From the book: “THE COMING OF THE SAINTS”
by J. W. Taylor (first published in 1906)
THE TRADITIONS OF THE THREE MARIES AND THEIR COMPANIONS
How pure at heart and sound in head,
With what divine affections bold
Should be the man whose thought would hold
An hour's communion with the dead!
In vain shalt thou, or any, call
The spirits from their golden day,
Except, like them, thou too canst say,
My spirit is at peace with all.
They haunt the silence of the breast,
Imaginations calm and fair,
The memory like a cloudless air,
The conscience as a sea of rest.
But when the heart is full of din,
And doubt beside the portal waits,
They can but listen at the gates,
And hear the household jar within.
Tennyson, ‘In Memoriam’ xciv
NO words are needed, I think, to point out or recommend the many interesting features of this Life of St. Mary and St. Martha.
There are undoubtedly mistakes and inaccuracies in it, but the evident good faith of the author, his reverence and respect for the authorities at his command, his real devoutness and his determination not to be misled by what is plainly spurious - all testify to a transparent honesty, carefulness and goodness that can hardly be questioned.
This is the only ascertained copy of the Life of Rabanus, but some other six or seven old manuscript lives of St. Mary Magdalene are still extant. Some of these are probably older than the Life of Rabanus, and all bear out the main details of the Provencal mission.
The oldest is in the form of a hymn which appears to belong to the seventh century, and is published by M. l'Abbc Naibey in the supplement to the Acta Sanctorum.
In this we read of the departure of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Maximinus from Palestine after the martyrdom of St. Stephen, of their arrival at Marseilles, their missionary labours, their death and burial at Aix; the whole corresponding to the history of Rabanus, but containing nothing beyond the bare details here recorded.
The next in point of date appear to be two old manuscript Lives preserved in the Paris libraries dating from the tenth century (Faillon) or from the eleventh to the thirteenth century (Duchesne). If the original Life of Rabanus was compiled by its reputed author, these manuscripts are copies of a pre-existing 'Life', for portions of these histories have been incorporated word for word in the Life of Rabanus. For this reason Faillon traces the original of these manuscripts to the sixth century, but any date before the time of Rabanus would be consistent with the supposed authorship of the Oxford manuscript.
Next to these in date of composition, but not perhaps in date of manuscript (but all are copies) is the Life of Rabanus in the Magdalen College Library.1 Then we have the MS. Laud 108 of the Bodleian (thirteenth century?) and several later manuscripts, of which the Buchedd Mair Vadlen and Buchedd Martha, in the Hafod Collection at Cardiff (1604), and the fragment in the Llwfyr Gwyn Rhydderch of the Hengwrt MS., are the more important in British libraries.
In addition to these, too, we have the devotional romance of the Life of St. Mary Magdalene by an unknown Italian writer of the fourteenth century, recently translated into English by Valentine Hawtrey and published by Mr. John Lane at the Bodley Head. In this, though the writer confines himself to the period of the Gospels, and professedly fills his pages with imagined interviews and conversations, it is noticeable that the setting of his story is taken either from the Life of Rabanus or from some corresponding Life, for the parentage of Martha and Mary, their possessions at Bethany and Magdala, and the residence with them of Marcella, or 'Martilla', are given almost exactly as in the record of Rabanus.
In examining these various Lives one important feature must strike every observer. All the older manuscripts, which profess, too, to be copies of histories more ancient still, contain very little or no
1 The essentials of this are also found in the first volume of the Chronicles of Matthew of Paris, probably dating from 1190 or before this.
account of any miraculous events; the oldest of all simply recording the coming of St. Mary Magdalene, St. Martha, St. Lazarus and St. Maximin to Provence, and giving the plainest details of their life and death. The Life of Rabanus is much fuller but contains very little that is miraculous. The later Lives, on the other hand, are full of miraculous, wild and unbelievable additions.
Corresponding to the main narrative contained in these Lives we find local traditions, local monuments and relics, and local liturgies preserving, in some way or another, the same essential features.
These local traditions and monuments may be said to start from the little old town and church of Les Saintes Maries in the Camargue, the supposed scene of the landing of the first Hebrew missionaries. Here we find a church of the eighth or ninth century, enshrining the reputed relics of St. Mary Salome and St. Mary Cleopas; possessing, too, architectural features corresponding to the tradition, and a yearly pilgrimage in honour of the 'Holy Maries' and of their reputed handmaid 'Sara'.
Again, at Marseilles we find the local tradition mainly concerned with the life and labours of St. Lazarus, its reputed first missionary-priest or bishop, the local monument connected with this being a grotto or cave in the crypt of the old church of St. Victor.
Farther on, at Aix, at St. Maximin and La Sainte Baume, we find local traditions, monuments and relics relating to the apostolate of St. Mary Magdalene, St. Maximin and Sidonius or Chelidonius; the chief relic, the head of St. Mary Magdalene, being preserved in a small crypt in the great church of St. Maximin. At Aries we find innumerable traces of St. Trophimus. At Tarascon - rightly or wrongly - the whole town is devoted to the memory of St. Martha, and the fine church of St. Martha not only enshrines her supposed relics, but forms an architectural monument to commemorate and perpetuate the main details of the Provencal tradition. Up the Rhone Valley, farther on still, we find the rock village of St. Restitut devoted to the shrine and memory of the 'man born blind', and a long way to the West, in old Aquitaine, we find (at Rocamadour) reputed traces of St. Zaccheus and St. Joseph of Arimathea. These I shall refer to later on.
