The Three Marys
The three Marys at the tomb
This name is used for a group of three women who came to the sepulchre of Jesus. In Eastern Orthodoxy they are among the Myrrhbearers, traditionally including a larger number of people. All four gospels mention women going to the tomb of Jesus, but only Mark 16:1 mentions the three that this tradition interprets as bearing the name Mary:
- Mary Magdalene
- Mary Mother of James
- Salome (called Mary Salome in this tradition of the three Marys at the tomb, as also in the different tradition of the three Marys daughters of Saint Anne).
The other gospels give various indications about the number and identity of women visiting the tomb:
- John 20:1 mentions only Mary Magdalene, but has her use the plural, saying: "We do not know where they have laid him" (John 20:2).
- Matthew 28:1 says that Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" went to see the tomb.
- Luke 24:10 speaks of Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James, and adds "the other women", after stating earlier (Luke 23:55) that at the burial of Jesus "the women who had come with him from Galilee ... saw the tomb and how his body was laid".
Women at the tomb in art
What may be the earliest known representation of three women visiting the tomb of Jesus is a fairly large fresco in the Dura-Europos church in the ancient city of Dura Europos on the Euphrates. The fresco was painted before the city's conquest and abandonment in AD 256, but it is from the 5th century that representations of either two or three women approaching a tomb guarded by an angel appear with regularity, and become the standard depiction of the Resurrection. They have continued in use even after 1100, when images of the Resurrection of Jesus in Christian art began to show the risen Christ himself. Examples are the Melisende Psalter and Peter von Cornelius's The Three Marys at the Tomb. Eastern icons continue to show either the Myrrhbearers or the Harrowing of Hell.
Legend in France
A medieval legendary account had Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome, the Three Marys at the Tomb, with Saint Sarah, the maid of one of them, as part of a group who landed near Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in Provence after a voyage from the Holy Land. The group sometimes includes Lazarus, who became bishop of Aix-en-Provence, and Joseph of Arimathea. They settled at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where their relics are a focus of pilgrimage. The feast of the Three Marys was celebrated mainly in France and Italy, and was accepted by the Carmelite Order into their liturgy in 1342.
In various Catholic countries, particularly Spain, the Philippines and Latin American countries, the three Marys locally known as Tres Marias carry attributes or iconic accessories. Chief among them are the following associations:
- Mary Cleophas (also called Maria Jacobe) - holding a broom
- Mary Salome - holding a thurible or censer
- Mary Magdalene (also called Maria Betania or Mary of Bethany) - holding an alabaster chalice or jar.
In the beginning of the 19th century, some confusion became prevalent between Maria Salome and Maria Cleophas during Lent. Nevertheless, the three Marys are always displayed together, grouped into a set symbolizing their Christian witness to the Passion of Jesus Christ, most notably processed during Good Friday services in what has become known as a penitential devotion (Spanish: Penitencia, Filipino: Panata).
The three Marys at the crucifixion
The presence of a group of female disciples of Jesus at the crucifixion of Jesus is found in all four Gospels of the New Testament. Differences in the parallel accounts have led to different interpretations of how many and which women were present. In some traditions, as exemplified in the Irish song Caoineadh na dTrí Muire, the Three Marys are the three whom the Gospel of John mentions as present at the crucifixion of Jesus:
The three daughters of Saint Anne
According to a legend propounded by Haymo of Auxerre in the mid-9th century, but rejected by the Council of Trent, Saint Anne had, by different husbands, three daughters, all of whom bore the name Mary and who are referred to as the Three Marys:
- Mary (mother of Jesus)
- Mary, the wife of Cleopas
- Salome, in this tradition called Mary Salome (as in the tradition of the three Marys at the tomb) and identified with Mary, mother of James.
Mary Magdalene is not part of this group.
It was the subject of a long poem in rhymed French written in about 1357 by Jean de Venette. The poem is preserved in a mid-15th-century manuscript on vellum containing 232 pages written in columns. The titles are in red and illuminated in gold. It is decorated with seven miniatures in monochrome gray. 
For some centuries, religious art throughout Germany and the Low Countries frequently presented Saint Anne with her husbands, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren as a group known as the Holy Kinship.
In Spanish-speaking countries, the Orion's Belt asterism is called Las Tres Marías (The Three Marys). In other Western nations, it is sometimes called "The Three Kings," a reference to the Gospel of Matthew's account of wise men, who have been pictured as kings and as three in number, bearing gifts for the infant Jesus.
- Web Gallery of Art
- Robin Margaret Jensen, Understanding Early Christian Art (Routledge 2000 ISBN 978-0-41520454-5), p. 162
- Vladimir Lossky, 1982 The Meaning of Icons ISBN 978-0-913836-99-6 page 185
- James John Boyce, "The Medieval Carmelite Office Tradition", p. 133, Acta Musicologica, Vol. 62, Fasc. 2/3 (May - Dec., 1990), pp. 119-151, JSTOR
- "Caoineadh na dTrí Muire" (The Lament of the Three Marys)
- John 19:25
- Patrick J. Geary, Women at the Beginning (Princeton University Press 2006 ISBN 9780691124094), p. 72
- Fernando Lanzi, Gioia Lanzi, Saints and Their Symbols (Liturgical Press 2004 ISBN 9780814629703), p. 37
- Stefano Zuffi, Gospel Figures in Art (Getty Publication 2003 ISBN 9780892367276), p. 350
- The Children and Grandchildren of Saint Anne
- "Le manuscrit médiéval" ~ The Medieval Manuscript, Nov. 2011, pg. 1
- The Chronicle of Jean de Venette, translated by Jean Birdsall. Edited by Richard A. Newhall. N.Y. Columbia University Press. 1953. Introduction
- Matthew 2:1-11
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