InspireKeith Van SickleProvencal History & Traditions

Mary Magdalene in Provence Legend or Fact

Did Mary Magdalene Live in Provence?

A crippled ship bobs helplessly on a storm-tossed sea and those on board face certain death…but then a miracle occurs. Guided by the hand of God, the ship arrives safely on the shores Provence. Out steps Mary Magdalene, ready to spread The Word throughout France.

Mary Magdalene Provence Tintoretto public domain

Mary Magdalene landing in France…wasn’t that in The Da Vinci Code? Well, not quite. It’s from the legend of Mary Magdalene in Provence, a rich vein of tradition that author Dan Brown almost certainly tapped for his bestseller. Monuments to Mary and her shipmates abound in Provence and her legend stretches back nearly 2,000 years.

The story begins after the death of Jesus when his followers were persecuted in the Holy Land. Several of them were forced into a boat without rudder or sail and cast out to sea, left to perish there.  Accounts vary, but a popular version of the legend says that along with Mary Magdalene were Mary Salomé, Mary Jacobé, Martha, Lazarus, Maximin, and their Egyptian servant Sara.

After a rough passage at sea, the ship was miraculously guided to Provence, where it landed at a place now called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer  (Saints Mary of the Sea).  Today the town is a pilgrimage site for the Romani people—also called gypsies—who come to worship their patron Saint Sara, known as “Black Sara” for her dark Egyptian skin. There is a huge procession every year where an icon of the blessed saint is carried into the sea, accompanied by thousands of fervent followers.

Mary Magdalene Black Sara to the sea

Black Sara Returns to the Sea

After landing in Provence, some of the group stayed put while others set off to spread their new religion. The men headed east, where Lazarus became the first bishop of Marseille and Maximin became the first bishop of Aix-en-Provence. Martha went north, where she became the star of her own legend, as the woman who saved Provence from the horrible Tarasque.

Mary Magdalene Tarasque for twitter

Martha Confronts the Tarasque

As for Mary Magdalene, she joined Lazarus and helped him convert the people of Marseille to Christianity. Then she continued on, to the mountains further east, where she settled in a lonely grotto and spent decades in prayer and penance. You can visit the beautiful site, now managed by the Dominican order, but be sure to bring sturdy shoes because it’s a 45-minute walk to get there.

Mary Magdalene grotto gnu license

Inside the Grotto

After 30 years in her grotto, Mary Magdelene felt that her end was near, so she made her way to Aix-en-Provence to receive communion from her old friend Maximin. She died there soon after and some of her remains are said to reside in the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in the town of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. Unfortunately for conspiracy theorists, there’s no record of her having married Jesus and starting the Merovingian line of French kings—for that you’ll have to go back to Dan Brown’s books.

Mary Magdalene basilica public domain

Mary Magdalene’s Final Resting Place?

Please share this with friends and family.

All rights reserved. Perfectly Provence articles and other content may not be published, broadcast, rewritten (including translations into other languages) or redistributed without written permission. For usage information, please contact us.
Syndication Information
Affiliate Information
As an Amazon Associate, this website earns from qualifying purchases. Some recipes, posts and pages may have affiliate links. If you purchase via these links, we receive a small commission that does not impact your price. Thank you in advance for supporting our work to maintain Perfectly Provence.
Previous post

Mediterranean Sea Bass with Olives and Tomatoes

Next post

Warm Goat Cheese Salad with a Lemony Vinaigrette

Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle

Keith and Val Van Sickle made their first trip to Provence decades ago, and it was love at first sight. After that, they came back every year until 2008, when they began a part-time life there, splitting their time between Provence and California.

Over the years, they’ve travelled all over Provence, seeing sights both well-known and obscure. Their French friends have introduced them to favourite restaurants and wineries and picnic spots and taught them funny local expressions (not all for polite company).

Keith now shares this local knowledge in his new book, An Insider’s Guide to Provence. Packed with the Van Sickles’ favourite things to see and do, it’s a must-have for anyone travelling to this glorious corner of France.

Keith previously published two books about the couple's experiences in Provence. One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, and Are We French Yet?, both are available from Amazon.

You can see all of Keith’s blog posts at Life in Provence.


  1. blank
    March 29, 2019 at 8:05 pm — Reply

    Great post, Keith. I love the legends that live in France.

    • blank
      April 13, 2019 at 3:05 pm — Reply

      Thanks, Deborah!

  2. blank
    April 13, 2019 at 11:06 am — Reply

    Great post! Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is one of my favorites places.

    • blank
      April 13, 2019 at 2:19 pm — Reply

      Thank you Teresa! Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is definitely a special place. We love the beaches nearby.

  3. blank
    Steven Chambers
    August 10, 2019 at 3:49 am — Reply

    Thank you for a wonderful story of Mary Magdelene- do you know who wrote it? I would love to read the book.

    many thanks

    Steven Chambers

    • blank
      August 10, 2019 at 7:50 am — Reply

      Hello Steven: thank you for reading Perfectly Provence. Keith wrote the article after reading Legendes de Provence by Eugene Bressy. It looks like it is available in hardcover only.

  4. blank
    January 23, 2023 at 11:08 am — Reply

    Would you recommend any places for accommodation bear by? As I’m called to visit soon this year. Blessings

    • blank
      January 23, 2023 at 1:21 pm — Reply

      I am sorry, but we do not have any suggestions for accommodation near St Maries de la Mer. However, there is probably quite a bit in the town. You could try the tourism office at and book early as May is a busy time in the region.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.