Perhaps the best local account of the whole Provencal tradition as it lives today in the scattered homesteads of the Camargue, and in the brains and hearts of all the people in the adjacent country, is the narrative given by the poet Mistral in his Mireio, published in 1859.
According to this:
After the first persecution, when St. James was slain by the sword, those who had followed him were thrust into a boat, without oars or sails, on the coast of Palestine somewhere near to Mount Carmel, and so got rid of. In the boat were:
St. Mary, wife of Cleopas.
St. Salome (often called St. Mary Salome also).
St. Mary Magdalene.
St. Martha, and with the two latter was their maid Marcella.
These were accompanied by the following men:
Joseph of Arimathea.
Sidonius (Restitutus, ‘the man born blind’).
As the boat was drifting out, Sarah, the handmaid of St. Salome and St. Mary Cleopas, cast herself into the sea to join her mistresses, and by the help of Salome was brought into the boat. After beating about for several days, the boat drifted to the coast of Provence, and following the Rhone, arrived at Aries, which was converted to Christianity mainly through the blessing of God on the preaching of Trophimus.
St. Martha and Marcella went to Tarascon and Avignon.
Martial to Limoges.
Saturninus to Toulouse.
Eutropius to Orange.
St. Lazarus to Marseilles.
St. Maximin and Sidonius to Aix and ‘St. Maximin’.
St. Mary Magdalene to St. Baume.
St. Joseph is stated to have gone farther and to have crossed the
sea to Britain.
St. Mary Salome, St. Mary Cleopas, and Sarah their maid,
stopped near the sea coast in the Camargue and died there,
the church and little town of the ‘Three Maries’ enshrining
their relics and perpetuating their memories.
An old cantique or song, the age of which it is impossible to determine, gives much the same account. One of the verses runs as follows:
'Entrez, Sara, dans la nacelle
Lazare, Marthe et Maximin,
Cleon, Trophime, Saturninus
Les trois Maries et Marcelle
Eutrope et Martial, Sidonie avec Joseph
Vous perirez dans le nef.'
Another version of the same legend is met with in Spain, as far south as Ciudad Rodrigo. According to this, Mary Salome, Mary Cleopas, Mary Magdalene (the sister of Lazarus), Lazarus, Maximin, CheUdonius, Marcella and Joseph of Arimathea, came to Aquitaine Gaul, and there preached the Holy Gospel of the Lord Jesus, 'as the histories of the Gauls and the local traditions plainly teach'. St. Mary brought the martyred body of St. James into Spain, and died at Civitatensum (Ciudad Rodrigo), a city of Lusitania, on April 10th (Acta Sanctorum Apr., vol. i, p. 814).
There appears also to be an old Hebrew tradition that the earliest Jewish settlers of Aries 'came in a boat which had been deserted by its captain' (see Jewish Encyclopaedia under 'Aries').
Before considering more particularly the claims of these local traditions on our respect and consideration, I would like to draw some attention to their mutual consistency. They contain no rival contradictory elements, as they might well possess if they were simply the product of the local imagination of the romancers of contending towns. For a short time, it is true, the town of Vezelai disputed with St. Maximin the possession of the true relics of St. Mary Magdalene, much as the town of Ciudad Rodrigo appears to have disputed with Provence over the body of St. Mary, but these disputes, though finally decided in favour of St. Maximin and Les Saintes Maries, were purely subsidiary questions, and did not involve in any way (beyond confirming it) the belief in the essential truth of the old tradition.
There is no doubt that this tradition, much as it is given in the Life of Rabanus, was accepted by the whole Latin Church for over a thousand years. For proof of this we have only to turn to the Breviary at St. Martha's Day, July 29th. There we find a lection for the second nocturne which tells how Mary, Martha and Lazarus, with their servant Marcella, and Maximin, one of the seventy-two disciples, were seized by the Jews, placed in a boat without sails or oars, and carried safely to the port of Marseilles.
Moved by this remarkable fact, the people of the neighbouring lands were speedily converted to Christianity; Lazarus became bishop of Marseilles, Maximums of Aix, Mary lived and died an anchoress on a high mountain of those parts, while Martha founded a convent of women, died on the fourth day before the kalends of August, and was buried with great honour at Tarascon.
Again, not only the Latin Church, but we ourselves to a certain extent accept this history. In all our Prayer Books the 22nd of July is honoured as St. Mary Magdalene's day, and it is on one or more of these histories, I suppose, that we depend for our date of her death.
And this consensus of belief is proved by many historical buildings and by references in ancient literature.
The ninth-century fortress church of the Holy Maries in the Camaigue - the great church of St. Maximin (1295-1410), which enshrines the body of St. Mary, and the cave of Ste. Baume, remembered as her residence and shelter - the oratory and cathedral at Aries (1152), which commemorates St. Trophimus - the Church of St. Martha at Tarascon (1187-1192), and the crypt of the old Abbey of St. Victor at Marseilles, dating from the fourth century, which forms a lasting memorial to St. Lazarus, all bear witness to the faith and devotion of those who built them.
