Mary Magdalene and Kilmore Church, Scotland.
By Donald C. Black.
If you visit the village of Dervaig in the North of Mull, which you might, on your way to Calgary sands or the Mull Little Theatre, you can’t miss the round, pencil-shaped tower of Kilmore Church, designed by Scottish architect Peter MacGregor Chalmers and finished in 1905.
However, visible only from inside the church is something much more startling than its unusual tower.
One of its seven stained glass windows, created for it by leading Scottish stained glass artist Stephen Adam, has explosive significance. It shows the figure of Christ, portrayed in the traditional way singled out by a halo. Beside him walks a woman. She has no halo, but the two walk close together, holding hands in an intimate pose. She inclines her head so that her hair touches Christ’s cheek as they emerge through an archway from a temple-like building. She walks slightly in front as if being presented to waiting onlookers after a ceremony.
The identity of the woman, encrypted in the significant green and gold colours of her dress and the long golden hair, is made explicit by the Gospel text below the figures. It reads: MARY HATH CHOSEN THAT GOOD PART WHICH SHALL NOT BE TAKEN AWAY FROM HER. She is unquestionably intended to be Mary Magdalene.
The subversive theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, with a consequent genealogical Bloodline is not new. But who would have thought that the Mary remembered in the ancient Gaelic names Kilmore (“Mary’s Church”) and Tobermory (“Mary’s Well”) might not be the obvious one? Someone connected with Dervaig in the late 1800s possibly did, and had it portrayed in stained glass a century before Dan Brown’s bestseller “The Da Vinci Code”.
Note for Holy Grail Enthusiasts (or Sceptics)
Stephen Adam’s text actually refers to Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus), however trying to cross-reference the various Marys in the gospel story has led to several of them, including Mary of Bethany, being traditionally identified as one and the same person – Mary Magdalene.
2nd Century Christian leaders Clement of Alexandria and Justin Martyr, are on record as denying that Christ was married which shows that, by the 2nd Century, there was already a tradition that Jesus was married. The grounds of their denial were that (1) the Bible is silent about that (which doesn’t follow, because it is silent about St. Paul and St. Peter’s wives too. Peter had a mother-in-law so he must have been married, and if Paul was a Pharisee as he claimed, he also must have been married because that was mandatory for Pharisees), and (2) it created a theological problem (not to mention a competing ecclesiastical succession).
Mary is depicted ambiguously, with her girdle below her abdomen rather than round her waist. Could she be pregnant? Jewish first century marriages could be celebrated in several stages – betrothal, marriage and the first safe pregnancy, so a marriage ceremony could not be ruled out as Stephen Adam’s subject, even if pregnancy is just a trick of the light.
The diagonal cross (St. Andrew’s??) is a known Holy Grail symbol. In outline like a chalice, it is a composite of two shapes, An upside down V, denoting the male principle (reminiscent of the Kilmore tower, which has itself been transported into the window scene surmounting the columns and centre of the archway), and a regular V; the female. According to Grail historians, this fertility association caused the early church fathers to abandon the diagonal cross in favour of the now familiar asymmetrical vertical form +, which is conspicuous by its absence from the Kilmore window. Instead, the glass segments low down on each of the archway columns can be seen to depart from their normal irregular pattern and resolve into a series of repeated grail shapes .
Perceiving her as a threat to their male dominance, the church fathers ensured that Mary Magdalene was firmly classed as a harlot, an injustice which was only righted in Roman Catholicism in 1969. (I don’t know if Protestantism has ever got round to righting it). Meanwhile, she came to represent throughout Europe the ancient nature and fertility principles, which were overlain and suppressed particularly by Roman Christianity, although perhaps not entirely by the Celtic Columban form. “Dervaig”, for instance is Gaelic for “little grove”, recalling the symbolic pre-Christian “sacred groves” common in Pagan, Druidic, Biblical and other traditions. On the wall of 13th Century Celtic Kilvickeon Chapel, near Bunessan is a carved “sheela-na-gig”, an ancient fertility symbol.
These lend credibility to the idea that Columban Christianity could have had a much more accepting view of Mary Magdalene than its Roman cousin, which Stephen Adam has recognised in his window. Finally, the sun is depicted rising over the central tower (or could it be a rose??), reminding the observer that the remains of a stone circle are nearby.
Kilmore has everything!