Mary Magdalene was a Jewish woman who, according to texts included in the New Testament, traveled with Jesus as one of his followers and provided for the apostles. The latter suggests she was prosperous. The evangelists, Luke and Mark, say Jesus cleansed her of "seven demons", which some interpret as meaning that he healed her from mental or physical illnesses. On the other hand, there are those who claim that these demons were an allusion to the seven deadly sins.
She is said to have witnessed Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection and is named at least 12 times in the Gospels, more than most of the apostles. Uniquely among the followers of Jesus, she is specified by name as a witness to three key events: Jesus' crucifixion, his burial, and the discovery that his tomb was empty. Magdalene, accompanied by Salome and Mary the mother of James, is first witness to the resurrection, having discovered that the tomb was empty. Mary Magdalene is honored as the first to see Jesus after his resurrection and received a special commission from him to tell the Apostles of his resurrection. She is often depicted on icons bearing a vessel of ointment, not because of the anointing by the "sinful woman", but because she was among those women who brought ointments to the tomb of Jesus.
This statue of Mary Magdalene was originally part of a large Crucifixion Tableau that consisted of a Crucifix and statues of the blessed Mother and St. John the Evangelist, with the statues 60 cm in height. Included in the Crucifixion Scene would be the weeping Magdalene who was usually depicted kneeling at the foot of the cross and embracing it. This statue of the Magdalene, being on its own, indicates that the tableau was divided among the heirs upon the partition of their parents’ estate.
The face, hands and feet of this image of Sta. Maria Magdalena are of ivory, attached to a wooden mannequin carved in a kneeling position. The face, inset with glass eyes, is very Spanish-looking and shows extreme grief. The hands and feet of the statue are beautifully carved, the former with long and tapering fingers known as ‘hugis kandila’ (shaped like a candle), a much-admired 19th century trait often attributed to persons of aristocratic lineage. The image was originally clothed with gold-embroidered robes consisting of a purple tunic and a yellow-orange cape, the color attributes of the saint. The statue wears a wig of jusi or silk dyed blonde, definitely a modern replacement as the original wig, most probably of human hair, would have been extremely long and reaching below Magdalen’s knees. A beautifully chased silver-gilt aureole or halo, now called a payong or umbrella by collectors, because it resembles that accoutrement, is attached to the statue’s pate.
-Martin I. Tinio, Jr.