The only English copy of this ballad that approaches
completeness is furnished by the Percy manuscript, A. Sir
Walter Scott remembered, and communicated to Kirkpatrick Sharpe,
three stanzas, and half of the burden, of another version,
There are three versions in Danish, no one of them very well
preserved. A, 'Maria Magdalena,' is a broadside of about
1700, existing in two identical editions: Grundtvig, No 98, II,
530; B, ib., was written down in the Färöe isles
in 1848, by Hammershaimb; C was obtained from recitation
by Kristensen in Jutland in 1869, Jydske Folkeviser, I, 197, No
A Färöe version, from the end of the last century or
the beginning of this, is given in Grundtvig's notes, p. 533
Versions recently obtained from recitation in Norway are:
'Maria,' Bugge's Gamle Norske Folkeviser, No 18; A, p. 88;
B, p. 90, a fragment, which has since been completed, but
only two more stanzas printed, Grundtvig, III, 889; C,
Bugge, p. 91. D, B are reported, but only a stanza
or two printed, Grundtvig, III, 889 f; F, printed 890 f ,
and G, as obtained by Lindeman, 891: all these,
D-Q, communicated by Bugge. C, and one or
two others, are rather Danish than Norwegian.
This is, according to Afzelius, one of the commonest of
Swedish ballads. These versions are known: A, "a broadside
of 1798 and 1802," Grundtvig, II, 531, Bergström's Afzelius, I,
335; B, 'Magdalena,' Atterbom's Poetisk Kalender for 1816,
p. 20; C, Afzelius, u, 229; D, Arwidsson, I, 377,
No 60; B, Dybeck's Svenska Visor, Hafte 2, No 6, only two
stanzas; F, G, "in Wiede's collection, in the
Swedish Historical and Antiquarian Academy;" H, "in
Cavallius and Stephens' collection, where also A,
F, G are found;" I, Maximilian
Axelson's Vesterdalarne, p. 171; J, 'Jungfru Adelin,'
E. Wigstrom's Folkdiktning, No 38, p. 76; K,
'Jungfru Maja,' Album utgifvet af Nylandingar, VI, 227.
A-F are printed in Grundtvig's notes, II, 533 ff,
and also some verses of G, H.
The ballad is known to have existed in Icelandic from a minute
of Arne Magnusson, who cites the line, "Swear not, swear not,
wretched woman," but it ,has not been recovered (Grundtvig, in,
891, note d).
Finnish, 'Mataleenan vesimatka,' Kanteletar, ed. 1864, p.
The story of the woman of Samaria, John, iv, is in all these
blended with mediaeval traditions concerning Mary Magdalen, who
is assumed to be the same with the woman "which was a sinner," in
Luke, vii, 37, and also with Mary, sister of Lazarus. This is the
view of the larger part of the Latin ecclesiastical writers,
while most of the Greeks distinguish the three (Butler, 'Lives of
the Saints,' VII, 290, note). It was reserved for ballads, as
Grundtvig remarks, to confound the Magdalen with the Samaritan
The traditional Mary Magdalen was a beautiful woman of royal
descent, who derived her surname from Magdalum, her portion of
the great family estate. For some of her earlier years entirely
given over to carnal delights, "unde jam, proprio nomine perdito,
peccatrix consueverat appellari," she was, by the preaching of
Jesus, converted to a passionate repentance and devotedness. In
the course of the persecution of the church at Jerusalem, when
Stephen was slain and the Christians
widely dispersed, Mary, with
Lazarus, her brother, Martha, and many more, were set afloat on
the Mediterranean in a rudderless ship, with the expectation that
they would find a watery grave. But the malice of the unbelieving
was overruled, and the vessel came safe into port at Marseilles.
Having labored some time for the christianizing of the people,
and founded churches and bishoprics, Mary retired to a solitude
where there was neither water, tree, nor plant, and passed the
last thirty years of her life in heavenly contemplation. The cave
in which she secluded herself is still shown at La Sainte Baume.
The absence of material comforts was, in her case, not so great a
deprivation, since every day at the canonical hours she was
carried by angels to the skies, and heard, with ears of the
flesh, the performances of the heavenly choirs, whereby she was
so thoroughly refected that when the angels restored her to her
cave she was in need of no bodily aliment. (Golden Legend,
Graesse, c. 96.) It is the practical Martha that performs real
austerities, and those which are ascribed to her correspond too
closely with the penance in the Scandinavian ballads not to be
the original of it: "Nam in primis septem annis, glandibus
et radicibus herbisque crudis et pomis[foot-note] silvestribus
corpusculum sustentans potius quam reficiens, victitavit ...
Extensis solo ramis arboreis aut viteis, lapide pro cervicali
capiti superposito subjecto, ... incumbebat." (Vincent of
Beauvais, Spec. Hist., ix, 100.)
