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Sainte-Baume cave (Mary Magdalene )

Located in the Var, in the municipality of Plan-d’Aups-Sainte-Baume, the sanctuary of Sainte-Baume, also known as Mary Magdalene’s cave, is a place of worship of the Catholic religion where Mary Magdalene would have taken refuge after having evangelised Provence. Discover this sanctuary cut off from the world in the heart of the Var forest.

The story of Mary Magdalene

According to the Christian religion, Mary Magdalene (also known as Mary of Magdala) is one of the disciples of Jesus Christ. Originally from the city of Magdala, in the region of Galilee in Israel, Mary Magdalene would have been delivered from seven demons by Jesus, and would have become one of his disciples as a symbol of her eternal gratitude. Central witness to the Passion of Christ (events that preceded, accompanied and led to the death of Jesus of Nazareth), Mary Magdalene would have first witnessed the Resurrection of Christ three days after the crucifixion. She was asked to bear the apostles the news, a testimony which gave her the name of “apostle of the Apostles”.

The character of Mary Magdalene is present in the Gospels of Luke, Mark, John and Peter. She is often portrayed as a prostitute, although there is no evidence for this. Luke said she was a sinner (Gospel of Luke 7:37), but the term prostitute is not used in the Bible. Saint Luke also presents her as a rich woman who supports Jesus Christ with her money.

As a strong figure of friendship and love, Holy Mary Magdalene embodies repentance and trust. The friendship she has for the Christ is deep, so much so that the two characters are often considered as “married in spirit”. More recent theories even affirm that the spouses would have had children together, but this vision of the religion is not recognized by the Church.

When she was expelled from her land during the persecution of Christians in Palestine, Mary Magdalene would have embarked on a makeshift ship which arrived on the Provençal coasts of southern France. The apostles who accompanied her and herself became the first evangelizers of Provence.

A cave as a refuge for an emblematic figure of Christianity

After disembarking in the town today known as the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Mary Magdalene would have gone to preach not far from there, in Marseille, accompanied by Lazarus, one of the characters of the entourage of Jesus Christ. However, she would have decided to withdraw from crowds to set up in the mountain, far from the city. For 30 years, and until the end of her life, Mary Magdalene would have lived as a recluse in a cave in the Sainte-Baume massif which today bears her name.

The mountain on which the cave is established is 12 kilometres long and dates back to the Mesozoic Era: it is more than 251 million years old. The cave is the result of the erosion of the rock. The cavern that was thus formed can currently receive up to 1000 people.

Accessible only on foot, the place seems to stand the test of time, as if frozen.  As early as the 5th century, the cave was transformed into a sanctuary. In the 13th century, the sanctuary experienced spectacular growth thanks to the protection of the Counts of Provence and the arrival of Dominican monks. Totally destroyed during the French Revolution, the buildings surrounding the cave were rebuilt in the 19th century.

This hiking circuit offers a walk in the heart of nature. In the cave, a basilica has been installed, with a chapel in which it is possible to commune with yourself, but also to admire a relic of Holy Mary Magdalene. The sanctuary is as much a place of pilgrimage as of tourism which attracts curious people from all over Europe since its origin. A path allows you to go to the top of the mountain and enjoy a panoramic view of the entire massif.

On the way back, you can take the Kings Path (“Chemin des Rois”), on which the greatest monarchs of France treaded: Francis Ist , Anne of Austria or even Louis XIV walked on this path during their pilgrimage to pay homage to Mary Madeleine.

A remarkable natural site

As a true wealth of French flora, the Sainte-Baume state forest is a renowned natural treasure that has been protected for several centuries. It was labelled “Exceptional Forest” in order to contribute to its protection. The forest that is present on this massif is a real relic of the forests of yesteryear. Protected by the mountain, it keeps traces of the vegetation which was present at the origin, which gave it the nickname of “sacred” forest. Between land and sea, trees and other plants which cover this area combine the characteristics of Mediterranean and Alpine forests. Various varieties such as pines, hundred-year-old oaks, beeches and maples coexist in one place to form this unique and precious forest.

Before becoming the refuge of Mary Magdalene, this forest was sacred to the Celts and Romans.

The hostelry

In the very heart of the sanctuary, a very special hotel service is offered to you. The hostelry  ofSainte-Baume is a religious house run by Dominican friars who are the guardians of the sanctuary. During your visit, you can book a room with bathroom (the category of rooms depends on the number of occupants: individual, couple, family, etc.), access a catering service which offers you delicious meals prepared on site by the hotel’s cooks or even organize family reunions or seminars using the various rooms provided for this purpose. If you wish, you can pray in the chapel of the Hostellerie or in the cave, and live to the pace of the services in order to make the most of your visit. The establishment only closes its doors during the annual retreat of the Dominican friars.

You can also visit the nearby town of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume to follow in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene. The town is home to a Romanesque basilica, which is said to have been built over the tomb of Mary Magdalene. The crypt of the basilica houses the relics of the Saint.