Mary Magdalene vs. Evelyn Underhill

Welcome, friends, to the Round of the Elate Eight. As we get deeper into the madness, the tone changes  from the educational to the whimsical as we focus on saintly kitsch. At this point, we've learned about 32 saints -- 16 in even greater detail. Now is the time to see what popular culture has done to/for them. We don't view such items as sacrilegious but merely fascinating -- see Meredith Gould's footnote below. But, then again, if you've stuck with Lent Madness to this point you know that we have a great reverence for the saints even as we keep our sense of humor intact.

In yesterday's final battle of the Saintly Sixteen Emma of Hawaii surged past Paul of Tarsus 56% to 44% with over 2,000 votes cast. Later this week Emma will face Thomas Cranmer with a trip to the Faithful Four on the line.

To make it this far, Mary Magdalene defeated John Huss and Joan of Arc while Evelyn Underhill bested Nicholas and Monnica. Click on the links to see the previous write-ups by our fabulous Celebrity Bloggers and check the updated bracket for future match-ups.

When considering the following items inspired by Mary Magdalene, it's probably good to remember this adage when labeling something as kitsch*: “One person’s trash is another’s treasure.”  Consider this nod toward situational taste as my way of apologizing if any of the following Mary Magdalene-branded trash is something you’d treasure. Please note that I’m not including images of reliquaries out of respect for those who reverence such things.

Also note how popular depictions of this Apostle to the Apostles contain a mash-up of myth and legend.  In no special order – so don’t try to figure it out – I offer for your amazement and amusement the following items:

Hello Dolly!

From sales copy for the Mary Magdalene WisdomDoll: “… long, wavy auburn hair,  sunned skin tone, hand-painted face …. simulated leather boots, a sign during her time of ties to a wealthy family.  Her deep purple dress is regal and majestic. The color suggests wisdom and knowledge.”  Read the whole description here to learn more about the “powerful imagery” of the hand-made attire for this award-winning, 16” doll priced at $129.

Feeling manipulated? Then regain your power by getting the Mary Magdalene puppet instead. It’s 28” tall, has a workable mouth, comes with one rod that can be attached to either hand for movement, and currently on sale for $45.

Need some blessed super-bas relief? Go for this statue:

Now Who’s Light of the World?

Preparing His body? Woman of Sorrows bathing His feet with her tears and hair? Anointing His head with precious salve? Yummy-smelling Temple prostitute? This candle includes 100% natural essential oils of Frankincense, Ylang, and Spikenard, so you decide which Mary Magdalene is being honored.

A garnet is embedded in it. Why? Among other things, it’s a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice.  But why a fleur-de-lis, a symbol of Mary, Mother of God appears on Mary Mag’s third eye is beyond me.  (Enlarge the picture to behold her wild-eyed look of WhatEver.)


Love praying the Chaplet Prayer or The Rosary of St. Mary Magdalene in Seven Mysteries?  May I suggest that these earrings would make a suitable substitute for schlepping beads and medals?

At $78.95 for solid sterling silver or $280.95 for white or yellow gold, they’re pretty pricy kitsch, but remember: you’re honoring the person to whom Jesus the Risen Christ first appeared. Worth it!

And so what if this goodie is supposed to be a Christmas tree ornament? Consider  giving it to a loved one on St. Mary Magdalene’s Feast Day (July 22). The description of this $33.50 bauble makes my point about myth mash-ups, read it here.

*Definition of kitsch: “something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste.”

--Meredith Gould

Who better to inform the world of Evelyn Underhill kitsch than Dana Greene, the president of the Evelyn Underhill Association? Surely Evelyn Underhill merchandise abounds at the annual  Day of Quiet Reflection at the National Cathedral. However, in response to an email asking about Underhill kitsch and photographic evidence thereof, Dr. Greene replied, “Glad to help, but not absolutely sure what you want.”

Clearly, Evelyn Underhill products are not prevalent at Association events, leaving the path open for an enterprising person who wishes to capitalize on this lack—though further research shows that the field is far from clear.

First there is the (copyrighted) Underhill family crest, also available on a mug or keychain, linking you not only to Evelyn but to other notable Underhills such as Walter Underhill, a 19th-century Congressman who served on the board of managers of the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents in New York City. (No hobbits are mentioned among the notables listed.)

More specific Evelyn Underhill items do exist, such as the T-shirt, mug, mousepad, magnet, greeting card, tea towel and keychain featuring a portrait by Mary Evans, which seems rather pedestrian as far as kitsch goes.

There is, however, a great niche market left untapped: namely, the Evelyn Underhill™ personal home mystic kit! Searching in vain for such an item unearthed only the Mystic Tan Perfect Tan Kit, both body and face. Now all we need is someone to develop the Mystic Tan Perfect Soul Kit. Surely Evelyn Underhill would lend her name to such a worthy product. Other Evelyn Underhill™ franchisees may have further ideas for this untapped market, which would be wonderful to see in the comments.

