The Three Marys
The Three Marys or Maries is a term referring to the women mentioned in the canonical gospels narratives of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, several of whom were, or have been considered by Christian tradition, to have been named Mary (a very common name for Jewish women of the period).
The Gospels give the name Mary to several individuals. At various points of Christian history, some of these women have been conflated with one another.
- Mary, mother of Jesus
- Mary Magdalene
- Mary of Jacob (mother of James the Less) (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; Luke 24:10)
- Mary of Cleopas (John 19:25)
- Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:38–42; John 12:1–3) (not mentioned in the Crucifixion or Resurrection narratives)
Another woman who appears in the Crucifixion and Resurrection narratives is Salome, who, in some traditions, is identified as being one of the Marys, notwithstanding having a different name. In such cases, she is referred to as Mary Salome. Other women mentioned in the narratives are Joanna and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Different sets of three women have been referred to as the Three Marys:
- Three Marys present at the crucifixion of Jesus;
- Three Marys at the tomb of Jesus on Easter Sunday;
- Three Marys as daughters of Saint Anne.
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 Gospels other than that of John do not mention Jesus' mother or Mary of Clopas as being present. Instead they name Mary of Jacob (Mark and Matthew), Salome (Mark), and the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew).
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, a group that traditionally includes a much 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 of Clopas
- Mary Salome
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 of Jacob, 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".
The Roman Martyrology commemorates Mary Magdalene on 22 July. On 24 April it commemorates "Mary of Cleopas and Salome, who, with Mary Magdalene, came very early on Easter morning to the Lord's tomb, to anoint his body, and were the first who heard the announcement of his resurrection.
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.
The fifteenth-century Easter hymn "O filii et filiae" refers to three women going to the tomb on Easter morning to anoint the body of Jesus. The original Latin version of the hymn identifies the women as Mary Magdalene (Maria Magdalene), Mary of Joseph (et Iacobi), and Salome (et Salome).
Legend in France
A medieval legendary account had Mary Magdalene, Mary of Jacob and Mary Salome, Mark's Three Marys at the Tomb, or Mary Magdalene, Mary of Cleopas and Mary Salome, 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.
Processional statues during Good Friday
In various Catholic countries, particularly in the Kingdom of Spain, the Philippines and Latin American countries, images of the three Marys (in Spanish Tres Marías) associated with the tomb are carried in Good Friday processions referred to by the word Penitencia (Spanish) or Panatà (Filipino for an act performed in fulfilment of a vow). They carry attributes or iconic accessories, chiefly enumerated as follows:
- Mary Cleopas (sometimes alternated with Mary Jacob) – holding a broom
- Mary Salome – holding a thurible or censer
- Mary Magdalene (sometimes alternated with Mary of Bethany) – holding an alabaster chalice or jar.
A common pious practice sometimes alternates Mary Salome with Jacob, due to a popular belief that Salome, an elderly person at this time would not have had the energy to reach the tomb of Christ at the morning of resurrection, though she was present at the Crucifixion. To date, this remains to be a geographical tradition that varies from one town to another. Another practice pertains to Mary Magdalene is sometimes referred to Mary of Bethany being the same person, in line with the long-standing tradition in Western Christianity that identified Mary Magdalene (probably from Magdala near Lake Tiberias) with Mary of Bethany, a place near Jerusalem, much further south.
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 of Clopas
- Salome, in this tradition called Mary Salome (as in the tradition of the three Marys at the tomb)
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.
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