1032 Letters from the Pandemic 23: Letter to Mary Magdalene

Letters from the Pandemic 23: Letter to Mary Magdalene
by Lilian Broca


Dear Mariam,

Who would have imagined at the time we first met a few years ago that our newly formed relationship would be interrupted for several months due to a pandemic threatening the entire world?

I certainly didn’t and I suspect nor did you. After the three mosaic series I completed on Lilith, Queen Esther, and Judith, all Biblical women whom I consider heroines, my expectations for us were years of close connection, even friendship, without interruptions.

From the beginning I sensed you beside me as I was sketching in my studio the cartoons that  subsequently would become large mosaics. You seemed eager to help me with this project and, who knows? Perhaps you were also instrumental in my choosing the right research material from the vast amount of available literature.

Lilian Broca with Mary Magdalene, Defiled and Defamed (in progress)
Lilian Broca in her studio, Aug 2, 2020
Head for Mary Magdalene, Defiled and Defamed

For eight long months I read and reread various portrayals of your life and of your contribution to the expansion and growth of Yeshua ben Yosef’s words, later to become a new religion, Christianity.

Continuing with my exploration of female Biblical figures who elude established cultural paradigms, you, Mariam, my current heroine, like them, defied the fate your society set out before you.

From the onset I knew that the works will be mosaic panels. The power of mosaic is that, as an ancient art form, it is still accessible and shares much in common with the present computer technology that brings us world-wide stories every day. And just like the computer image it is fragmentary, allowing me to construct out of the glass shards or tesserae, as they are called, a personally meaningful picture based on empirical content of historic literature as well as my own interpretation. With the scattered fragments of an ancient mosaic medium I’ve been striving to reconcile diverse opinions in the varied narratives I read about you, but even more significantly, with these tesserae I am creating new original works.

Mariam, the second aspect of this series that I decided very early on during my research, was the requirement of a monumental size for all 7 mosaic panels, 79in x 48in each.

In the past, women artists, their works and their stories were mostly associated with the intimate and the small, as though they dared not take up valuable space and time. As you know from my past art works, I resent that timid notion. My heroines insist and demand the space and importance that long ago was offered to masculine achievements in the military, politics, and commerce.

And finally, Mariam, after reading so many diverse accusations, betrayals, and the vilification you were subjected to over the centuries, I have decided to express the existence of disparate accounts of your story with text in each mosaic panel, hence the Illuminated Manuscript composition and unifying motif. Each panel displays 3-4 lines in an ancient language spoken during your time on earth.

Painted sketch for Mary Magdalene, Sacred Union (Aramaic)
Painted sketch for Mary Magdalene, Defiled and Defamed (Latin)
Painted sketch for Mary Magdalene Awaiting Emmanuel (Coptic)
Painted sketch for Mary Magdalene, The Anointing (Hebrew)

While drawing these sketches in the studio, I was trying to catch and observe your response, a mysterious and esoteric experience I had with all previous Biblical figures. It was critically important for me to somehow discover your personality. You were not easy to approach directly, but as my pencil was gliding purposefully on the paper you allowed me to understand your dislike of jewellery and surrendered, albeit reluctantly, only during my last sketch where you emerge as a Goddess-in-Waiting.

To me this was a sign of approval on your part; you knew from our earlier “conversations” in the studio – haha! Mostly one way – that my intention is to reestablish the elevated social position you enjoyed during your life with Yeshua (Jesus) who understood that male preferences and domination will cause society to form institutions with power concentrated at the top while the exploited masses remain imprisoned at the bottom. Yeshua understood as well that in a society where the feminine is given equal time and respect, children are nurtured, widows are consoled, the arts are encouraged, and… well, in such a society childhood is joyful, work is productive, and people live in harmony.

From all the reading I have done I gather that he selected you as his most intelligent follower, most loyal, and most beloved. It is possible that Yeshua meant you to be the inheritor of his church.

With good feelings about the two of us as collaborators I finally finished all the seven sketches I needed before starting the mosaics.

Painted sketch for Mary Magdalene, The Sacred Union
Painted sketch for Mary Magdalene, Awaiting Emmanuel
Painted sketch for Mary Magdalene The Anointing
Painted sketch for Mary Magdalene, The Sacred Union
Painted sketch for Mary Magdalene, Defiled and Defamed






































Alas, no sooner had I begun the long trek than I was diagnosed with cancer.

Mariam, do you remember I asked for your help so I could finish the series? That’s all I wanted, enough time to complete the new cycle.

Time flew by and I would like to believe that with your intervention, I recovered. Two months later I was back in the studio with renewed vigour.

Work was coming along slowly and with an assistant in Montreal I felt reassured we could complete the series before the exhibition in France in 2020.

Alas… another disruption! This time the interruption in our work is global. The COVID 19 Pandemic afflicted millions of people and the only known safety measures required are self-isolation, vigorous washing of hands and wearing masks…. especially for the elderly, they say.

Am I “elderly” already? Wow, I sure am according to the age chart.