-- Laura Toepfer


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122 comments on “Mary Magdalene vs. Evelyn Underhill”

  1. I love Evelyn, but she never would have gotten to her humbly lofty place without Mary Magdalene!

  2. Well, in the genre of Mary Magdalene kitsch, my son has promised me the Mary Magdalene video game (once he becomes a video game designer). He assures me that Mary M. will get all the cool weapons to kick the boss disciples' (like Peter's) butts and show the world who really best got Jesus. Ah, a son's love for his mother!

    Also, I have a secret kitschy love of barbie dolls and who really to fit within the epitome of Barbie than Mary Magdelene - a woman with a profession and vocation who still is curvy, tan, perfectly coiffed, in a dress and lusted after by all men - even the most holy of them - for millenia. I don't see an Evelyn Underhill Barbie making a lot of waves.

  3. Lisa, if you've been following Lent Madness you know that the first round provided basic biographical information on the saints, the second round including legends and quotes, and thus rather than rehashing everything we have some fun with saintly kitsch. For those wanting a refresher, we've added links to the previous rounds -- just click on the names of the opponents in this post to see what has already been said about Mary and Evelyn.

    1. Tim, I am totally loving this. I have never seen so much excitement and raw emotions over Holy Women and Men! What an incredible way to spread the Word! I am, however, having a difficult time locating the links to the previous information given in the first two rounds of saints. Is it possible to make the previous info for the elate eight easier to find? Thank you, both, for a brilliant time of lenten devotion! In His Name, h+++

  4. OK all you underdog voters, here is your big chance, with Ms Underhill! Calling all Harfoots, Stoors, and Fallohides! Hobbits Unite! Vote Evelyn!

  5. I think I need Mary Magdalene earrings! I am having such a great time participating in Lent Madness. I even wrote my vestry article for our church newsletter about Lent Madness and about how it's been the perfect lenten devotional for me this year. Thanks for Tim, Scott and the celebrity bloggers!

  6. Because I stopped believing long ago that too much is just enough, it has to be Evelyn today. Although that Barbie is tempting...

  7. Went back and read the biographies from the first round, and I just have to vote for Evelyn in this round. As a former library worker and academic who is now a priest, and who constantly struggles against the temptation to too much rationality and order in my faith life, this paragraph got me:
    "Her tea-sipping librarian appearance belied her gifts as a powerhouse of spiritual thought, and as someone who understood both the blessing and the danger of standing in God’s presence. In a letter, she gently suggested to former Golden Halo winner C.S. Lewis that “perhaps…your concept of God would be improved by just a touch of wildness.” "

  8. I was for Mary until I saw the dolls. Total turnoff. Of course Mary was a snappy, opinionated Black woman . . . at least in MY mind :)!!!!

  9. You failed to mention the kitschy song "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from JC Superstar ("and I've had so many men before, he's just one more"). Don't like the kitsch round so far, too queasy to vote.

    1. Yep, Dr.T, I agree with you. I am just a bit uncomfortable about the kitschy thing, I love a good time, but as you said, I think I am going to wait a bit to cast my vote. We could have done without the Barbie and puppet.
      Still, I have learned a lot from Lent Madness.

  10. I just want to say that the addition of kitsch exhibits to these posts was a fantastic idea. Thanks for making Lent so much fun!

  11. "Mary."
    (John 20:16)
    Jesus' choice for the first person to see him Resurrected must be my choice today, too!

  12. Am reading Underhill because of LM (wonderful) but it's not the kitsch that impels me toward MM this round, but the sublime fresco of her by Piero della Francesca in the Arezzo cathedral (peeking out from behind some Renaissance megalomaniac's superimposed tomb). Wish I were techie enough to include it.

  13. While I have to admire a woman who could credibly tell C.S. Lewis (another favorite of mine) to "lighten up!", and Lord knows sometimes he needed to be told that, Mary's example of keeping the faith, no matter how far down the chips are, and her devotion to Jesus, for whatever were her reasons, carry the day for the Lady from Magdala.

  14. Can't believe I'm voting on the strength of available kitsch of incredible kitschiness vs. completely untapped market.

  15. As we approach Holy Week, and today's match-up is a daunting one, your casual irreverence, with the kitsch, feels very 'off' to me. I approach this voting choice with reverence for both Mary Magdalene and Evelyn Underhill.

    1. I'm glad you've been able to carve out an oasis of reverence and calm in the Madness. I see a lot to commend in voting a 'dignity' ticket, whatever else is going on around. Good practice for living in the world but not (only) of it! I look ahead at Bonhoeffer and shudder to think that there could even be kitsch available. But that is the world we live in.

