For a well-balanced presentation of Pope Francis’ motu proprio on the Traditional Latin Mass that abrogated most previous norms on this Mass, read this by Abp. Augustine Di Noia, adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/07/20/vatican-latin-mass-traditionis-custodes-pope-francis-241086


This is one of my favorite feast days for a number of reasons! A few years ago I began to research Mary Magdalene’s life and story immediately after I visited the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, very close to my home, where there is a reliquary containing bones from the left foot of Mary Magdalene. I’d gone to San Giovanni a number of times before learning of the relic, principally to attend Mass and it was only one day when I decided to actually visit the church, its side altars, etc, that I discovered the reliquary! A priest there gave me a small booklet to read on the relic and that, and additional research, led me to the following story, a truly amazing tale.

San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini – St John the Baptist of the Florentines – is known as the regional church for expatriates from Florence whose patron saint is John the Baptist. There was a flourishing expat Florentine community in Rome in the mid-15th century, featuring the bankers and artists for which the city was famous. This community was concentrated on a bend of the Tiber river where the church stands today.

San Giovanni was built for the first Medici Pope, Leo X, who started a competition for the church’s construction. Great numbers of famous artists participated in the project but the building was on-again off-again for a few centuries. Two of the most celebrated artists are buried here – Carlo Maderno and Francesco Borromini.

However, San Giovanni dei Fiorentini is most well known for its relic of bones of the foot of St. Mary Magdalene that rests in a shrine to the left of the main sanctuary.

Historians seem to agree that Mary Magdalene died and was buried in Ephesus and that, given historical vicissitudes, her body – or parts of it, what we will call relics – was brought to Constantinople, then to the south of France and, finally Rome. How the relics got to the south of France seems to be the biggest mystery – not all legends agree.

One story, in fact, says Mary Magdalene lived in a cave in the south of France where she died.

In any event, the historical account found in the Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini says her body was sent by ship from Sainte Baume in Provence to Rome where her left foot was removed according to the Greek tradition that this is always the first foot that rises when you enter the after life. Her foot came to rest in St. Peter’s Basilica with other passion relics. For many years, pilgrims who came to Rome to visit the tomb of Peter would first stop to venerate the foot of St Mary Magdalene who was the first person to enter the tomb of the risen. This foot was first kept in a precious reliquary made by master silver- and gold-smith Benvenuto Cellini.

More historical vicissitudes and the foot finally came to rest in San Giovanni dei Fiorentini – but only in 1984   – where it was buried away in a closet, to be discovered only in the year 2000 when San Giovanni began work on its Museum of Sacred Art! You really want to see Mary Magdalene’s foot and the Museum next time you are in Rome.

Indeed an amazing story! And here’s another one….

The Sunday before Memorial Day 2018, after the 6 pm Mass in the Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini I had one of the most moving and amazing experiences of my life. Ambassador Callista Gingrich and her husband Newt were also at this Mass and I asked them afterwards if they knew the church housed an astonishing relic – the left foot of St. Mary Magdalene.

I brought them to the shrine and explained the story, which I had recently researched for one of my “Joan’s Rome” videos. As we were about to leave, the sacristan came up to me and, with a huge smile and holding a key in one hand, asked if we’d like to see the relic up close. Well, of course we wanted to!

He opened the shrine and then – the truly amazing moment of the evening! He took the Cellini reliquary out, showed it to us and handed it to me! What is not visible when the reliquary is inside the shrine is the glass-covered opening that reveals the bones of Mary Magdalene’s foot!

Photos by Amb. Gingrich:

A close-up of the reliquary. On top of the foot is a small opening, protected by glass and suitably covered by a kind of seal, under which are the bones of St. Mary Magdalene’s foot.-



I am holding the reliquary –