Well, said I, self-isolation is no big deal for my husband and me. He is retired and my studio is in the garden. Nothing will change that much in our lives. And boy! Was I wrong this time… Aside from the fact that all museums and galleries started to close down all over the world, I found to my dismay that the most important item I have been using for years and now ran out of in my studio disappeared from every single store and/or on-line companies in Canada and the US. I am referring to the desperately-needed M3 N95 mask that doctors, nurses, and health care employees require as absolutely essential protection against the virus in their daily work to save lives.

Unfortunately for me, it is this exact mask that protects me from silica powder dust when grinding the glass mosaic tesserae in the studio.

I would have traded every single toilet paper roll in the house for such a mask. (My husband disagrees….)

Painted sketch for Mary Magdalene, The Washing of Feet
Painted sketch for Mary Magdalene, Witnesses at the Cross
The Sacred Union in progress; Jesus




















So my life changed with a shift in the creative efforts. Fear of imminent food shortages encouraged people to hoard basic staples. We bought many non-perishable foodstuffs. From working long hours in the studio I suddenly switched to baking and cooking for us and for our younger son’s family, who welcomed a newly-born baby during this pandemic.

I was living in a state of suspended animation with no end in sight.

Worst of all, you disappeared! How could you leave me?

My search for the coveted mask never stopped during this surreal existence. I went back to reading about you as there were still many published articles on ACADEMIA.com that I had never had a chance to read.

Soon it was clear that so much cooking and baking was not advantageous for me; when the scales in the bathroom groaned I joined David in his daily walks through the UBC forest.

And this is where we found each other again, Mariam.

UBC Forest
Mary Magdalene, Annointing and Sacred Union
Assembling Mary Magdalene, Defiled and Defamed

I should have guessed; you were there within the pale yellow sun rays filtering through the dense green foliage. You spoke to me through the soft whispering of the leaves as they swayed in the gentle breeze. My soul was replenished with hope and joy.

I doubled my efforts in searching for the vitally important mask. You helped. A California ophthalmologist traded a box of 10 M3 N95 masks for some of my art. Hallelujah! Ten days later I was back in the saddle.

The studio is once again inhabited by a muse, a dear friend who watches the work in progress with eagerness and also… with some impatience, would you not agree, Mariam?

Be aware I am doing my utmost during this seemingly never-ending pandemic.

Our hope rests with the new available vaccines, though they are not easily accessible yet.

We must be patient, Mariam, both of us; I know we will get there eventually, and together through this series of art works focusing on your elevated status in society we will see a renewed attention that hopefully leads to universal support for the empowerment of women.

Hang in there, sister!

Your loyal friend,


Lilian Broca

Lilian Broca, BFA Concordia University, Mtl., MFA Pratt Institute, NY, taught studio art at Kwantlen Polytechnic University for 15 years; her work was featured in over 80 exhibitions in Canada, US and Europe. Among many distinctions, Broca was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle in 2001, collaborated and published the book A Song of Lilith with esteemed Canadian author Joy Kogawa in 2001, and was the recipient of the Lorenzo il Magnifico Gold Medal at the 2003 Florence Biennale. Broca’s mosaics were awarded First Prize in International Mosaic Exhibitions in San Francisco, Chicago and San Diego. The book The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca (Gefen Publishing House, NY, Jerusalem), by S. Campbell, Y. Wosk and L. Broca with preface by distinguished artist Judy Chicago, was launched in 2011.  The CBC documentary Return To Byzantium – The Art and Life of Lilian Broca, was shown in six international film festivals; it received the Best Doc Award at San Pedro Int. Film Festival, LA, 2012. Broca’s 2015 Vancouver solo exhibition of the Judith mosaics travelled extensively in Canada and the US. The book/catalogue Heroine of a Thousand Pieces was published in 2015. Visit Lilian Broca’s website here.


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The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

Mary Magdalene, Defiled and Defamed (detail in progress)
UBC Forest


9 comments on “1032 Letters from the Pandemic 23: Letter to Mary Magdalene

  1. Lilian. I too live in the Vancouver BC area. I wrote my Master of Arts project on Mary Magdalene. One of my journal papers was peer reviewed and published without my permission. It’s an early paper entitled The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, that I wrote after my thesis. You can download it from academia.edu If interested, you can also download my thesis project Mary Magdalene: Her Image and Relationship to Jesus there as well. Or you can download both of these directly from my website https://www.lindavogtturner.ca and read some of my other papers and blogs, and get a sense of how I too see the Woman Jesus called Mary as The Light in a relationship with the Sun, the Trees of the forest, and Carbon sequestered in rocks, trees, and fossil fuels! If you’re really interested, you might want to check out my blog post Eco-Colonialism or Redemption and Innovation. Thanks!!

  2. What a splendid and inspiring friendship!
    I am looking forward to meeting Mariam!
    Draga Lilian, you are my guiding star!