      The theme of mockery and irreverence can be great food for thought heading into Holy Week. Our tradition reads a Passion on Good Friday, with congregation acting as jeering crowd. Our "jeers" are usually pretty pious-sounding - or just get mumbled - because it is very uncomfortable to do, but in how many more subtle ways do I make mockery of Jesus year-round? (Christ in my neighbour...those I ignore or dismiss...)

      Sorry. Got all serious there for a moment.

    1. Tim (if I may presume to call you "Tim"), Stephen Colbert is a boldly funny Catholic, and you're a boldly funny Episcopalian. My personal opinion is that both of you make God laugh. Can that be a bad thing?

        1. Thank you, Jennifer! I think I'm angry at the Very Idea that SomeOne would even Think to Create 'saintly kitsch! Humpf! Then, I just laugh at such ridiculousness!! Still, I find the kitschy collection somewhat disturbing. Your "mockery & irreverence" theme for Holy Week reminds me: not everyone was sorrowful at the Crucifixion. There were herds of unpleasant people. Jesus' friends were hard to find. Even the 'unfortunate' Pilate morosely asked, "What is truth?" (He didn't know.) What a MESS!

          You are, I think, wise to be "all serious".

    2. This has been wonderful fun, and like others I am dreading the end of it. I'm voting for Mary M. this round and all others she has appeared in. I voted for Evelyn last time, but can never quite get over her beating out Santa.

  16. I like the Mary Magdalene Christmas tree ornament! I'm sticking with Mary, no matter who she's up against. And everybody--read Tim's comment above. We're not really judging the saints! That would just be wrong. This is good, educational, I-love-my-faith fun!

  17. I am disappointed that the women get this sort of treatment -- remains to be seen if the "humor" carries through the rest of the finalists.

  18. Got in trouble with a fellow-parishioner whom I inadvertently dissed for dissing Lent Madness but it was worth every lash of the whip. What is exciting is the challenge ahead to top this year. What is discouraging is that we are moving toward the Golden Halo. Maybe a tie and a playoff-anything to prevent the end of so much good, humerous commentary. And we may have learned a little in the process to boot. Great work, Tim and Scott!

  19. Oh dear. Oh DEAR. When they said "things might get ugly" I had no idea...

    However, since I one of the reasons am rooting for Mary Magdalene is as corrective to how she has been treated over the centuries in more serious arenas, these present indignities (horrors?) are just fuel to the fire of Camp Magdalene.

    Love what I've learned of Underhill and plan to get to know her better. Voting MM today.

  20. I thought I could come up with some out-of-the-realm-of-sanity(?) but you guys and these guest authors/collators defy the realm of pure believability and I tip my hat to you. I love it! I love it! I love it! Some of my predecessors this glorious AM need to lighten up a bit and get their tights out of a wad that's preventing a bit of lightheartedness. Oh,yeah! MARY MAGS all the way !!!!!

  21. The Underhill tanning line is genius, though.
    Needs to come in various strengths to ramp up the protection as your mystic journey takes you closer and closer to the intense glow of the Godhead... SPF 3, SPF 7, SPF 10, SPF 12...(SPF = Shekinah Protective Factor).

    ....perhaps also an SPF666 for those who take a seriously wrong turn, and wind up facing a h*ll of a lot more heat than originally anticipated...

    1. Jennifer, that was some Strong coffee in your LM mug ! Inspired !
      Remember, C.S. Lewis said, "The devil hates to be mocked."

  22. Mary gets my vote today. And you get my vote for the "kitschy" posting in this round. The ornament has already been ordered!

  23. I love Lenten Madness and I'm a huge fan, but I'm disappointed with this post. I could never be accused of being either faint of heart of humorless and I think most religious kitsch is worthy of at least a laugh and a half but I'm with Ann in hoping that this kind of humor is shared across gender lines. Other than Jesus and, perhaps the ABC, ABY and Desmond Tutu, I'm thinking you won't find the same kind of kitsch for men. I'd love to be surprised. Being in the midst of the War On Women probably makes some of us a little more sensitive than usual. Bad timing.

    1. Had St. Nicholas made it to this round, I think you would have found a surfeit of Santa kitsch. It all has to do with name recognition and commercial viability, I think, not male or female. I'll be curious what they can dig up for Cranmer!

  24. Don't you think the two of them are somewhere 'up' in heaven laughing about this whole thing? But I will vote for Evelyn Underhill, because I slogged through her humungous book and she deserves a tip of the hat for being so thorough and methodical......but Mary Mags is so cool....oh dear, what shall I do? I have to think more about this

    1. I call on Tony all the time to help me find lost items. When the item is located I definitely thank Saint Anthony for his help!