is marked like the sacrament. The tablecloth is particularly intricate, showing blue embroidery and a white check damask pattern. It is the same meal and tablecloth as the Last Supper, p41. This detail provides a strong visual prompt that the scene serves as a prologue to the ensuing Passion cycle.

Simon is incredulous that Christ should even allow the sinner Mary Magdalen near him at table, while Christ, pointing to her, explains that her love and penitence have brought forgiveness. The two others ask ‘Who is this that forgives sins also?’

The attendant at the door is a conflation of two scenes: Mary arriving and then washing the feet. Luke begins the episode with Mary Magdalen coming to the house with the jar of ointment and standing behind Christ, weeping. In Perpignan MS.1 and Admont, MS.289 the standing figure holding the ointment is a second Magdalen, part of a continuous narrative (AP, pl. 127a,b). Here she has been transformed into a genre figure, breaking through the frame of the page.

The story above is taken directly from Luke 7:36-50, but its context and meaning derive from the other gospels. In Matthew 26:6-12 and Mark 14:3-8, the parallel scene involves a woman anointing Christ’s head not his feet, and this provides an introduction to the Passion because Christ says ‘She hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial’. In John 12: 1-8, the washing of the feet is performed in the house of Lazarus by Mary, the sister of Martha. Here there is no mention of the preliminary scene, Mary bringing in the ointment, and the table discussion is between Jesus and Judas, with no mention of the others’ comments. However, it is the John text (12: 12-15) which proceeds directly to the Entry to Jerusalem, like the picture sequence in the St Albans Psalter (p37). The repetition of the meal and tablecloth both here and on p41 shows that this link was deliberately intended.

Mary Magdalen provides a significant feminine frame to the Passion through this scene and her subsequent annunciation of the Resurrection to the apostles (p51) (Carrasco, 1999, 67-80). In a way, this scene allows a woman the closest possible access to the Eucharist itself, the culmination of Christian worship. Whereas the Last Supper scene (p41) is a harsh depiction of betrayal and denial, this meal brings in the concept of sacrifice and redemption through the intimate relationship between Christ and Mary.

Like Mary Magdalen in this scene, Christina was humiliated and slandered, accused of being a ‘loose woman’ but she nonetheless retained her tactile intimacy with Christ (Talbot, 1998, 172-175, 118-9).

Quire 3. Thread or stitch holes for protective curtain

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