Create a St. Mary Magdalene Devotional Shelf

MM by Richard Stodart

A more fitting name for this would, of course, be an "altar," but we aren't actually worshipping St. Mary Magdalene here, and "altar" tends to have worshipful connotations. Consider this only an idea for setting aside a space in your home for some objects that help you think about Mary Magdalene. Your reasons for doing this will be your own, but they might include a desire to keep her faithfulness in your thoughts as you go about your everyday life or making a "sacred space" where you can sit to do your other devotional activities.

A devotional shelf can fit whatever requirements you set for it. It can be on a bookshelf or the top of a cabinet, or a small table. If you intend to put candles on it, be sure to keep it out of reach of children and pets and make sure it's sturdy. (And never leave the candles burning unattended!) You could even set aside a corner of your desk for an object or two that make you think about Mary Magdalene. So whatever works best for you.

Many people like to put a nice cloth on their shelf. The most historically appropriate color would be red, of course, but feel free to use any color and fabric you life. Even a length of lace or a table runner will work. Remember that Mary Magdalene is also portrayed in deep green or gold brocade in many paintings, so consider those colors too.

Candles have been used in religious devotion since long before Christianity, and they continue to be used in many world religions, including Christianity, to this day. In many Roman Catholic Churches, you can light a votive candle when you say a prayer; this is to indicate the solemnity of prayer and is a way to keep vigil. Novena candles are another appropriate kind of candle to use on a devotional shelf.

You might want to put candles, votive, novena, or other kinds, on your devotional shelf. As I mentioned already, though, be sure to keep them out of reach of children and pets, and make sure they can't be tipped over!

MM statue from Sacred Source

Other objects you might want to consider for your devotional shelf include pictures and statues. You can find many pictures of Mary Magdalene in books, and local Christian bookstores might carry religious cards with her picture on them. If they don't carry anything, be sure to ask. Sometimes a store won't bother carrying an item if no one asks for it, but with the recent increase in interest in Mary Magdalene, you might be surprised!

So now you have a shelf with a cloth, some candles, a picture of Mary Magdalene, and maybe a statue. What else? here is where you use your imagination to draw on the stories of her that are meaningful to you. If you're interested in her association with the anointing scene, you may want to put a small perfume bottle on your shelf. If it is Mary Magdalene's role as apostle that captures your interest, perhaps a wooden egg that is painted red would be a good addition. More ideas include the following:

  • Seashells, for her legendary journey to Gaul
  • Stones, for her 30 years in the grotto
  • A book, for her contemplative life
  • Some myrrh, because she was a myrrhaphore
  • A jar of some kind, of course!

You are limited only by your imagination. I once knew a woman who decorated her devotional shelf with shiny red Christmas garland, and a number of people who placed chocolate on it on a regular basis, though I couldn't imagine why. When I asked about it, one woman replied, "because it just seemed like Mary Magdalene would have needed some chocolate sometimes, too."

[This article was taken as an excerpt from my book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Mary Magdalene, ©2005 by Lesa Bellevie, published by Alpha Books, a division of the Penguin Group.]

Some Mary Magdalene statues: