BERKELEY -- Encased in glass and held in tender reverence, a partial tibia believed to be that of St. Mary Magdalene will be at a Berkeley parish Thursday as part of the relic's monthlong California tour.
"It's not something that happens every day, so it's a rather extraordinary experience to view something like that," said the Rev. David Farrugia, pastor of Berkeley's St. Mary Magdalen Parish. "Mary Magdalene is not only the patron saint of our parish, but also considered the second patron of the Dominican order. So this is very special."
The relic will be on display for parish school children at 1:30 p.m. Viewing and prayer before the relic will continue until 9 p.m. Mass will be celebrated at 5:30 p.m., with a special Mass at 7:30 p.m.
The relic, which made stops at parishes in Oakland and Antioch earlier this week, will continue to the South Bay after its visit to Berkeley. It will then visit the federal penitentiary in Atwater on its way to Southern California, carried by the Rev. François LeHégaret, a French Dominican priest.
St. Mary Magdalene is recorded in the Bible as the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus. According to Catholic tradition, as noted in The Catholic Voice newspaper, Mary Magdalene was imprisoned some years after the crucifixion and, after her release, she and other followers of Jesus were cast out to sea, landing miraculously on the coast of Gaul (France) near Marseille. After preaching and converting the region, she retired to a mountain cave, known as Sainte Baume and spent the last 30 years of her life in solitude.
A letter from Bishop Dominique Rey of Fréjus-Toulon reports that relics were hidden at the time of the Saracen invasion and rediscovered in 1279, and have been venerated ever since. Shortly after the discovery, Pope Boniface VIII published the pontifical document for the establishment of the Dominicans at Sainte Baum and St. Maximin. They have guarded the relics since that time. And because of this, the tibia's tour will be centered on Dominican parishes, said tour coordinator Paula Lawlor.
"Mary Magdalene would like to go to the people who have been taking care of her all these years," said Lawlor, who has written a book about the saint.
While DNA testing was not available at the time of the bone's discovery, many say such relics rise beyond technological authentication.
"Most of these things are tradition," Farrugia said. "I always say to people, would Constantine have spent all that money on St. Peter's Basilica if he wasn't certain St. Peter was buried there? And if the relic provides an uplifting experience for people, that's important in itself."
St. Mary Magdalen Parish is at 2005 Berryman St., Berkeley. Call 510-526-4811 for more information.