May 5, 2009
Gradual: Initial G with St. Mary Magdalene
Italy, ca. 1425
Parchment with ink, paint, and gold
This gradual is a shared book, and is enormous owing to the need of the choir to see it from a distance. A gradual contains the music needed for the Mass.
This historiated initial G begins the Introit for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene (July 22), “Gaudeamus omnes in Domino diem festum celebrantes sub honore Mariae Magdalene…” (Let us all rejoice in the Lord celebrating the feast in honor of Mary Magdalene). According to The Golden Legend, Mary retired to the wilderness after the ascension of Christ, and each day was borne aloft by angels at the seven canonical hours so that she could hear the heavenly hosts. The angels appear in this historiated initial, as does the foliage of the wilderness. The long hair pictured here can be attributed to its status as part of her iconography: Mary washes Jesus’ feet with her tears in penitence and dries them with her long hair. There is also a legend of 11th-century origin that Mary’s hair miraculously grows to cover her nakedness when she goes into the desert as a penitent.
Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 73