Mary Magdalene’s Tooth

Mary Magdalene as envisioned by Nicolas Regnier. Image from Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, Mary Magdalene “is usually thought of as the second-most important woman in the New Testament after Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary Magdalene traveled with Jesus as one of his followers. She was present at Jesus’ two most important moments: the crucifixion and the resurrection. Within the four Gospels, the oldest historical record mentioning her name, she is named at least 12 times, more than most of the apostles. The Gospel references describe her as courageous, brave enough to stand by Jesus in his hours of suffering, death and beyond.”

Did you know that a tooth “said to belong” to Mary Magdalene is on display here in NYC at the Metropolitan Museum of Art?


Image from Metropolitan Museum of Art website. Click for source

Image from Metropolitan Museum of Art website. Click for source

The other day we spent some time learning about the medieval Italian-made reliquary that contains Mary’s tooth during a tour led by the erudite Dr. C. Griffith Mann, curator in charge of medieval art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cloisters.

The reliquary containing Mary Magdalene’s tooth is remarkable in that it is composed of three sections that were created hundreds of years apart.  At the top is a medallion that is a reliquary itself. There are tiny red labels on it that say it contains bits of several different saints including St. Francis, St. Clare and several other Franciscan saints.

The middle portion of the reliquary was created in the 14th century.  It contains a carved rock crystal egg-shaped container that holds the tooth.  The Metropolitan Museum has a letter from a dentist affirming that the tooth is from a human, but the museum has never removed it from the crystal to examine its DNA.

The 10th century rock crystal “egg” was likely carved by Muslims in North Africa, probably for use as a perfume bottle, according to Dr.Mann.  The Italians later retrofitted it to display the relic. On either side of the egg are remarkably detailed gilded glass  images of saints.

The base of the reliquary was created in the 15th century.  According to Dr. Mann, the museum  does not know the entire provenance (history of ownership) of the reliquary, but it does know it’s recent history.  The reliquary was purchased from an Englishman by J.P. Morgan, the financier.  Morgan amassed a huge trove of medieval art and after he died, his son donated more than 2000 of his purchases to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1917.

If you care to read more about teeth as relics, check out  John Lennon’s tooth and Elvis’ teeth.








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