Not far from Arles, we visited the town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. It is an ancient town in the marshes of the Camargue, where the Rhône meets the Mediterranean Sea. I am not sure Gwen wanted to investigate yet another church, but she kindly went to see what was under that collection of bells in that tower with a ship for a weather vane. As we sat in the nave, I finally looked up and saw an opening way up the wall. I could not tell what it was, but I surmised it might be the remains of the three Marys in the town’s name. Sure enough, we later learned three times a year they pull out an ornate box and hoist it down to the altar for vernation.
More in a minute. But, I ask you, if Christianity managed to survive such things, don’t you think it will survive the nonsense we are experiencing right now?
The story goes on to say the Three Marys for which the town is named are, in French, Marie Madeleine, Marie Salomé and Marie de Cléophas, the very women who came to the tomb where Jesus was laid three days after the crucifixion. The medieval tradition, still honored today, began when the three Marys escaped persecution for their faith in Palestine and travelled by sea to Southern France, which makes them “de la Mer” for sure. They set sail from Alexandria, Egypt, with their uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, and landed on the very spot where the town sits. They lived in the Camargue the rest of their lives and helped bring Christianity to France.
Legends are being born every day. The January 6 Commission is about to hold public hearings about the findings of their investigation. Mehmet Oz is going to have to decide if he gets on the bandwagon with Trump’s big lie. 34% of the population is likely to keep believing the last election was stolen. Many of us will wring our hands about the lack of factuality drowning us. Last week Tucker Carlson claimed that Democrat efforts to promote gun safety are not about public health. Instead, he said, Democrats want to disarm the people because they’re afraid of a popular uprising against them because “they know they rule illegitimately.”
I assume Jesus has always cared about lying, but just assessing facts does not always mean we arrive at the truth. What does your legend serve?
The Church of the Saintes Maries de la Mer is known in France for the celebrations it holds for each Mary’s feast day. The week-long events draw 24-40,000 Roma Catholics and others from France and beyond. The high points at each feast include a ritual when the painted reliquary chest, said to contain the bones of the Saintes Maries, is ceremoniously lowered from its high perch to the altar for veneration, and then the statue of another figure, the Roma’s own Saint Sarah, can be honored – she was later added to the story as a servant who arrived with the Marys and Joseph. On successive days, Romas and a large crowd process with statues of Sara and the Saintes Maries from the church to the beach, carrying them right into the sea.
I have to say, had I happened upon this quaint village when the big celebration was in full swing, I probably would have folded in and helped take Sara and the Marys right into the sea. I had already joined a candlelight procession for the Virgin Mary at Lourdes a few days before and quite enjoyed belting out “Kyrie eleison!” (Lord have mercy!) with pilgrims from around the world. I don’t believe 90% of the “facts” I keep seeing represented about Mary on French church buildings. But I do believe in thousands of people crying out for the mercy of the Lord in an era where truth is often stranger than fiction and facts are an inconvenience. Didn’t Louis Gohmert, the Texas congressman, just say last week, when reacting on Newsmax to the arrest of Peter Navarro, “If you’re a Republican, you can’t even lie to Congress or lie to an FBI agent or they’re coming after you.”
I truly believe Jesus has done wonders with whatever the tides of lies and legends have washed up on our shores. He is always glorious in contrast. But I don’t think he needs what we think is true to validate he is the Truth.