Here is the Story of Mary Magdalene and 9 Amazing Saints
It’s always exciting to begin a new month and scan the calendar for particular saints’ feast days. Their lives offer us a wellspring of inspiration, renewed hope, and encouragement for our own lives. Because they are people of all walks of life from various historical eras, their stories are never dull and offer at least a tidbit of relevance to everyone.
Many of our July saints are found in the New Testament, and the details of their lives are only based on tradition. Even so, despite whether legendary or literal, we do know that most of these saints were real people who genuinely lived and died for Christ. The beauty of each story, whether or not it is embellished based on oral tradition, exemplifies their heroic virtue and the magnificence of how each saint discerned his or her calling to radical love for Jesus.
St. Bridget of Sweden
Honored as one of six patron saints of Europe, St. Bridget was born into Swedish royalty and wed Lord Ulf Gudmarsson at a fairly young age. Shortly after her husband died, Bridget discerned the call to enter the Third Order Franciscans. She had always had a strong affinity to help the poor, especially unwed mothers and their children. After taking the vows of the Third Order, she committed her life to unceasing prayer and caring for the poor and sick.
She eventually founded what is known as the Brigittines, or the Order of the Most Holy Savior, which included double monasteries in which both men and women lived in community with one another.
Briget confessed her sins daily in the Sacrament, and her face always appeared radiant with a sublime smile. She is well known for her mystical revelations, especially her visions, which began at age ten. As a child, she saw Jesus hanging on the Cross, and Jesus told her the reason He hung there was due to people who despised Him and spurned His love for them. From that time, she dedicated herself to honoring the Passion of Christ.
Her other mystical experiences included visions of the Nativity and Purgatory. Her visions were recorded in her book, Celestial Revelations, which was eventually translated into Latin.
Because of her intense love for Jesus’ Passion and Wounds, she asked Him how she could make reparation for His suffering. He responded, “I received 5480 blows upon My Body. If you wish to honor them in some way, recite fifteen Our Fathers and fifteen Hail Marys with the following Prayers, which I Myself shall teach you, for an entire year. When the year is finished, you will have honored each of My Wounds.”
Despite her canonization, many theologians criticized her as being “crazy” or “daydreaming” her visions. Some said she was mentally ill. However, she is venerated on July 23, the day of her death, on the Roman calendar, and devotion to her intercession has withstood these accusations over seven centuries.
St. Ignatius of Loyola
Likely one of the most popular and well known saints of all time, St. Ignatius of Loyola was born into Spanish nobility and served in a high ranking military career due to his desire for fame and a lavish secular lifestyle. After a leg injury left him incapacitated to resume his military duties, however, he was confined to bedrest. With nothing to do, except read, he requested fiction novels to pass the time. Instead, he was given the Bible and other spiritual works.
This transformed Ignatius’ life immediately and permanently. When he made a full recovery, he renounced his wealth and social status in order to enter religious life. To the extreme, Ignatius wore rags, begged for his food, and owned absolutely nothing. After an arduous journey, he eventually founded the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits as they are commonly known.
St. Ignatius is famously known for his spiritual classic, Spiritual Exercises. People all over the world make retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises today. He is also remembered as a beloved spiritual director, whose wisdom remains timeless to us today. His feast day is celebrated on July 31.
St. Olaf of Norway
Olaf was King of Norway who died in the Battle of Stiklestad on July 29, 1030 (his feast day). He is honored not only in the Roman Rite, but also in the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches. Despite his nefarious tendencies toward violence and extreme Roman nationalism, countless miracles have been attributed to his intercession throughout the ages, many of which are recorded in the Sea-Calm Poem. The poem was written by an Icelander who knew Olaf and the people who were assisted by his intercession.
Today, little can be factually determined from other Icelandic traditions that were written about Olaf, but we do know that it’s unlikely that the Christianization of Norway was exclusively due to Olaf’s influence. Instead, it’s more plausible that his practice of Catholicism was motivated by his desire to gain more power and control in Norway. Nevertheless, he did evangelize to the central regions of the country.