The best-preserved Scandinavian ballads concur nearly in this
account. A woman at a well, or a stream, is approached by Jesus,
who asks for drink. She says she has no vessel to serve him with.
He replies that if she were pure, he would drink from her hands.
She protests innocence with oaths, but is silenced by his telling
her that she has had three children, one with her father, one
with her brother, one with her parish priest: Danish A,
B, C; Färöe; Swedish C, D,
F, I, J, K; Norwegian A,
C, F, G. She falls at his feet, and begs him
to shrive her. Jesus appoints her a seven years' penance in the
wood. Her food shall be the buds or the leaves of the tree
[grass, worts, berries, bark], her drink the dew [brook, juice of
plants], her bed the hard ground [linden-roots, thorns and
prickles, rocks, straw and sticks]; all the while she shall be
harassed by bears and lions [wolves], or snakes and drakes (this
last in Swedish B, C, D, I, K,
Norwegian A). The time expired, Jesus returns and asks how
she has liked her penance. She answers, as if she had eaten
daintily, drunk wine, slept on silk or swan's-down, and had
angelic company [had been listening to music].[foot-note] Jesus then
tells her that a place is ready for her in heaven.
The penance lasts eight years in Swedish C, F,
J, Norwegian A; nine in the Färöe ballad;
fifteen in Danish B; and six weeks in Danish C, It
is to range the field in Danish A, Swedish F; to
walk the snows barefoot in the Färöe ballad and
Norwegian B; in Norwegian D to stand nine years in
a rough stream and eight years naked in the church-paths.
The names Maria, or Magdalena, Jesus, or Christ, are found in
most of the Scandinavian ballads. Swedish E has 'Lena
(Lilla Lena); Swedish H He-lena; J, Adelin;
K, Maja. Norwegian A gives no name to the woman,
and Danish A a name only in the burden; Norwegian
B has, corruptly, Margjit. In Danish C, Norwegian
B, G, Jesus is called an old man, correspondingly
with the "old palmer" of English A, but the old man is
afterwards called Jesus in Norwegian G (B is not
printed in full), and in the burden of Danish C. The
is exchanged for the Father in Swedish D.
Stanzas 4, 5 of Swedish A, G, approach
singularly near to English A 6, 7:
The woman is said to have taken the lives of her hree
children in Danish A, B, C, and of two n
Swedish C, D, F, I, J,
K (B also, where there are but two in all), a rait
probably borrowed from 'The Cruel Mother.'
The seven years' penance of the Scandinavian ballads s
multiplied three times in English A, and four times n
B and in those versions of 'The Cruel Mother ' which ave
been affected by the present ballad (20, I, J,
K; L is defective). What is more important, the
penance in the English ballads is completely different in kind,
consisting not in exaggerated austerities, but partly, at least,
in transmigration or metensomatosis: seven years to be a fish,
20, I, J, K; seven years a bird, 20,
I, J, K; seven years a stone, 21, A,
B; seven years an eel, 20, J; seven years a bell,
or bell-clapper, 20, I, 21, A (to ring a bell, 20,
K, L). Seven years in hell seems to have been part
of the penance or penalty in every case: seven years a porter n
hell, 21, B, 2O, I, K; seven years down in
hell, 2O, J; seven years to "ring the bell and see sic
sights as ye darna tell, 20, L;" "other seven to lead an
ape in hell," A, a burlesque variation of the
The Finnish Mataleena, going to the well for water, sees he
reflection of her face, and bewails her lost charms. Jesus begs
drink: she says she has no can, no glass. He bids her confess.
"Where are your three boys? One you threw into the fire, one nto
the water, and one you buried in the wilderness." She fills
pail with her tears, washes his feet, and wipes them with her
hair: then asks for penance. "Put me, Lord Jesus, where you will.
Make me a ladder-bridge over the sea, a brand in the fire, a coal
in the furnace."
There are several Slavic ballads which blend the story of the
Samaritan woman and that of 'The Cruel Mother,' without admixture
of the Magdalen. Wendish A, 'Aria' (M-aria?), Haupt and
Schmaler, I, 287, No 290, has a maid who goes for water on Sunday
morning, and is joined by an old man who asks for a drink. She
says the water is not clean; it is dusty and covered with leaves.
He says, The water is clean, but you are unclean. She demands
proof, and he bids her go to church in her maiden wreath. This
she does. The grass withers before her, a track of blood follows
her, and in the churchyard there come to her nine headless boys,
who say, Nine sons hast thou killed, chopt off their heads, and
meanest to do the same for a tenth. She entreats their
forgiveness, enters the church, sprinkles herself with holy
water, kneels at the altar and crosses herself, then suddenly
sinks into the ground, so that nothing is to be seen but her
yellow hair. B, 'Die Kindesmörderin,' ib., II, 149,
No 197, begins like A. As the maid proceeds to the church,
nine graves open before her, and nine souls follow her into he
church. The oldest of her children springs upon her and breaks
her neck, saying, "Mother, here is thy reward. Nine of us didst
There are two Moravian ballads of the same tenor: A,
Deutsches Museum, 1855, I, 282, translated by M. Klapp: B,
communicated to the Zeitschrift des bohmischen Museums, 1842, p.
