According to Tradition, after Christ’s resurrection, it’s first witness, Mary Magdalene, fled to southern France, where she lived as a hermit in a cave / cathedral at Sainte Baume near Aix-en-Provence and regularly ascended to the heavens with the help of angels. This Tradition is considered absolute fact in Provence whose residents consider the cave of Mary Magdalene to be the third most important Christian site after Jerusalem and Magdala. My wife Clare and I made a pilgrimage to this extraordinary portal in 2019. Here, I will share some reflections on our visit.
As ‘Magdalene’s children’, so to speak, Clare and I went to St. Baume to feel it for ourselves. I have been traveling in the Southern France on the trails of Magdalene’s mysteries since 1996, but, as fate would have it, never made it to St. Baume. I find that being in the right place at the wrong time never works. But, being in the right place at the right time, with the right person, produces a magical experience. Clare has a truly otherworldly way of opening doors and windows that remain hidden for most.
There is a Cherokee saying that applies to our marriage, that is:
“A woman’s highest calling is to lead a man to his soul so as to unite him with his source. A man’s highest calling is to protect woman so she is free to walk the earth unharmed.”
My soul was waiting for the right time to visit this holy place with the holiest person I know.
The Holy Cave
Magdalene is said to have retired to the cave in Sainte-Baume (“Holy Cave,” baumo in Provençal), where she gave herself up to a life of prayer and contemplation. The natural grotto dug by erosion is one of the most ancient, and has become one of the most important pilgrimage places in the Christian world. It is thought that she lived here thirty years. Like the beloved in the Song of Songs, the “dove hidden in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside,” she devoted herself to prayer and solitary contemplation.
Magdalene was the first Christian disciple and prophetess. She was the power behind the Christos Revolution. The Gospel of Mary described her initiation into the Merkabah ascension mysteries by the resurrected Jesus. These mysteries focused on the transformation of the human body into a being of light in preparation for advancing or ascending to God’s Throne, the Merkabah. Having come from Magdala, where these mysteries were well known, she was eminently prepared to receive them.
At St. Baume, Magdalene used her Merkabah training to ascend.
The Big White Rock
The first thing one notices about Saint Baume is that it is a geologic curiosity: its a rocky white bar, about twelve kilometers long, that emerged from the seabed during the secondary era and its forest, protected by the cliff, is a “relic” of the one which covered the Provence at the end of the tertian era. It is A N C I E N T.
One cannot help but wonder, “why not this place?” when approaching. It was obviously chosen due to something about the geology of the area…and you can feel it as you get close.
One also wonders how or why the ‘relic’ forest is there. Actually, the Dominican brothers who tend it think it is there for Magdalene.
The ascent to the cave is a 45 minute huffing, puffing, walking and stopping meditation. Silence is requested and it accentuates the sacredness of the experience. We are, indeed, on holy ground in this magnificent and ancient forest. Hickory, oak, linden and European yew (some claim a few of the trees are over 1,000 years old!) speak to us in the silence.
At last, we arrive at the final 150 steps to the chapel. 150 represents the Psalms of David and the 150 Hail Marys of the Rosary. Personally, I think there are actually 153 steps. 153 is the number of the Magdalene.
Today’s visitor finds the cave is now a functioning chapel with votive candles flickering in unison, their flames reaching up to the Magdalene. None of the Dominican monks who tend this sacred space were around. We had the cave to ourselves…in silence. Later, I learned this is an extraordinary occurrence as the cave is most often filled with visitors from all over the world.
The chapel is massive, seating around 1,000 people. It is a stage for connection to the Divine. A few chants from Clare brought it to life. Suddenly, the cathedral is humming. It's walls coming alive.
For a moment I could imagine (or recall) what it must have looked when Magdalene was here. She must have covered the stone with rich and warm fabrics and illuminated it with masses of candles, in addition to her own light. Assuredly, her chanting, and that of her children, still rings in the stone. The immortal atoms of her oils still anoint our breath. Like the Tibetan term or hidden treasure tradition, in which relics and teachings are hidden in rocks for future recovery, this is a repository of her ascension knowledge. It literally rings of it!
Behind, or near the enchanting statues of Mary Magdalene are entrances to passages into the cliff. Clare kept wanting to go further into the tunnels. During our past journeys to Southern France we have become enchanted by the cave churches and the allure of legends that say these were portals to places on, or in, the earth, and beyond.
Perhaps no one captured the possible goings at Magdalene’s cave better than the renowned English Spiritualist, Emma Hardinge Britten. In her her 1897 book Ghost Land: Researches into the Mysteries of Occultism, she eloquently writes about hidden tunnels purportedly leading to an underground city at the Kailasa temple in India, where Jesus is reputed to have lived. Kailasa is thought of as the Throne of the Gods. Beneath the Kailasa Temple are huge subterranean cavern-temples and tunnels beneath the surface — all hewn out of rock. Some believe it is a gateway to Shambhala, or even Shambhala itself.