Historical evidence suggests that much of Norway and the surrounding geographical areas were likely Christianized before Olaf’s largely unsuccessful reign as king. Veneration to him as a saint remains heavily rooted in tradition, and he is, of course, the patron saint of Norway today.
Similar to the legends encompassing what is believed about St. Olaf, St. Pantaleon’s legacy is largely contingent upon sagas passed down through oral tradition. What is known about him is that he is among the Fourteen Holy Helpers (according to Western tradition) and Holy Unmercenary Healers (Eastern rite), and he was martyred under Diocletian’s merciless rule.
Interestingly, St. Pantaleon may have been born to a pagan father and Christian mother (St. Eubula). He converted to the Faith by his mother’s influence but later fell away after she died. He then became interested in studying medicine and excelled at practicing it to the degree that he was appointed the physician of Emperor Maximian. He eventually returned to Catholicism after the compelling statement from St. Hermolaus that Christ is the better physician.
St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote about St. Pantaleon’s conversion, which adds credibility to it being more factual than legendary.
Shortly after St. Pantaleon’s reversion to the Faith, he miraculously cured a blind man by praying the name of Jesus over him, and his own father dedicated his life to Jesus after a lifetime of paganism. When Pantaleon inherited a large sum of money, slaves, and all of his father’s property upon his father’s death, he freed every slave and distributed every last penny to the local poor. Afterward, he was considered an apostate by envious friends and neighbors, who denounced him to Diocletian and which led to his eventual demise and martyrdom.
Despite other hearsay regarding the details of Pantaleon’s life, it has been verified that he was, in fact, beheaded because of his refusal to apostasize in the face of persecution and death.
Famously known as the patron saint of travelers, much of what is believed about his life is legendary or questionable at best. According to tradition, St. Christopher was martyred either under the emperor Decius or Dacian; because the names are so similar, it cannot be verified which epoch Christopher really lived or died.
In fact, some believe Christopher merely represents several saints who were considered “Christ-bearers” of the time, as his name means, rather than an actual person who lived. Others claim he is the same person as St. Menas, an Egyptian soldier in the Roman army who was martyred because of his refusal to recant his Christian faith.
The most common tradition associated with St. Christopher, which is how he received his patronage, relates a time when Christopher was crossing a river carrying an unknown child. After they crossed, the child revealed himself as Christ. Many Christians today wear St. Christopher medals when traveling or keep an image of him in their vehicles for his intercession of safety.
St. Mary Magdalene
Honored on July 22, Mary Magdalene is a well-known figure in the New Testament, one of Jesus’ faithful followers who witnessed His Crucifixion and Resurrection; she was the first one to see the empty tomb after His death. She also was the repentant woman whose devotion to Jesus began after He cast out several demons from her. This year, Pope Francis elevated her memorial day to the status of a feast day on the liturgical calendar, in honor of her role of "apostle to the apostles"—being the first witness of Christ's Resurrection in the New Testament.
Many Biblical scholars associate Mary Magdalene with the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears. Others claim she was a prostitute before her conversion. Neither of these is actually verified in either history or Scripture, yet they are commonly accepted according to tradition. Perhaps it is because the Gospel writers often use “Mary” without identifying which disciple he is referring to; for example, Mary, the Mother of God, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene are the three most prominent Marys in Scripture who were with Jesus.
Interestingly, the region of Magdala, a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, means “elevated” or “magnificent,” which may have hinted towards Mary’s call to greatness through her piety and repentance.
Mary Magdalene represents all penitent women whose incredible love and loyalty for Jesus paved the way for future women saints, which is why she is venerated in several Christian sects and denominations outside of Catholicism (including Eastern Orthodox, Lutheranism, Anglican Church, and other Protestant churches).
She is the patroness of pharmacists, apothecaries, the contemplative life, hairdressers, converts, and overcoming sexual temptation, likely because of the Biblical stories attributed to her.