Other interesting references showing current beliefs occur in old French and English and ecclesiastical literature. One is in the Life of St. Louis (Louis IX), by the Sire de Joinville. He narrates how he and St. Louis, returning from the Crusade (in 1254), made a short detour in order to visit Aix, St. Maximin, and Ste. Baume. He writes:
'After this, the king set out from Hieres and came to the city of Aix, in Provence, in honour of the blessed Magdalene, who is interred a short day's journey off. We visited the place of Le Basme, which is a deep cave in a rock, wherein it is said the holy Magdalene resided for a long time at a hermitage' (Col. Johnes5 Trans.).
Another reference is from the Otia Imperialia, a book written by Gervais de Tilbury, 'Marechal' of the kingdom of Aries in 1212, and dedicated to Otho IV.
He writes as follows regarding the old church of Les Saintes Maries in the Camargue:
“There, on the sea-coast, one sees the first of Continental churches which was founded in honour of the most blessed mother of our Lord, and consecrated by many of the seventy-two disciples who were driven from Judea and exposed to the sea in an oarless boat: Maximin of Aix, Lazarus of Marseilles, the brother of Martha and Mary, Eutrope of Orange, George of Velay, Saturninus of Toulouse, Martial of Limoges, in the presence of Martha, Mary Magdalene and many others. Under the altar of this church, formed by them of earth, and covered by a slab of Paros marble, containing an inscription, six heads of certain holy saints, according to a very old tradition, have been placed in the form of a square. The other members of these bodies are enclosed in their tombs, and of these it is stated that two belong to the two Maries who, the first day after the Sabbath, came carrying spices, to see the tomb of the Saviour.”2
Another reference is from the annals of our own Roger de Hovedon (730-1200). In his third volume dealing with events which happened between 1170 and 1192, he gives a good description of Marseilles, and writes:
“Marseilles is an episcopal city under the dominion of the King of Arragon. Here are the relics of St. Lazarus, the brother of St. Mary Magdalene and Martha, who held the bishopric here for seven years after Jesus had restored him from the dead.”(Roger de Hovedon, edited by W. Stubbs, Longmans, 1868, vol. iii, P-51).
Another is from old Church literature. In 1040 in the bull of Benedict IX (relative to the establishment of the Abbey of St. Victor, at Marseilles, after the expulsion of the Saracens), we find the history of the foundation of the Abbey of St. Victor in the time of the Emperor Antonine, of its building by St. Cassien, and of its enshrining the sufferings and relics of St. Victor, his companions, Hermes and Adrian, and “St. Lazarus, who was restored from the dead by Jesus Christ.”
2 'Illic ad littus maris est prima omnium Ecclesiarum citramarinarum in honorem beatissimae Dei genetrics fundata ac a discipulis a Judaea pulsis et in rate sine remigio dismissis per mare, Maximinio Aquense, Lazaro Massiliense evangelico fratre Marthae et Mariae, Eutropia Aurasicense, Geogio Vellaicense, Saturnino Tolosano, Martiali Lemovicense ex lxxii. discipulis consecrata, adstantibus Martha et Magdalena cum aliis multis' (Leibnitz, Scriptores rerem Brunswicensium, p 914, quoted by Duchesne, Fastes Episcopaux vol. i, p. 329). See also Faillon Monuments Inidits, vol, i, p. 1278 et seq.
Yet another is from the old history of the kingdom of Aries, where it is stated that William Gerard, son of Otho, King of Italy, and Marquis of Provence, came to Aries about the year 935, when his father was at Marseilles, and went from there as a pilgrim to the cave where Magdalene lived and died, returning thanks there for the protection which he had received.3
About A.D. 800 (or slightly later) we have evidence not only of the writing of the Life of St. Mary and St. Martha by Rabanus (the copy of which in the Magdalen Library we have already considered), but also of a contemporary Life of St. Lazarus (now lost), written or edited by him, and evidently directly associated in his mind with the history of the two sisters, St. Mary and St. Martha.
In this book (of the Life of St. Mary and St. Martha) we read of the cure of Clovis after a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Martha, at Tarascon, and of his (consequent) gift to the church of St. Martha. Now, this gift is confirmed by repeated evidence, down to the letters patent of Louis XI in 1482 (still extant), so that, through the Life of Rabanus, we have historical evidence of belief which takes us back to A.D. 500, this being approximately the date of the cure and gift of Clovis.
And if we add to these considerations the old liturgies and local service books of the Rhone Valley Churches and the attested records of the relics preserved by them, it seems impossible to find any Christian date when the people of Marseilles and Aries and Aix and Tarascon did not believe that the Bethany family had lived and taught and died among them.4
Few people, perhaps, recognize all that was involved in Roman conquest or protection and Roman colonization at the time when Roman power was at its zenith.
In almost every part of accessible Europe, Asia, or Africa - in Judea, in Northern Africa, in Italy and Sicily, in Spain, in Provincia Gallica, and even in Britain - the traveller was more or less 'at home'.
3 'His rebus peractis Wuillermus (Gerardus filius Othonis) dismisso exercitu,
Arelatum proficiscitur: hinc cum rex abesset (in enim erat Massiliae) in itinere
antrum, in quo diva Magdalena paenitentiam egit, et animum efflavit (ut fert
ejus historia), visere statuit, ibique summas Deo gratias agere, ob res prospere
gestas' (Faillon, Monuments Inddits, vol. i, p. 805).
