During the season of Easter, there was an image from last summer that I have been pondering in my heart: My whole-self walking in wonder for the first time through I vìcoli (the small streets—las callecitas) of the magical town of Veroli, located in the Latin Valley of Central Italy. The smell of the wind and a deep connection with the ground invited me to imagine and reflect on the unknown narratives of that sacred place. One of the moments from our lived experience in Veroli, which still moves my heart, is when our study abroad group arrived to a church named after Santa Maria Salome (Saint Mary Salome); the Patron Saint of the town. To my surprise, I learned that I was standing on the ground that witnessed a piece of a traveling journey from one of “the three Marys” of the gospel. Moreover, I found that the church was built on where her body was buried and therefore became a place of Christian worship through the centuries; later named as Basilica di Santa Maria Salome. I thought for a moment that this was the closest that I have ever been to a woman disciple who witnessed the life of Jesus during his time on earth. At the same time, this was the most distant that I have ever felt to the whole picture of the early church and the narratives of the gospel after the Resurrection. The only certain moment in between was my whole-self standing at the foot of a place that certainly was impacted by the life of a woman disciple of first century Christianity.
The name of Mary Salome briefly appears in the synoptic gospels. Among the narratives, she is identified as the wife of Zebedee and the mother of the apostles John and James the greater. She is also known as one of the “Three Marys” that followed Jesus, made him homage, and witnessed his crucifixion, death, entombment, and resurrection. I learned through my life to name the women of the Gospel as followers, caretakers, servers, midwifes, wives, widows, and mothers. Even if their characters do not appear as preachers of the good news and disciples, the narratives about women disciples of the early church seem not to have vanished. In this particular case, apocryphal narratives tell that sometime after Pentecost, Mary Salome traveled to Veroli, where she spent her last years preaching the Gospel and announcing the good news of salvation. As part of this story, there are two physical spaces that caught my attention and made me reflect on how much her life and presence might have impacted the community of Veroli. The first space is a stone sepulcher with four engraved crosses at each side and a written dedication that reads her identity as the blessed mother of John and James. I am thinking that one or more witnesses of the faith might have built such an elaborate piece and written these words with such devotion. I also learned that research on her remains found a healing wound on her skull. This also raises critical questions about persecution of the traveling disciples around that region. The second space that impacted me was a crypt located at the bottom of the high altar of the Basilica. Her life must have significantly impacted the trajectory of the city of Veroli to move the community to build a church on her crypt. Looking and reflecting on these sacred places, it is quite possible that the life of Mary Salome as a disciple might have significantly contributed to the building of the Christian community of Veroli.
There is something powerful about testimonio (testimony) that transcends time and human understanding. The story of Mary Salome in Veroli as a testimone della risurrezione (witness of the Resurrection) has brought hope and comfort to the people of Veroli during trials and fruitful times. This narrative unfolded in-between the unexpected, overwhelming, and life-giving traveling journey of our group and pointed our imaginations to the mystery of God throughout history. Moreover, her name and life has moved me to reflect and research more intentionally about the women disciples of the early church. I learned through my life to name the women of the Gospel as followers, caretakers, servers, midwifes, wives, widows, and mothers. Yet, over the last few years, I have been moved to more intentionally honor and name the women of the Gospel as preachers of the good news and therefore, disciples. It is extraordinary to know that some of the narratives about the lives of women disciples of the early church have significantly impacted and transcended among communities and scholarship. I imagine if the part of the story that vanished through the centuries would fully unfold during my time as a woman in the Church. How would this be? How would this shape the way we minister and worship with one another as sisters and brothers in Christ? That my life and the journey of my generations should always be empowered by the transformative power of the Risen Christ, who called Mary by name and sent herforth to announce the good news! Santa Maria Salome, woman disciple of Pentecost, prega per noi (pray for us).
A Novena (nine days of prayer) to Santa Maria Salome is being prayed this year in the city of Veroli, from May 16 to May 24, ending with the celebration of her solemnity on May 25, 2020.
Featured image: Descent from the Cross – Detail mourning people, left side (l.t.r. Mary of Clopas, Saint John the Evangelist and Mary Salome) by Rogier van der Weyden. Google Earth Ultra High Resolution photos of the Museo Nacional del Prado (Public Domain)