The governor of Marseilles loses his wife and child, but gets them back through Mary Magdalene

Pocket Bard’s notes: I think this story is beautiful in its portrayal of human emotions, especially of the governor of Marseilles. And I also like how it has a nice, modern-style ending. (“He got back both his wife and his child and they lived happily ever after,” more or less.) I think it might be a bit long and not quite punchy enough to tell at a bardic circle, but I like it nonetheless.

The governor of Marseilles loses his wife and child, but gets them back through Mary Magdalene
The Golden Legend, Volume I, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.377-380

Then one day when Mary Magdalene was preaching, the aforesaid governor [of Marseilles] asked her: “Do you think you can defend the faith you preach?” “I am ready indeed to defend it,” she replied, “because my faith is strengthened by the daily miracles and preaching of my teacher Peter, who presides in Rome!” The governor and his wife then said to her: “See here, we are prepared to do whatever you tell us to if you can obtain a son for us from the God whom you preach.” “In this he will not fail you,” said Magdalene. Then the blessed Mary prayed the Lord to deign to grant them a son. The Lord heard her prayers and the woman conceived.

Now the husband began to want to go to Peter and find out whether what Magdalene preached about Christ was the truth. “What’s this?” snapped his wife. “Are you thinking of going without me? Not a bit of it! You leave, I leave. You come back, I come back. You stay here, I stay here!” The man replied: “My dear, it can’t be that way! You’re pregnant and the perils of the sea are infinite. It’s too risky. You will stay home and take care of what we have here!” But she insisted, doing as women do. She threw herself at his feet, weeping the while, and in the end won him over. Mary therefore put the sign of the cross on their shoulders as a protection against the ancient Enemy’s interference on their journey. They stocked a ship with all the necessaries, leaving the rest of their possessions in the care of Mary Magdalene, and set sail.

A day and a night passed, however, when the wind rose and the sea became tumultuous. All aboard, and especially the expectant mother, were shaken and fearful as the waves battered the ship. Abruptly she went into labor, and, exhausted by her pangs and the buffeting of the storm, she expired as she brought forth her son. The newborn groped about seeing the comfort of his mother’s breasts, and cried and whimpered piteously. Ah, what a pity! The infant is born, he lives, and has become his mother’s killer! He may as well die, since there is no one to give him nourishment to keep him alive! What will the Pilgrim do, seeing his wife dead and the child whining plaintively as he seeks the maternal breast? His lamentations knew no bounds, and he said to himself: “Alas, what will you do? You yearned for a son, and you have lost the mother and the son too!”

The seamen meanwhile were shouting: “Throw that corpse overboard before we all perish! As long as it is with us, this storm will not let up!” They seized the body and were about to cast it into the sea, but the Pilgrim intervened. “Hold on a little!” he cried. “Even if you don’t want to spare me or the mother, at least pity the poor weeping little one! Wait just a bit! Maybe the woman has only fainted with pain and may begin to breathe again!”

Now suddenly they saw a hilly coast not far off the bow, and the Pilgrim thought it would be better to put the dead body and the infant ashore there than to throw them as food to the sea monsters. His pleas and his bribes barely persuaded the crew to drop anchor there. Then he found the ground so hard that he could not dig a grave, so he spread his cloak in a fold of the hill, laid his wife’s body on it, and placed the child with its head between the mother’s breasts. Then he wept and said: “O Mary Magdalene, you brought ruin upon me when you landed at Marseilles! Unhappy me, that on your advice I set out on this journey! Did you not pray to God that my wife might conceive? Conceive she did, and suffered death giving birth, and the child she conceived was born only to die because there is no one to nurse him. Behold, this is what your prayer obtained for me. I commended my all to you and to commend me to your God. If it be in your power, be mindful of the mother’s soul, and by your prayer take pity on the child and spare its life.” The he enfolded the body and the child in his cloak and went back aboard the ship.

When the Pilgrim arrived in Rome, Peter came to meet him and, seeing the sign of the cross on his shoulder, asked him who he was and where he came from. He told Peter all that had happened to him, and Peter responded: “Peace be with you! You have done well to trust the good advice you received. Do not take it amiss that your wife sleeps and the infant rests with her. It is in the Lord’s power to give gifts to whom he will, to take away what was given, to restore what was taken away, and to turn your grief into joy.”

Peter then took him to Jerusalem and showed him all the places where Christ had preached and performed miracles, as well as the place where he had suffered and the other from which he had ascended into heaven. Peter then gave him thorough instruction in the faith, and after two years had gone by, he boarded a ship, being eager to get back to his homeland. By God’s will, in the course of the voyage they came close to the hilly coast where he had left the body of his wife and his son, and with pleas and money he induced the crew to put him ashore. The little boy, whom Mary Magdalene had preserved unharmed, used to come down to the beach and play with the stones and pebbles, as children love to do. As the Pilgrim’s skiff drew near to the land, he saw the child playing on the beach. He was dumbstruck at seeing his son alive and leapt ashore from the skiff. The child, who had never seen a man, was terrified at the sight and ran off to his mother’s bosom, taking cover under the familiar cloak. The Pilgrim, anxious to see what was happening, followed, and found the handsome child feeding at his mother’s breast. He lifted the boy and said: “O Mary Magdalene, how happy I would be, how well everything would have turned out for me, if my wife were alive and able to return home with me! Indeed I know, I know and believe beyond a doubt, that having given us this child and kept him alive for two years on this rock, you could now, by your prayers, restore his mother to life and health.”

As these words were spoken, the woman breathed and, as if waking from sleep, said: “Great is your merit, O blessed Mary Magdalene, and you are glorious! As I struggled to give birth, you did me a midwife’s service and waited upon my every need like a faithful handmaid.” Hearing this, the Pilgrim said: “My dear wife, are you alive?” “Indeed I am,” she answered, “and am just coming from the pilgrimage from which you yourself are returning. And as blessed Peter conducted you to Jerusalem and showed you all the places where Christ suffered, died, and was buried, and many other places, I, with blessed Mary Magdalene as my guide and companion, was with you and committed all you saw to memory.” Whereupon she recited all the places where Christ had suffered, and fully explained the miracles and all she had seen, not missing a single thing.

Now the Pilgrim, having got back his wife and child, joyfully took ship and in a short time made port in Marseilles. Going into the city they found blessed Mary Magdalene with her disciples, preaching. Weeping with joy, they threw themselves at her feet and related all that had happened to them, then received holy baptism from blessed Maximin. Afterwards they destroyed the temples of all the idols in the city of Marseilles and built churches to Christ. They also elected blessed Lazarus as bishop of the city. Later by the will of God they went to the city of Aix, and, by many miracles, led the people there to accept the Christian faith. Blessed Maximin was ordained bishop of Aix.


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