4 The idea advanced by Baring-Gould, Cook and others, that all this body of
religious tradition and belief has arisen solely as a legendary outcome of the
wars of Marius, one hundred years before the Christian era, I regard as quite in
adequate and untenable, There may be some confusion of the two traditions in
the neighbourhood of Tarascon, but I cannot recognize anything more than this.
Apart from other considerations, what have Trophimus, Sergius Paulus,
Zaccheus and Joseph of Arimathaea to do with the Marius traditions?
He found very much the same institutions, regulations and government in all places, for the wonderful remains of Roman buildings found everywhere, testify to the fact that the Roman occupation and residence was in no way limited to the military camp, but that in every city protected by her, Roman influence pervaded the whole of its life and customs, and every necessary adjunct to an advanced civilization was to be found in full activity in all the countries which owed allegiance to her rule. Even language was a far simpler problem then than at any time before or since. The Latin language would carry the traveller almost everywhere, and sufficed for the necessities of life, while he who was conversant with Greek also had 'the entree' to all the cultivation and intellectual life of the then known world.
Particularly do these considerations apply to all that district which is now known as the South of France. This was under Roman protection, and was called Provincia, or 'the Provinces'. Very much as in later years America was colonized by England, and afterwards became the favourite emigration ground of generation after generation of Englishmen, until the England beyond the sea became greater than the little Mother Country of Great Britain and Ireland, so, on a much smaller scale, Provence became the favourite emigration ground of Rome, and generation after generation of Romans traded here, lived here, made their fortunes here, and died here - and costly palaces and temples, amphitheatres, baths and aqueducts vied with and sometimes excelled similar creations in Rome. The Maison Carree, the Pont du Gard, the Arena, the Baths and Tour Magne at Nimes; the palace of Constantine, the Arena, the ruins of the theatre, and the old pagan cemetery at Aries; the monument at St. Remy, the theatre at Orange, the baths at Aix, and the triumphal arches at Carpentras and Orange, most of which are still standing, remain as evidence of the extent of the Roman occupation and of the remarkable strength and beauty of their architectural creations.
Five nations met here - the Galatae or original possessors of the adjacent continent, the Phoenicans3 who had first colonized the sea-coast, the Greeks who had followed them and had lived here for centuries, then the Romans who protected the civilized population from the invasions of the barbarians, and finally the Jews, who had probably accompanied the Phoenicians for centuries in their
5 The Phoenicians plied a busy trade along these coasts. Their language has left traces in the Provencal dialects, and images have been found at Marseilles of Melkarth and Melita—the Baal and Ashtoreth of the Bible. There has even been found a tariff for sacrifices in the temple of Baal (Gaird's Cities of Provence).
trading expeditions, and to some extent had colonized the seaports.6 Each nation brought elements of strength and vitality, and the result appears to have been a civilization stronger and more powerful, perhaps, than that of Rome itself.
The great port of Massilia, the modern Marseilles, by means of which most of the intercourse between Provence and the rest of the civilized world was carried on, was quite an old city in the early days of Christianity. Founded by the Greeks some six centuries before the birth of our Lord, it had steadily increased in size and in importance as the commerce of the world had widened. Pytheas sailed from Marseilles when he made his first voyage to British waters in 350 B.C., and consequently at this early date, Marseilles must have been a maritime centre of very considerable importance.
A most interesting account both of Marseilles and of the adjacent country is given by Strabo (bk. iv, cap. 1). This description appears to have been written some time before the birth of our Lord, and cannot therefore depict a more advanced civilization than that which was existing when the first disciples brought tidings of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Gaul. Strabo writes:
“Marseilles, founded by the Phocaeans, is built in a stony region. Its harbour lies beneath a rock which is shaped like a theatre, and looks towards the south. It is well surrounded with walls, as well as the whole city, which is of considerable size. Within the citadel are placed the ‘Ephesium’ and the temple of the Delphian Apollo. The ‘Ephesium’ is the temple consecrated to Diana of Ephesus. All the Colonies sent out from Marseilles hold this goddess in peculiar reverence, preserving both the shape of her image and also every rite observed in the metropolis.
The Massilians live under a well-regulated aristocracy. They have a council, composed of six hundred persons, called Timuchi, who enjoy this dignity of life. Fifteen of these preside over the council and have the management of current affairs; these fifteen are in their turn presided over by three of their number, in whom rests the principal authority; and these again by one.
No one can become a Timuchus who has not children, and who has not been a citizen for three generations. The country
6 Rabbi Akiba, who flourished in the first century, makes mention of his visit to France. ‘No Jewish Rabbi would then have travelled to any country unless inhabited by his co-religionists' (Margoliouth, Land of my Fathers, London, 1850).
abounds in olives and vines, but on account of its ruggedness the wheat is poor; consequently the people trust more to resources of the sea than of the land, and avail themselves fully of their excellent position for commerce.
The people of Marseilles possess dry-docks and armouries. Formerly they had an abundance of vessels, arms and machines, both for the purpose of navigation and for besieging towns; by means of which they defended themselves against the barabarians, and likewise obtained the alliance of the Romans, to whom they rendered many important services, the Romans in their turn assisting in their aggrandisement.