401, by A.W. Sembera, as sung by the "mahrisch sprechenden
Slawen" in Prussian Silesia; the first seven stanzas translated
in Haupt u. Schmaler, II, 314, note to No 197. The Lord God goes
out one Sunday morning, and meets a maid, whom he asks for water.
She says the water is not clean. He replies that it is cleaner
than she: for (A)
she has seduced fifteen men and ad
children with all of them, has filled hell with the men and he
sea with the children. He sends her to church; but, as she enters
the church-yard, the bells begin to ring (of themselves), and
when she enters the church, all the images turn their backs. As
she falls on her knees, she is changed into a pillar of salt.
The popular ballads of some of the southern
nations give us the legend of the Magdalen
French. A, Poésies populaires de la
France, I (not paged), from Sermoyer, Ain, thirty lines, made
stanzas by repetition. Mary goes from door to door seeking Jesus.
He asks what she wants: she answers, To be shriven. Her sins have
been such, she says, that the earth ought not to bear her up, the
trees that see her can but tremble. For penance she is to stay
seven years in the woods of Baume, eat the roots of the trees,
drink the dew, and sleep under a juniper. Jesus comes to inquire
about her when this space has expired. She says she is well, but
her hands, once white as flower-de-luce, are now black s
leather. For this Jesus requires her to stay seven years longer,
and then, being thoroughly cured of her old vanities, she s
'Marie Magdeleine, allez au paradis;
La porte en est ouverte depuis hier à midi.'
B is nearly the same legend in Provencal: Damase
Arbaud, I, 64. The penance is seven years in a cave, at the end
of which Jesus passes, and asks Mary what she has had to eat and
drink. "Wild roots, and not always them; muddy water, and ot
always that." The conclusion is peculiar. Mary expresses a wish
to wash her hands. Jesus pricks the rock, and water gushes out.
She bewails the lost beauty of her hands, and is remanded to the
cavern for another seven years. Upon her exclaiming at the
hardship, Jesus tells her that Martha shall come to console her,
the wood-dove fetch her food, the birds drink. But Mary is not
'Lord God, my good father,
Make me not go back again!
With the tears from my eyes
I will wash my hands clean.
'With the tears from my eyes
I will wash your feet,
And then I will dry them
With the hair of my head.'
C, Poésies populaires de la Gascogne,
Bladé, 1881, p. 339, 'La pauvre Madeleine,' seventeen
stanzas of four short lines, resembles B till the close.
When Jesus comes back after the second penance, and Mary says, as
she had before, that she has lived like the beasts, only she has
lacked water, Jesus again causes water to spring from the rock.
But Mary says, I want no water. I should have to go back to he
cave for another seven years. She is conducted straightway o
D, Bladé, as before, p. 183, 'Marie-Madeleine,
six stanzas of five short lines. Mary is sent to the mountains
for seven years' penance; at the end of that time washes er
hands in a brook, and is guilty of admiring them; is sent back o
the mountains for seven years, and is then taken to heaven.
A Catalan ballad combines the legend of the Magdalen's penance
with that of her conversion: Milá, Observaciones, p. 128,
No 27, 'Santa Magdalena,' and Briz y Saltó, Cansons de la
Terra, II, 99. Martha, returning from church, asks Magdalen, who
is combing her hair with a gold comb, if she has been at mass.
Magdalen says no, nor had she thought of going. Martha advises
her to go, for she certainly will fall in love with the preacher,
a young man; pity that he ever was a friar. Magdalen attires
herself with the utmost splendor, and, to hear the sermon better,
takes a place immediately under the pulpit. The first word of he
sermon touched her; at the middle she fainted. She stripped ff
all her ornaments, and laid them at the preacher's feet. At he
door of the church she inquired of a penitent where Jesus was to
be found. She sought him out at the house of Simon, washed is
feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair, picked up from
the floor the bones which he had thrown away. Jesus at last
noticed her, and asked what she wished.
She wished to confess. He
imposed the penance of seven years on a mountain, "eating herbs
and fennels, eating bitter herbs." Magdalen turned homewards
after the seven years, and found on the way a spring, where he
washed her hands, with a sigh over their disfigurement. She heard
a voice that said, Magdalen, thou hast sinned. She asked for new
penance, and was sent back to the mountain for seven years more.
At the end of this second term she died, and was borne to the
skies with every honor from the Virgin, saints, and angels.
Danish A is translated by Prior, IT, 25, No 44: Swedish
C by William and Mary Howitt, Literature and Romance f
Northern Europe, I, 282.
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