You might have noticed that artists often portray Mary Magdalene with a jug, or some kind of jar. In this connection, we often talk about an alabaster jar which might not have been one:
“While he (Jesus) was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” (1)
An alabastron (Greek alabastros), as quoted in the passage from the Bible, can be made of all sorts of materials. It is a high, narrow container without a lid, either sealed or closed with a plug, with two handles on the side for holding it.
Why the alabaster jar is so much worth mentioning
At the time of Mary Magdalene there were the so-called ‘dynastic marriages’ where the bridegroom was anointed by his bride. It is interesting in this respect to know that Mary Magdalene was a member of the Hasmoneans whose family tree goes back to Aaron, the brother of Moses. Jesus’ line of ancestors goes back to King David. This is why he held a high position in society because of his origin.
Once you try to get more detailed information on this topic, you keep coming across the fact that Mary Magdalene was a so-called Hasmonean princess whose social status made her the perfect woman for Jesus to marry.
Only the bride was allowed to anoint the bridegroom
The anointing of Jesus by Mary Magdalene emphasizes this position, as in those days in society only the bride was allowed to anoint the bridegroom. Married women had a vial with oil round their neck in order to give their husband the last anointment after his death. Everybody can decide for themselves why Mary Magdalene went into Jesus’ tomb, and what she did there.
In visual arts Mary Magdalene’s jar was portrayed as ‘the alabaster jar of Bethania’, containing anointing oil for Jesus, but at the same time it was a symbol for the Holy Grail which supposedly contained Jesus’ blood.
The Holy Grail – Mary Magdalene’s womb?
Jugs, pots and cauldrons have always been female symbols in art. Therefore, the containers Mary Magdalene has been portrayed with, stand for the womb where she kept the blood of Christ. Many writings talk about Mary Magdalene bringing the Sangréal, the Holy Blood in her body to the south of France, meaning Jesus’ descendants.
A provocative thesis? As long as we think of a golden chalice when we hear the word Sangreal, this idea will not find space in our heads and hearts.
(1) Mark 14,3 according to the Greek text in the archives of the Vatican (Codex Vaticanus MS1209)