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. Kitsch is good! Somewhere there must be a treasure trove of humor of the saints. At least the modern day ones I've met have wonderful senses of humor (think, Desmond Tutu!) Thanks for the well-rounded nature of Lent Madness!!!

  2. All this talk of kitsch, and, I admit, Mary Mag, reminds me of the time I went to get my nails done (perhaps a pre-Maundy Thursday pedi?) and saw that the new line of nail polish was branded "SPIRITUAL." The nail tech was quick to point out my error; the brand is actually "SPA RITUAL." Sigh.

  3. Wow! You should've mentioned all the other statues of Mary Magdalene available on that website! I think I see a new collection in my future. But I've got to say that for kitsch factor, I would have chosen the one of Mary with Jesus! Some would call it tacky, but I love it! And BTW, you can get all sorts of other "goddess" goodies on that site - Kali or Isis anyone?

  4. I've found Lent Madness informative, thought-provoking, and even inspirational. It puts the "ha" in hagiography.

      1. Fifth it! (And I'm starting a line of Underdog Saint Kitsch immediately! Watch for it in a gift shop near you!

  5. Underhill for moi. Mysticism over Maudlin. Baffles me, though, what "maudlin" has come to mean given what a powerful, clearly ahead-of-her-times womon Magdalene.

    1. Gretchen, I think a look at lots of Renaissance art depicting the Crucifixion will help: Mary is often pictured with wildly loose red hair, bawling her eyes out in histrionic fashion--about as over-the-top "maudlin" as you can imagine. Awful--and totally influenced by all the scurrilous legends about her history. I like better the beautiful picture of her restrained, totally genuine grief in The Fourth Gospel.

      I'm for Mary Magdalene all the way, though Evelyn is also magnetic to me....

      1. Or - worse - she came by her tearful reputation because her identity was conflated with the especially sinful woman in Luke 7 who wept and begged at Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair. Which is not to say that Jesus doesn't love especially sinful women right along with rest of us. The interaction between Jesus and that woman is a beautiful thing. The problem is that tagging Magdalene as that prostitute relegates her to a certain category of ...disrespect... and seems designed to take the mickey out of traditions that saw her as an important leader in the early church. (Hate to bring up the recent "slut" controversy, but see how that label works as a dismissive, then as now?)

        Go MADLY (Magdalene Anti-Defamation Leaguers Yu-nite)! Or something like that...

  6. I checked out the Mary Magdalene doll- "authentic first century costume"?
    Looks awfully medieval to me!

  7. I have to go for the person who stuck with Jesus through the entire Passion (when most of the disciples had fled), to the one who didn't go into hiding when Jesus died (and, in fact, was bold enough to keep visiting his tomb!), to the one who was first entrusted with the Great Commission, and to the inspiration for the best hymn ever ("In the Garden" - try singing it with your best buddies after you've all quaffed a few beers, and you'll see what I mean). Go Mary!

  8. My grandmother Evelyn (not a saint) had a very confusing saying when I was a lass.
    "Shoe the horse. Shoe the mare. But let the little colt go bare." confusing because she was putting my shoes on when she said this. But it got me thinking about maybe a line of shoes to go with that first picture we had of dear Evelyn Underhill. (Or sandals for the Hobbits)

  9. I agree with Lisa, I'm disappointed too with this round. I would rather learn more about the saints then the kitsch

  10. If all those writing somewhat negatively about kitsch would take a walk into any "religious" goods store you would be shocked. The most kitsch is about Jesus-like the pencil toppers or the pen knife or........Just enjoy the fun the sadness is coming all too soon.

  11. this is worse than having Kansas play Baylor in the final four... would that I could follow both to the final game. I voted with my heart and it belongs to the 2 Mary's. Magdeline and the Blessed Mother. But I love Evelyn as well. Her mind (and heart) are shining diamonds, in a dark sky... I voted for Mary... I wish the voting were closer... Evelyn deserves better for she has been an inspiration to many of us and guided us well and left books that will last for a long time in the libraries of the faithful and the seekers...

  12. For those criticizing the Mary Magdalene kitsch as sexist – you’re grossly underestimating the amount of kitschy religious stuff on the web that people are willing to sell you. My favorite so far in a brief web search are the 10 plagues finger puppets – though I’m not quite sure how you use those in Sunday morning nursery except as a warning to misbehaving toddlers.

    At any rate, since Paul is coming up, there are a variety of Paul puppets that you may order including – (1) and (2) (Paul is the puppet on the left).

    As for me, I’m voting for Evelyn in support of my newly established campaign to get an Evelyn puppet on the market.

    1. What about an Evelyn Underhill, mysticism game akin to the Paul game I found on Amazon.

      The journey back to the beginning of Christianity, The time: 60 A.D. The place: the pagan Roman Empire, angry mobs, political unrest, roman soldiers, shipwrecks. All these are included in this exciting, fast-paced game which blends strategy, skill, and chance while providing great fun. The game begins immediately after Paul completed his famous four journeys during which he spread the Gospel and established the first churches in the Roman Empire. Each player in the game is a missionary who, like Paul, travels through the Roman Empire attempting to start churches in several key cities. The game simulates the difficulties and challenges confronted by Paul and his companions. You must be daring and cunning, strategic in thought and a good manager of resources as you race against your friends and family to the mighty gates of Rome. Let The Journey Begin. No bible knowledge needed, no trivia questions, full color original artwork, 50 event cards, 60 opportunity cards, 30 city cards 23" by 36", historically accurate map, and 6 sets of playing pieces, rule book, attractive packaging: 24" by 3.5", and diameter map tube. Ages: 10 and up 1-6 players and playing time: 1 - 3 hours.