Sextius, who defeated the Salyes, founded not far from Marseilles a city which was named after him and the hot water found there (Aquae Sextiae, now Aix). Here he established a Roman garrison and drove from the sea coast which leads from Marseilles to Italy, the barbarians whom the Massilians were not able to entirely keep back. The land which the barbarians abandoned he presented to the Massilians, and in their city are laid up heaps of booty taken in naval engagements against those who disputed the sea unjustly. Formerly they enjoyed singular good fortune as well in other matters as also in their amity with the Romans, but since the war of Pompey against Caesar, in which they sided with the vanquished party, their prosperity has in some measure decayed. Nevertheless some traces of their ancient industries may still be seen among the inhabitants, especially the making of engines of war and ship-building. Now that the surrounding barbarians under the dominion of the Romans are daily becoming more civilized, and leave the occupation of war for business of towns and agriculture, there is no longer the same attention paid to these objects by the people of Marseilles. The aspect of the city at the present day is a proof of this. All who profess to be men of taste turn to the study of elocution and philosophy. The city for some time back has become quite a school for the barbarians, and has communicated to the Galatae such a taste for Greek literature that they even draw contracts on the Greek model. Further, at the present day it so entices the noblest of the Romans that those desirous of studying resort thither in preference to Athens. These, the Galatae observing, and being at leisure on account of peace, readily devote themselves to similar pursuits, and that not merely individuals but the public generally; professors of the arts and sciences, and likewise of medicine being employed not only by private persons but by towns for common instruction.”
Further on Strabo writes of Arelate on the Rhone (Aries), as a city and emporium of considerable traffic; of Avenio (Avignon), of Arausio (Orange), of Vienne, the metropolis of the Allobroges, and of Lugdunum (Lyons), a city of the Segusii.
On the other side of the Rhone he describes Narbonne and Nemausus (Nimes). Of the latter he writes:
“Though far inferior to Narbonne both as to its commerce and the number of foreigners attracted thither, it surpasses that city in the number of its citizens, for it has under its dominion four-and-twenty villages, all well inhabited and by the same people, who pay tribute. It likewise enjoys the rights of the Latin towns, so that in Nemausus you meet with Roman citizens who have obtained the honours of the Aedile and Quaestorship, wherefore this nation is not subject to the orders issued by the quaestors from Rome. The city is situated on the road from Iberia to Italy; this road is very good in the summer, but muddy and overflowed by the rivers during winter and spring. Some of the rivers are crossed in ferry-boats and others by means of bridges constructed either of wood or stone. Nemausus (Nimes) is about a hundred stadia distant from the Rhone, situated opposite to the small town of Tarascon, and about seven hundred and twenty stadia from Narbonne.”
This description by an almost contemporaneous writer puts before us a graphic picture of the civilization of Marseilles and of the Rhone valley during (and before) the earthly lifetime of our Lord.
We recognize at once that this was no barbarous country, no unknown district, but a rich and prosperous land, especially associated on the one hand with Rome, and on the other with Ephesus, a country to which the earliest Christian missionaries would naturally turn as ready and waiting for the message God had sent them to deliver.
Then, as now, the country beyond the sea-border would be a land of olive gardens and vineyards, not unlike that of Palestine at its best, and the husbandry needed in both countries would be practically identical. In the larger towns, and especially in Marseilles, we should have found a freedom, breadth and brilliancy, cosmopolitan rather than national, which could hardly be met with elsewhere, which would freely give and receive the latest currency of thought and be specially 'grateful' to the missionary and the Jew.
At this epoch Ephesus, Athens, Rome and Massilia were the four greatest cities of civilization; the four greatest centres not only of commerce but of learning, and Massilia was by no means the least important of the four. Specially connected by race and religion with the older civilization and learning of the East, it yet stood in the very van of Western progress, and drank daily of the strength and vitality of Roman spirit and power which ebbed and flowed as in a ceaseless stream through the very heart of it.
Great ways or roads passed through Marseilles to the west and north, the great western road leading through Narbonne into Spain, and the great northern road leading through Aries, Vienne and Lyons, towards the northern parts of Gaul and across the sea to Britain. Both of these were constantly used by Roman soldiery and civilians. About the very time of which I am writing the Emperor Claudius had himself gone through Marseilles to Boulogne and across to Great Britain as far as Colchester, returning by the same route in triumph to Rome. This was followed by a continuous stream of troops going to and returning from Britain, for the war with the British was prosecuted with vigour throughout the reigns of Claudius and Nero. If there had been no purposed missionary effort here during the first Christian century it is almost impossible to believe that the southern part of Provence, at least, could have escaped the accidental knowledge of Christianity from Christian visitors, soldiers or civilians. For all the time, within easy distance of Marseilles both by land and sea, Rome was becoming a great centre of Christian life and influence. Several years before the traditional journey of the Bethany family, certain citizens of Rome had heard St. Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). From that day (if not before it) the Church had been growing in Rome until, at a somewhat similar period after the traditional journey, St. Paul, though a comparative stranger who had never been to Rome, was able to count among his Christian acquaintances there the following list of disciples:
Aquila and Priscilla, who had been temporarily banished from Rome by Claudius Caesar, and had worked with St. Paul at Corinth.
Epaenetus (of the household of Stephanas?) (1 Cor. 1:16).
Andronicus and Junia (Joanna?). (Andronicus afterwards bishop in Spain.)
Apelles (the same as Apollos?).
The household of Aristobulus (Aristobulus himself being absent
The household of Narcissus.
Tryphena and Tryphosa.
Rufus (son of Simon the Cyrenean?) and his mother (who had
befriended St. Paul at Antioch).6a
Hermas (writer of the 'Shepherd' ?).
Neraeus and his sister.
