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  • The Dominican Connection:Some Comments on the Sources, Authorship, and Provenance of Mǫrtu saga ok Maríu Magðalenu1
  • Natalie M. Van Deusen

Mary Magdalen enjoyed considerable popularity in Catholic-era Iceland (1000–1550). The saint, who in the Middle Ages was conflated with Mary of Bethany and the unnamed sinner in Luke who washed and anointed Jesus’s feet, and who, according to medieval apocryphal legend, evangelized Marseilles in France following the resurrection, is reported to have been the patron of a chapel at Reykir in Fljót and the co-patron of Fell in Kollafjörður, Grunnavík, Hvammur in Hvammssveit, Meðalfell, Skarð in Skarðsströnd, and Þerney.2 In addition, the extant church inventories reveal that the monasteries at Þykkvabær and Þingeyrar and the churches at Borg, Hólar in Eyjafjörður, Oddi, Ríp, and Skútustaðir had her image.3 Mary Magdalen’s feast day, July 22, is listed in a number of medieval Icelandic calendars and appears with some frequency in legal texts, both to mark the date of letters and to give instructions regarding the observation of holy days. She is named in testaments, indicating both personal and localized devotion to the saint, and is frequently mentioned in medieval Icelandic religious literature. A significant manifestation of her medieval Icelandic cult is the composite legend of the saint and her “sister,” Martha of Bethany. This so-called Mǫrtu saga ok Maríu Magðalenu, which was probably compiled during the first half of the fourteenth century, is extant in the late medieval Icelandic manuscripts NoRA 79 fragm. (ca. 1350), AM 233a fol. (ca. 1350–1375), AM 235 fol. (ca. 1400), Stock. Perg. 2 fol. (ca. 1425–1445), and AM 764 4to (ca. 1376–1386).4 There are many [End Page 206] noteworthy aspects of the legend, not least the compiler’s extensive and complex use of Latin sources, one of which points to an office of Mary Magdalen not known to have existed in medieval Iceland: her Dominican office. This “Dominican connection,” which is not identified in previous studies, forms a unique and important link between the legend and Dominican liturgy in Iceland and quite possibly allows us to make a statement about the authorship and provenance of the saga of the sister saints.

The Latin Sources of Mǫrtu Saga Ok Maríu Magðalenu

In his 1962 facsimile edition of Stock. Perg. 2 fol., Peter Foote points out that Vincent of Beauvais’s Speculum historiale was the primary source of Mǫrtu saga ok Maríu Magðalenu, “with some abridgment and minor re-ordering.”5 In addition, the compiler of the saga made use of gospel narratives as well as a variety of other Latin works by Peter Comestor, Gregory the Great, Augustine, Honorius Augustodunensis, and Bede. The works consulted, according to Foote, are Comestor’s Historia scholastica, Gregory the Great’s Homiliarum in Evangelia, Augustine’s In Iohannis Evangelivm Trancatvs and his Sermo CCXLIV,Honorius Augustodunensis’s sermon for Palm Sunday in Speculum ecclesiae, and Bede’s In Marci Evangelivm Expositio.6 The end of the text, which provides an account of the translation of the Magdalen’s relics at Vézelay in France and her subsequent miracles, is not derived from Vincent of Beauvais or the other biblical exegetes, but instead from various Latin sources catalogued in Bibliotheca hagiographica latina, that is, 5481, 5489–5490 (with drastic abridgment in the translation account), 5462–5463, 5465, 5474–5476, and 5482–5484.7

Foote’s otherwise comprehensive identification of Latin texts utilized by the compiler of Mǫrtu saga ok Maríu Magðalenu does not account for the part of the Old Norse–Icelandic text, which brings to light the saga’s [End Page 207] Dominican connection: a prayer-like passage for the reformed sinners Peter and Mary Magdalen, focusing on their respective roles at the resurrection. The section is an important one for other reasons as well, since it names the Magdalen the apostolorum apostola (postoli postolanna, or apostle of the apostles), a controversial designation during the Middle Ages due to its appropriation by heretical sects:8

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-662X
Print ISSN
0363-6941
Pages
pp. 206-221
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-22
Open Access
No
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