|St. Barnabas with St. Mary Magdalene (Or
the Virgin Mary? Or the Church?)
Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva
I photographed this painting in 2007. In 2010 a reader informed me that it was no longer on view.
The legend in the upper right corner identifies SAN BARNABAS AP[OSTO]LVS, St. Barnabas the Apostle. The book he is holding is open to the words MAGISTRA APOSTOLORVM (see detail). Magistra is the feminine form of magister, "teacher" or "master''; apostolorum means "of the apostles." Rupert of Deutz used the phrase for the bride in the Song of Solomon, whom he understood allegorically as the Virgin Mary.1 The Church is also called mater et magistra ("mother and teacher") in two papal documents from the 11th century and one from the 20th.2
But could the female figure in this painting in fact represent the Virgin Mary? The latter does usually wear a blue mantle like the one in the painting, but she is never shown bare-headed unless (a) the subject is the Annunciation or some earlier event in her life, or (b) her head is about to be crowned.
Usually an uncovered head of flowing hair identifies St. Mary Magdalene, but I have been unable to find any text that associates her with either St. Barnabas or the phrase magistra apostolorum. She is called an apostle in The Life of St. Godric, where she appears to Godric in a dream with the Virgin Mary, who calls her "a woman apostle among the apostles."3
Photographed at the site by Richard Stracke