Olympas ‘and all the saints with them’.
So that all the known antecedent history, which may be regarded as a background or setting for the Provencal traditions, seems to be in harmony with the main outlines of the story. Time, place and characters have all been perfectly chosen, and if the whole be a romance, even the various sections of the romance, as we shall see, support each other and combine to form a series of tableaux or a great mystery play, which may well startle us by its vivid reality and intense human interest.
I am aware that the value of these traditions has been disputed by many French critics; by Launoy and Tillemont in the past, and more recently by the Abbe Duchesne. Into all the details of this controversy I cannot now enter. The arguments, for and against,
6a The strongest case seems to emanate from those works which associate Rufus with Rufus Pudens, the young Roman nobleman who was known to have been a Christian, and was married to the British Princess Claudia. He is believed to have served in the Roman Army in Britain. Claudia's name was Gladys, daughter of King Caractacus, whose speech before the Roman Senate is recorded by Tacitus. Their home in Rome was called the Palatium Brittanicum. Here they lived with their two daughters, St. Pudentiana and St. Prassides, and the present Church of St. Pudentiana has been erected on the foundations of this early home. With them lived Gladys' brother Linus, who became the first Bishop of Rome, and whose name is also recorded as the first Bishop in St. Peter's. The poet Martial mentions them in several of his epigrammes, which are quoted by Miss Gladys Taylor in her book Our Neglected Heritage. Readers are also referred to The Drama of the Lost Disciples, both obtainable from Covenant Books.
are fully discussed by Faillon in his great work (Monuments Inedits) and also by the Bollandists in the Acta Sanctorum.
One of the main points of objection is founded on the writings of Gregory of Tours, the oldest French historian who, although mentioning Pothinus and Irenaeus as earlier bishops of Lyons, makes no mention of any definite mission earlier than the middle of the third century, when (as he states) 'under the consulship of Decius seven bishops were ordained and sent into Gaul to preach the faith: These are the bishops which were sent: Gatien to Tours, Trophimus to Aries, Paul to Narbonne, Saturnin to Toulouse, Denis to Paris, Austremoine to Auvergne and Martial to Limoges' (St. Greg. Turon., Hist. Franc, lib. i, cap. 27, 28).
This historian is well known to have been frequently mistaken in matters of fact and date, and this very passage is utterly discredited and proved to have been mistaken by the history of the Church at Aries. At the very time of which St. Gregory is writing (A.D. 250) or only a few years later, in an undoubted and historical letter of St. Cyprian to Pope Stephen (No. 68), we have evidence that the Church of Aries, which was then presided over by its bishop Marcianus, had lapsed into heresy, and that for some years previously many of the Christians had been allowed to die without the proper ministrations of the clergy. St. Cyprian suggests to the Pope that he should call upon his 'fellow bishops in Gaul' no longer to suffer the froward and proud Marcianus. (See Appendix F.)
This is not the history of any newly formed Church, but the history of an old Church possessing authority over many other old Churches, and one in which the original faith had grown feeble, the bishop of this date having himself become heretical. Trophimus is known to have been long antecedent to Marcianus.
Any idea, too, that Southern France was evangelized by a mission from Rome so late as the third century, is altogether inconsistent with the life and labours and writings of the great Irenaeus in the latter part of the second century, and with the history of the Church before his coming. It is also inconsistent with what we find in the records of the synods and councils of the early Church (Mansi).
About A.D. 167 we find the letter of Pope Anicetus, Ad Galliae Episcopos, to the bishops of Gaul, showing that already there were several Gallican bishops and that some necessity had arisen for directing them regarding the duties of archbishops and metropolitans (vol. i, p. 683); about A.D. 179 the letters of Pope Eleutherius, Ad Galliae Provincias, and Ad Lucium, Britanniae Regem (pp. 695, 698); about A.D. 190 two Synods of Lyons under St. Irenaeus, the one attended by twelve bishops and the other by thirteen (pp. 723-726), and in A.D. 197 the holding of the Gallic Council (p. 715). The dates of some of the letters may be mistaken, as (for example) the supposed ones of Pius I to Justus, bishop of Vienne (pp. 677, 678), but there can hardly be much doubt as to the dates of the Synods and Council. Moreover, the holding of a Council of the Churches of Gaul under Irenaeus regarding the keeping of the Passover is definitely recorded by Eusebius7 (bk. v, c. 23).
Duchesne, who has compiled, or is compiling, a history of the old French episcopal sees, appears to attach prime importance to the general difficulty or impossibility of directly tracing the episcopal succession up to the apostolic age. A practical acquaintance with original missionary work, even in the most recent times would, however, show the unreasonableness of expecting such a history.
Even now, when a mission is sent out fully equipped to a heathen country, there is often but little or no need for direct episcopal or apostolic functions until after three generations; for nearly a century of work is necessary before it is possible for Christian converts to be admitted to the ranks of the diaconate and priesthood. Then (when the full dignity and value of the episcopate is recognized) is more probably the date from which the record of bishops begins. To take an illustration familiar to most English Churchmen of today - the Universities' Mission to Central Africa. The knowledge of Christianity was brought to this district by Livingstone, in the eyes of the Church a layman. The actual work of the mission was begun by Bishop Mackenzie8 in a part of Africa which was afterwards abandoned, and it was not until his death that the present and more permanent sphere of labour was mapped out and worked.