St. James the Greater
James, son of Zebedee, was one of the original Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He is thought to be the first apostle who was martyred and is the brother of another apostle, John (the beloved disciple). He’s known as James the Greater to distinguish him from another disciple of Jesus, James, son of Alphaeus (or James the Lesser).
It is believed that St. James was older than John, and together they are traditionally known as “Sons of Thunder” because of James’ intense temper. The men were likely common Jews with no training in theology. What is revealed in Scripture is that they were the first two apostles whom Jesus called to follow Him while they were fishing along the shoreline. All of the synoptic Gospels tell of this well-known story.
James and John were also present at the Transfiguration, only two of three apostles who witnessed Jesus’ glory. The brothers also asked to be granted seats at His right hand in heaven. St. James’ martyrdom, death by sword according to King Herod, is the only one recorded in Scripture, which is why he is traditionally believed to have been the first martyr.
St. James is also highly associated with a popular pilgrimage site, Camino de Santiago, in Spain. Pilgrims from all over the world take the trek by foot or bike to conclude their sojourn at the majestic Cathedral of Santiago, where St. James’ body is purported to be buried. He is the patron saint of Spaniards, because he is believed to have been the apostle who Christianized the region. His feast day is July 25.
Sts. Joachim and Anne
The husband of St. Anne and father of Mary, Mother of God, Joachim is venerated in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches based on tradition. Neither he nor St. Anne are mentioned by name in Scripture, so what is known of them is largely based on what has been passed down from generation to generation.
St. Anne, who is venerated in both Christianity and Islam, is also honored only by tradition. Both she and Joachim are mentioned in the Gospel of James, which was deemed preposterous and untrustworthy by St. Jerome, as well as three popes. Therefore, it can only be speculated as to what is true and what is legendary about both of Mary’s parents.
According to tradition, Joachim was a wealthy and very pious man who was betrothed to Anne, both of whom were descendants of David. They remained childless for a long period of time (which is also why St. Anne is compared to Hannah in the Bible), which was disgraceful in Jewish belief. As a result, Joachim spent forty days in the desert, where he fasted and prayed. Angels shortly thereafter appeared to both him and Anne, proclaiming that they would bear a child. Thus, Mary was born to them.
Though not listed on the Roman calendar of saints, both are honored on July 26. St. Joachim is the patron saint of grandfathers, and St. Anne the patroness of grandmothers, poverty, lost items, pregnancy, sterility, children, and seamstresses.
Not to be confused with the poor man, Lazarus, who visited the rich man in Scripture, begging to eat the scraps of food that he fed to the dogs, St. Lazarus is the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany. Because he was the man whom Jesus resurrected, his name is associated with new life or restoration in popular culture and literary interpretation.
A prominent figure in Scripture, much attention is given to Lazarus, because he exemplifies “the power of Jesus "over the last and most irresistible enemy of humanity—death.”[ii] Perhaps that is why the narrative of Lazarus being raised from the dead is nearly as long as the Passion narrative.
Because virtually all Christian and non-Christian traditions acknowledge Lazarus and what his life and death symbolized, pilgrims flock to where his tomb is believed to be located: the West Bank, where Bethany is said to have existed. Several Christian churches were built over his tomb, but in the 16th century, the site of the tomb was occupied by a mosque and continues to cover the location to this day.
The Catholic Encyclopedia further states that the town of Bethany may not have existed at all, but merely represented a traditional cave that was fairly close in proximity to where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus dwelled. Other traditions claim that after his resurrection, Lazarus became the Bishop of Marseille and that he settled in Cyprus because he was forced to flee Judea due to plots against his life. Still others speculate that the bishop’s omophorion (a vestment worn on the shoulders) was presented to Lazarus by Our Lady, who had woven it herself.
Further adding to the mystery surrounding fact or legend regarding Lazarus, in 890 a tomb was discovered that bore the inscription “Lazarus the friend of Christ.” Emperor Leo VI had the tomb transferred to Constantinople in 898, and the location is primarily where Orthodox Christians gather to venerate him.
Lazarus’ feast day is commemorated on July 29 in the Roman calendar.