    Best wishes Bobana

  3. A great love letter from Lilian to her muse; the subject herself — Mariam — the artist’s muse. A deep soliloquy on the co-inherence of artist, subject, and muse. Beautiful. The search. Lost and Found. The muse waiting in the forest. We see that the artist becomes muse to her subject, too; awakening Mariam to reveal her full womanhood.

    Thank you, Lilian, for revealing the ache and tenderness in your heart for and through your art.

    1. I am moved by your letter and your delicate works. As an artist myself now working on a Mary Magdalene icon painting with the hopes to complete it, I find myself mixed into a world with fear. I found supplies scarce during the pandemic lockdown but luckily, having gathered materials for some time, I was able to continue work. Many authors have written books on Mary Magdalene but I wonder who are the leading scholars on the topic. Can you recommend works you studied? I see I’m in the right place! Thanks for the inspiration. Yours, Grace

      1. I am so sorry Grace Zqazzaro that I had not seen your comment earlier. Yes, I have done a lot of research on MM. In fact I had to purchase over 15 books on the subject. Couldn’t go to book stores, like you, too scared, so I ordered them on Amazon. Here is a list:

        The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail by Margaret Starbird
        The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine by Margaret Starbird
        Magdalene’s Lost Legacy: Symbolic Numbers and the Sacred Union in Christianity by Margaret Starbird
        Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile by Margaret Starbird
        The Feminine Face of Christianity by Margaret Starbird
        Mary Magdalene Understood by Jane Schaberg
        The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene by Jane Schaberg
        The Lost Gospel by Simcha Jacobovici with Barrie Wilson
        The Gospel of Mary by Karen L King
        The Magdalene Legacy by Lawrence Gardner
        Holy Blood, Holy Grail: The Secret History of Christ & The Shocking Legacy of the Grail, by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh
        Beyond Belief: Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels
        The Quest for Mary Magdalene History and Legend by Michael Haag
        Secrets of Mary Magdalene by D. Burstein and A.J. de Keijzer intro by Elaine Pagels
        Forged by Bart D. Ehrman
        Why Religion: a Personal Story by Elaine Pagels

        I had also read the following books before starting on this project:

        The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
        Adam, Eve and the Serpent by Elaine Pagels
        Symbolism, the Sacred and the Arts by Mircea Eliade
        The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai
        Secrets of the Exodus: The Egyptian Origins of the Hebrew People by Messod Sabbah and‎ Roger Sabbah

        And finally here are some essays:
        • “The Deification of Mary Magdalene.” Feminist Theology 21,2 (2013) 145-54.
        • “The Cathar Mary Magdalene and the Sacred Feminine: Pop Culture Legend vs. Medieval Doctrine.” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 24:3 (2012) 419-31.
        • “Who is Mary Magdalene?”
        • Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics. Women in the Bible (ed. Robert B. Kruschwitz; Waco: Baylor University Press, 2013) 23-29.
        • What we’re talking about when we talk about the feminine divine in Christianity By Rosemary Radford Ruether
        • Mary in Feminist Theology: Mother of God or Domesticated Goddess? | Fr. Manfred Hauke Why the Church Needs a Prostitutes’ Saint by Mary Setterholm
        The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle by Karen L. King (Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, California, 2003
        Who is Mary Magdalene? By Mary Ann Beavis
        Mary Magdalene: the Origins and Futures of Christianity, by Jane D. Schaberg

        Hope this helps!!!

  4. Lilian, your letter to Mariam is so telling. You have made so much progress on this project during the pandemic, mask availability notwithstanding. Your comprehensive research mingles with your own understanding so that the product is real. Emotions expressed in the painted “sketches” are moving. The translations into tiles are remarkable. And now Mariam accompanies you in your life journey.

  5. Lilian’s art was not drawn on a napkin at a formica counter. Each drawing that she translates into mosaic is assembled in detail, as accurate as the research that went into it, blended with manual poetry — a parallax view of the place women hold in history.

  6. This tiled masterpiece touched my soul. Lilian Broca is a master at conveying emotions in her subjects as well as making her subjects come to life. The care and precision with which she places each tile is like a ritual act. Her research for her subject is beyond the scope of most artists, and she teaches us about Mary Magdalene in the various realms of her life and experiences through every detail placed within this work of Art.

  7. Loved the “resurrection” of sisterhood ….in the middle of the wood, Lilian.

    It sounds like an intimate conversation, springing actually from a confession – the distress of loneliness, when feeling cut off from “dear Mariam” and buried in mundane worries and routine acts, instead.

    There comes a welcome softness in the calming, reassuring ending, though, as if pieces have fallen together between the two of you, within your sisterly channelling of strong womanhood, in the crisp, fresh air of the wintery wood. I had the feeling of Emily Carr’s deep blueish-green that seems to suck you in, just to “regurgitate” you … renewed. Beautiful image of that road (not at all “…less taken” on the grounds of UBC…) through the majestic trees… You must be experiencing a long-awaited joy of reconnecting, now.

    Good luck and … enjoy!

    Thanks for sharing, as a preview, the beautifully intriguing images of another master work to come from you,

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