In future ages if the history of this mission depended solely on native historians there can hardly be a doubt that the names of Livingstone and Mackenzie would be shadowy and traditional only, the first date of the mission probably coinciding with the foundation of the cathedral at Zanzibar.
The history of the earliest missionary enterprises must have been very similar to this. Of all the traditional company who came to Provence it is very uncertain whether any possessed episcopal
7 See Appendix D.
It is much to be regretted that so many French critics (with an astonishing want of candour) refer to this discredited statement of St. Gregory as if it were worthy of credence.
8 The party consisted of the Bishop, Miss A. Mackenzie, the Revds. Proctor and Scudamore, Messrs. Horace Waller, S. A. Gamble, and Alfred Adams. Miss Mackenzie is perhaps chiefly known for some twelve years of subsequent work in England.
powers. Some were doubtless authorized by the Apostles to celebrate the Divine mysteries, but the first company who left the shores of Palestine for Gaul may well have started on the mission - like those who went to Antioch - with no direct apostolical authority other than that which Christ Himself had given to Mary Magdalene.
So that one could neither expect the immediate foundation of bishoprics on the arrival of missionaries from the East, nor could we reasonably expect, in this age, a connected account of the various steps and labours which led up to the formation of a see.
One of the chief documents, or rather, perhaps, the chief document of the early Church of France (recognized as authentic by all writers), is the famous second-century letter from the Churches of Lyons and Vienne to the Churches of Asia and Phrygia,9 a portion of which has been accidently preserved to us by Eusebius. In it we are introduced to a great company of Christians and martyrs:
Pothinus, their bishop, more than ninety years of age.
Sanctus, the deacon.
Vetius Epagathus, a man of eminent standing.
Maturus, a new convert.
Attalus, a pillar of the Church.
Alexander, a physician.
Ponticus, a boy of fifteen.
The mistress of Blandina.
Irenaeus, then presbyter of the Church at Lyons.
These are especially mentioned. Beside these we are told of many others - of numbers who died in prison, of those 'who appeared to have the Roman citizenship and were beheaded', and of those who were 'worthy to fill up the numbers of the martyrs and were seized from day to day, so that all the zealous members of the two Churches were collected'.
This letter,10 rightly considered one of the most precious documents of the early Church, begins as follows: “From the servants of Christ dwelling at Vienne and Lyons in Gaul, to those brethren in Asia and Phrygia having the same faith and hope with us, peace
9 Note that St. Isidorus (a.d. 600) states that St. Philip preached the gospel
to the Gauls and afterwards at Hierapolis in Phrygia, where he suffered
10 Appendix C.
and grace and glory from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This was written in the year A.D. 177; it gives a graphic account of the martyrdom of a large number of the Christians belonging to both Churches, and is exceedingly valuable as describing the position, the constitution and the life of two Churches in the upper part of the Valley of the Rhone within less than a hundred years after apostolic times. It gives us, however, no account of the missionary labours of those Christians who first came to this district and who may have preceded Pothinus as the teachers or priests of the first disciples.
It does, however, show conclusively that Lugdunum or Lyons was the seat of a flourishing Church and episcopate in the latter half of the second century, and that this Church was presumably (from his name) presided over by a Greek bishop. Moreover, on his death, in 177, he was succeeded by another Greek bishop, the great Irenaeus, whose writings are well known. It also shows that these Churches of Lyons and Vienne - before the time of Irenaeus - had such special associations with the Churches of Asia that their most important news and messages were sent direct to Asia as well as to Rome, the necessary inference being that these Churches had themselves been founded by some Greek mission from Asia shortly after, if not during the time of the Apostles.
Lyons is almost in the centre of France. If one acknowledges no precedent teaching on the road to such a central city - and this is what the Revd. W. Palmer in his Origines Liturgicae and what Duchesne in his Fastes Episcopaux11 appear to contend for - it seems to me we are brought to a conclusion so contrary to common sense as to be practically unbelievable. The road to Lyons was through Marseilles, and Aix, and Aries, and Avignon, and Tarascon, and Vienne; and that early Christian missionaries should have passed through all this populous and civilized district, founding two Churches at Lyons and Vienne, which a hundred years afterwards became two of the most renowned in Christendom, yet leaving no trace of their journey - no Churches on their line of march - attempting nothing at Marseilles, which we have seen rivalled Rome and Athens in learning, is a thing quite unbelievable.
11 Duchesne even labours to prove that the ‘Churches of Lyons and Vienne’’ in the letter of the martyrs, refers really to only one Church, and that of Lyons, forgetting or ignoring that in the very text of the letter the expression occurs. See also the scholarly criticism of Harnack in his Expansion of Christianity, vol. ii, The members of the two Churches.' See Appendix, pp. 81-85. The reference to the ‘Origines’ is in vol. i, pp. 149-153.
Further, one of the most important acts of the early Church was the Council of Aries in 314, which was attended, among others, by three English bishops.12 If the Church of Lyons had been older than Aries it is not likely that Aries would have been preferred before her, and we should not find, as we do later on, Aries contending for her primacy among the Provengal Churches, and (about A.D. 450) on the ground that St. Trophimus had been appointed chief pastor or bishop by the Apostle Peter.
