The History of Leith

May 16, 2006

Mary Magdalene-Leith


From the 13th to the 16th century, pilgrimages to kneel at the feet of the “Virgin of the Sea” at Boulogne were very popular. Medieval pilgrims came especially from England, France and Flanders. Inns and hospices offered them food and lodging in Boulogne and along the way; the pilgrims bought souvenirs, like small lead badges (see below), candles, etc., which gave work to local craftsmen; whilst donations and alms made Boulogne’s cathedral monastery prosperous.for more click here

Stella Maris – and home

While driving to Calais I realised that the journey – pilgrimage? – should start as it began – with a visit to one of the Madonnas who rule the waves on the French side of the Channel. Boulogne has a black madonna, so I set off early and found the church on top of a hill, as is so often the case.

Unfortunately, a funeral was about to begin and although I could see the dark virgin at the side of the main altar, there was no way I was going to be insensitive enough to start taking photographs. I noticed there was a crypt, but that wasn’t open until 2pm so it looked as though that was that.

Then I saw a sign to “the sanctuary” and followed it, curiously. In a large, round space there seemed to be madonnas everywhere. Copies of Walsingham and Canterbury (although Walsingham seemed to have been whitened). Madonnas receiving their churches and basilicas from worshippers. Frescos in appalling condition showing every possible scene from the life of Mary the Virgin.

And there, over the altar, was the image of Mary in her boat. This was obviously a copy, and whitened, but here was the Goddess of the Sea (who arrived in Boulogne, according to the tale, as a crowned statue, holding her baby, in a rudderless boat, as she so often does. They’ve added the angels but I think we get the picture. From


Saint James the Great (d. AD 44; יעקב “Holder of the heel; supplanter”; Standard Hebrew YaÊ¿aqov, Tiberian Hebrew Yaʿăqōḇ), the son of Zebedee and Salome and brother to St. John the Evangelist, was one of the disciples of Jesus.for more click here

Mary Magdalene is described, both in the canonical New Testament and in the New Testament apocrypha, as a devoted disciple of Jesus. She is considered by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican churches to be a saint, with a feast day of July 22. Her name means “Mary of Magdala”, Magdala being a town on the western shore of the Lake of Tiberias. The life of the historical Mary is a subject of ongoing debate. for more click here

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