      1. That game is actually amazing (speaking from experience)! It'd be a great way of introducing people to Paul.

      2. When I was growing up, one of our favorite board games was Going to Jerusalem. The board pieces were the disciples that you moved in a path around the board that roughly followed Jesus' ministry in Galilee until you got to Jerusalem. You drew cards that had a Bible verse listed, which you read in the handy New Testament that came with the game. The card also had a highlighted number that showed the number of spaces you were to move. (No Satanic dice with this game!!).

        Our favorite verse was Luke 6:38 -- "Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap." For some reason we thought that verse was hilariously funny and it always brought out hoots and paroxysms of laughter.

  13. My sister's birthday is July 22.
    Our childhood parish was St. Mary Magdalene. We attended there for Grades 1–8, including First Communion and Confirmation.
    Today's vote: no contest!
    @Vicki: You're in Glastonbury? ::straining to avoid being jealous::

  14. I love and admire both of them, but the kitsch ... oh, the kitsch!!!! (However, you may spare me the Barbie doll ... all other kitsch is welcome!)

  15. I have a small cross purchased at the church in the grotto in Provence, where Mary Mag was carried up the hill by angels, having rowed across the Med in a little boat. Angels are a good thing, it is quite a climb. And with a wrought iron staircase up the cliff itself from the 1800's. Very nice. Went there as a cousin was losing her battle with cancer. Good and bad, Mary Mag-very important.

  16. I was going to post a link to the hymn of Linda Wilberger Egan, "The first one ever." Alas and alack. Egan's copyright seems to be safe, as Google failed to return a link to even the words in a reasonable search, let alone a video of someone singing this hymn.

    See Hymn 673 in the Hymnal 1982 for this delightful hymn, which ends with a verse about "Mary, Joanna, and Magdalene." This was going to be my pennance for voting for Underhill.

    My motorcycle license plate is a vanity plate drawing upon Lord of the Rings. How could I not vote for an Underhill?

    "Oh, blessed are they who see.
    "They were Mary, Joanna, and Magdalene,
    "and blessed are they, are they who see."

  17. Fully expect Magdelene to win this one, but I voted for Evelyn, just because she means so much to me.

  18. I voted for Evelyn because I downloaded her book to my Kindle & I have not yet started reading it.
    Can we take the concept of Lent Madness and do this for other seasons? Advent Adversaries perhaps? How about Epiphany Epistlers when we vote for those who wrote church documents? I am sure the SEC can come up with more!

    1. I support Carol's request for "Advent Adversaries and Epiphany Epistlers." The thought of waiting a full year for Lent Madness to come round again is creating dreadful withdrawal symptoms in me.

  19. I think the Mary Mag doll is wonderful. Would make a great pairing with a +++KJS doll that I once saw on facebook. Someone had made vestments for women priest dolls and included ones for the very right reverend herself. Does anyone remember that? It was making the rounds a few years ago.

  20. Is there are Thomas Cranmer cigarette lighter out there? Or rather, candle lighter. Now that there are so few smokers, any number of worship services have started late when nobody could find the matches. Now with Enmegahbowh coming up, you guys are REALLY going to regret the kitsch round!

  21. I have a technical question: so far, I have only been able to vote for the two saints at the top of the site, i.e. Mary Magdalene and that other one. The others all say Vote! at the end of their descriptions but there is no way to vote. What gives? Thanks for your help,

    1. Kay, click on the blue title in the first email and that will take you to a second one where you can vote at the bottom.

  22. Kay, the polls close after 24 hours so there's only one "live" election per day. We declare a winner and then move on to the next battle in the bracket. Hope that helps!

    1. Might I suggest a "how to" "play" this game. I came in late also and find the whole thing isomewhat bewildering. I accidently found the actual place to vote only once, by accident. I too wanted easy access to background info since I missed that all important piece. Just a suggestion for the newly "swept up" in the madness.

  23. All about imagery here: Skye likes the Barbie and Hope likes the puppet so we're voting for Mary Magdalene today. As a side note to yesterday's Emma v. Paul vote, Hope woke up in the middle of the night (10:30pm for her) and ran downstairs to let her slacker mom know we'd forgotten all about the LM vote. Whilst her sister snoozed, Hope considered her options carefully and voted for the golden halo'd Paul. Sorry Emma ... but you beat him anyway!

    1. Are there others besides me who look forward to seeing how Hope and Skye vote each day? I love reading their rational for voting!

      1. You betcha -- hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church! : )
        (And a saintly thumbs up to Hope for her Paul vote.)

    2. I am laughing at the thought of your little one waking up with LM on her mind. 🙂
      minimal appreciation for kitsch around here (except for me!) but when asked to vote on earlier information, Rachel and Adam agreed (for the first time this evening) on Mary M.