At this time there had been considerable rivalry and conflict between the sees of Aries and Vienne, both claiming the right of metropolitan and the power of appointing bishops. In 445 Pope Leo took away from Hilary or Aries the right of metropolitan and the jurisdiction he claimed over the province of Vienne; but Ravennius, Hilary's successor, still claimed the ancient right, and appointed a bishop to Vaison. The bishop of Vienne complained of this, and sent deputies to Rome to lay his complaint before the Pope. This called forth the letter of nineteen bishops 'who had formerly been under the primacy of Aries', and who wrote to the Pope as follows:
“Every one in Gaul knows, and the holy Roman Church is not ignorant that Aries was the first city in Gaul which received for its bishop St. Trophimus, who was sent by the Apostle St. Peter, and that from this stream of the Faith, derived from an apostolic source, religion has spread little by little, and that other towns received bishops before that of Vienne, which claims the primacy today with so little shame. Our predecessors have always honoured the Church of Aries as their mother and, according to tradition, have always sent to her to ask for bishops, we and our predecessors having been ordained by the bishop of Aries.”13
I am bound to say that having studied the district and its monuments, as well as the history of the subject, I am at least forced to the conclusion that Christianity came to Provence quite early in the apostolic age, that it was impossible for Marseilles to remain long ignorant of a new religion that was flourishing in Ephesus and Rome, and that the knowledge would necessarily come first to Marseilles and next to Aix14 and Aries, and then to Vienne, and it was not probably until after this it came to Lyons. I think I may go beyond this and add that St. Trophimus (Trophimus of the Acts,
12 Eborius of York, Restitutio of London and Adelphius of Caerleon.
13 Patrologia Latina, vol. liv, pp. 880, 881. See Appendix J.
14 It is remarkable that French archaeology appears to recognize an inscription
preserved at Marseilles and a sarcophagus found at Gayole in the territory of Aix as the two
oldest authentic Christian monuments to be found in France (Leblant,cited by Duchesne
the friend of St. Paul), whether assisted by others or not, was almost certainly the chief successful missionary of Provence in the apostolic age.
If we turn, too, to the signatures appended to the decisions of the Council of Aries in 314 (a full list of which is given in Appendix G), we see that the earlier signatures have all the appearance of being written in the order of priority of see, and the names of the Viennoise bishops are in the following order:
Orose of Marseilles.
Martin of Aries.
Verus of Vienne.
While the remains of Christian fiist-century refuges or buildings, such as the cave of St. Lazarus in the Crypt of St. Victor at Marseilles; the oratory of St. Trophimus at les Aliscamps and his rock dwelling at Montmajour; the cave shelter of St. Mary Magdalene at La Sainte Baume - whether directly connected with the Saints whose names are immemorially associated with them or not - all bear evidence of the very earliest Christian settlements to be found perhaps in any country.
Some further reference may be needed to St. Lazarus and to Restitutus - the man born blind of St. John's Gospel (St. John 9). There was at one time (as we are told by Rabanus) a Life of St. Lazarus very analogous to that of St. Mary and St. Martha, but no complete copy of it is existing, some fragments only of his Life (which were formerly incorporated in the Office for St. Lazarus' Day at Marseilles and Autun) having been preserved.
These appear to have been taken from a Life which was written by the monks of the Abbey at Bethany, a church and monastery having been erected at Bethany before the ravages of the Saracens, to guard the tomb from which our Lord was said to have raised St. Lazarus.
The extracts, according to Faillon (Monuments Inedits, vol. ii, p. 114, etc.), read as follows:
“Tradition states that St Lazarus, after the ascension of Jesus Christ, remained for a time in the company of the Apostles, with whom he took charge of the Church which was at Jerusalem. After this he went to the Island of Cyprus in order to escape from the persecution which arose (about Stephen).
Having filled there for several years the office of a missionary priest, he entered into a ship, and traversing the sea, by the grace of God arrived at Marseilles, the most celebrated town of Provence. Here, exercising the functions of his priesthood, he served God, to whom he had entirely consecrated his life, in righteousness and true holiness. He preached the word of Life to those who had not yet received it, and gained many converts to Jesus Christ. . . . We, who occupy his old house at Bethany - that is to say, his former tomb - and perform our religious duties at the place of his first interment, humbly pray to Jesus Christ, by the merit of St. Lazarus, our patron and His own especial friend, that He would deign to lead us by His goodness, so that we may rejoice in His help during this present life and be associated with Him in the joys of eternal life hereafter.”
The church and monastery here referred to appear to have flourished from about A.D. 400 to A.D. 870, when they were visited by a monk named Bernard. Not long after both were destroyed by the Saracens.
With regard to Restitutus - the man, or boy, born blind - we are told, according to the Provencal tradition, that he accompanied the Bethany family to Provence, but of his after life, so far as I have been able to gather, we appear to have two different and irreconcilable traditions. The one is that he was the same as Chelidonius or Sidonius, that he accompanied St. Maximin, and after his death took charge of the Church at Aix. The other identifies his history with the little village of St. Restitut and the more important old town of St. Paul Trois Chateaux (the Roman colony of 'Augusta Tricastinorum'), of which he is said to have been the first bishop or priest.
The Church of 'St. Restitut' is said to have formerly contained his relics. 'Its west bay, which has the appearance of a tower, is surmounted by a cupola and contains two storeys. In its lower storey (is) the tomb of St. Restitut' (Hare).15
15 See chap. ‘On Pilgrimage’.
VERY INTERESTING HISTORIES AND TRADITIONS - Keith Hunt