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Basilica of Mary Magdalene, begun 1295.
Basilica of Mary Magdalene, begun 1295.
Coat of arms of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume
Location of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume
Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume is located in France
Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume is located in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
Coordinates: 43°27′12″N 5°51′41″E / 43.4532°N 5.8614°E / 43.4532; 5.8614Coordinates: 43°27′12″N 5°51′41″E / 43.4532°N 5.8614°E / 43.4532; 5.8614
RegionProvence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
IntercommunalityCA Provence Verte
 • Mayor (2020–2026) Alain Decanis
64.13 km2 (24.76 sq mi)
 (Jan. 2018)[1]
 • Density260/km2 (670/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+01:00 (CET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+02:00 (CEST)
INSEE/Postal code
83116 /83470
Elevation261–778 m (856–2,552 ft)
(avg. 520 m or 1,710 ft)
1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km2 (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.

Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume (Occitan: Sant Maissemin de la Santa Bauma) is a commune in the southeastern French department of Var, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. Located 40 km (25 mi) east of Aix-en-Provence, the town lies at the foot of the Sainte-Baume mountains. Baume or bama is the Provençal equivalent of cave. The town's basilica is dedicated to Mary Magdalene.


The Roman Villa Lata, remains of which have been identified beneath Place Malherbe in the center of the town, was one among numerous agricultural working Roman villas in the plain that was traversed by the via Aurelia. The Abbey of Saint Victor at Marseille had dependencies in the neighborhood: Saint-Maximin, Saint-Jean, Saint-Mitre, Sainte-Marie. The Romanesque parish church dedicated to Saint Maximin of Trier was demolished in the final stages of constructing the basilica.

In the 12th century, Berenguer Ramon I, Count of Provence, established Saint-Maximin as a town uniquely under his care. In 1246, following the death of Raymond IV Berenger, Provence passed through his younger daughter to Charles d'Anjou, brother of Louis IX of France and sometime king of Sicily. The tenuous Anjou presence at Saint-Maximin was fiercely contested by the seigneurs of Baux among other local leaders.

The French baritone Louis Gassier (1820–1871) was born in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.

The cultus of Mary Magdalene[edit]

The little town was transformed by the well-published discovery on 12 December 1279, in the crypt of Saint-Maximin, of a sarcophagus that was proclaimed to be the tomb of Mary Magdalene, signalled by miracles[2] and by the ensuing pilgrim-drawing cult of Mary Magdalene and Saint Maximin, that was assiduously cultivated by Charles II of Anjou, King of Naples. He founded the massive Gothic Basilique Ste. Marie-Madeleine in 1295; the basilica had the blessing of Boniface VIII, who placed it under the new teaching order of Dominicans.

The founding tradition held that relics of Mary Magdalene were preserved here, and not at Vézelay,[3] and that she, her brother Lazarus, and a certain Maximinus fled the Holy Land by a miraculous boat with neither rudder nor sail[4] and landed at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, in the Camargue near Arles. Maximinus is venerated as St Maximin, a name shared by the 3rd-century Maximin of Trier and the 1st-century martyr, Maximinus of Aix, whom medieval legend conflated with the later Maximin; the conflated Maximin was added in the discussed medieval period to earlier lists of the Seventy Disciples.

After landing in the Camargue, Mary Magdalene came to Marseille and converted the local people. Later in life, according to the founding legend, she retired to a cave in the Sainte-Baume mountains. She was buried in Saint-Maximin, which was not a place of pilgrimage in early times, though there is a Gallo-Roman crypt under the basilica. Sarcophagi are shown, of St Maximin, Ste. Marcelle, Ste. Suzanne and St. Sidoine (Sidonius) as well as the reliquary, which is said to hold the remains of Mary Magdalene. Genetic testing of some of the hairs in the reliquary confirmed that it was the hair of a woman of possible Jewish ancestry, but do not confirm the identity of the source of the hair.[5]

Construction of the basilica, begun in 1295, was complete as to the crypt when it was consecrated in 1316. In it were installed a Gallo-Roman funerary monument—of the 4th century in fact—and four marble sarcophagi, whose bas-reliefs permit a Christian identification.

The Black Death in 1348, which killed half the local population, interrupted the building campaign, which was not taken up again until 1404, but found the sixth bay of the nave complete by 1412. Work continued until 1532, when it was decided to leave the basilica just as it was, without a finished west front or portal or belltowers, features that it lacks to this day. The plan has a main apse flanked by two subsidiary apses. Its great aisled nave is without transept. The nave is flanked by sixteen chapels in the aisles.



List of mayors of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume (partial):

2014-present: Christine Lanfranchi-Dorgal (UMP)
2008-2014: Alain Penal (UMP)
2001-2008: Gabriel Rinaudo (RPR)
1995-2001: Horace Lanfranchi (RPR)


  1. ^ "Populations légales 2018". INSEE. 28 December 2020.
  2. ^ The Dominican Bernard Gui, claimed in his chronicle, written early in the following century, that a sweet spicy fragrance emanated from the sarcophagus' contents, and that a green shoot was found to be growing from the Magdalen's tongue. (Jansen 2000)
  3. ^ Other alleged burial places are at Ephesus (now in Turkey) and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, whence, it is said, her remains were later removed to Europe.
  4. ^ For the literary topos in hagiography of the miraculous boat, compare the legends of Mac Cuill and the voyages of Hui-Corra and of Mael Duin, and in religious legend Brendan of Clonfert, Saint Tathan who was carried to Britain in a rudderless boat, the three Irishmen carried to King Alfred in an oarless boat (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, year 891), the birth of Saint Kentigern, all instanced by Hares-Stryker, 1993. Celidoine is set adrift in a rudderless boat in the Estoire de Saint Graal. The translation of Saint James the Great in a rudderless boat to Hispania might be added. See Stith Thompson, Motif-index of folk-literature; a classification of narrative elements in folktales, ballads, myths, fables, mediaeval romances, exempla, fabliaux, jest-books, and local legends. Rev. ed.. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press) 1955-58
  5. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Katherine Ludwig Jansen, The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton University Press) 2000.
  • Hares-Stryker, Carolyn, 1993. "Adrift on the seven seas: the medieval topos of exile at sea", Florilegium 12 (on-line text; pdf file)

External links[edit]