From the New Testament itself, it seems safe to say that Mary Magdalene was the leading woman convert and follower of Jesus. She is mentioned in only twelve verses in the Gospels — three times in Matthew (27:56 and 61, and 28:1), four in Mark (15:40 and 47; 16:1 and 9), two in Luke (8:2 and 24:10), and three in John (19:25; 20:1 and 18) — but these suggest a zeal for the Kingdom and a special love for Jesus, who healed her.
Delivered from Demons
Luke is the only evangelist who establishes Mary Magdalene's background and conversion: “He went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the good news of the kingdom of God, with the company of the twelve [apostles] and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary called Magdalene, out of whom seven demons were cast; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, who ministered to him of their substance” (Luke 8:2–8).
This passage suggests that such women may have been Jesus' and the other disciples' major financial supporters, or at least that they contributed by getting meals and other essential support, a bit of historical trivia that can easily be missed in a casual reading of Luke's Gospel. It's likely that Jesus' and the disciples' having women as part of their retinue was something of a scandal in that time, as well.
Not a Prostitute
Pope Gregory the Great referred in a sermon in A.D. 591 to Mary Magdalene as a converted prostitute, conflating into one person Mary of Magdala (from which Magdalene is derived), Mary of Bethany, and an unnamed woman in Luke 7:37, called “a sinner,” who, like Mary of Bethany, anointed Jesus' feet.
Much of the contemporary fascination with Mary Magdalene is rooted in Gnostic gospels, including a Gnostic
There is no support for the claim that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute in the New Testament or in the Orthodox Church tradition, and in 1969 the Vatican amended its documents to represent the two women as separate persons. The image persists, however, and was perpetuated in the 1973 rock musical
The New Testament does not hide Mary Magdalene's central role in first discovering Jesus' empty tomb and meeting the resurrected Christ in the garden. On the contrary, Mark and Luke state that the disciples did not believe Mary's report about Jesus' rising from the dead. Mark says, “Now when Jesus had risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven demons. And she went and told them who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, did not believe it” (Mark 16:9–11). And Luke's statement of the disciples' disbelief is even more pointed: “It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women who were with them, who told these things to the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:10–11).
Joanna and Susanna
Joanna is mentioned only one more time in the New Testament, again in Luke's Gospel, when she is one of the women who goes to the sepulcher on the morning of the Resurrection with Mary Magdalene, and is with her when she reports the news of the empty tomb to the disciples. Though Susanna is not mentioned again, in Orthodox tradition she was with the others who followed Jesus from Galilee to Judea, and was a witness to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Both women are called saints in the Orthodox churches, and both are cited by advocates of the ordination of women to the priesthood as examples of early women leaders in the church who were considered on par with the apostles.
The Greek tradition says that Mary Magdalene became a companion of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and lived with her in her latter years in Ephesus, in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Gregory of Tours (538–594), in his time the highest-ranking churchman in Gaul (modern France) supports the claim that Mary spent her later years in Ephesus, and makes no claim that she lived in Gaul. But a strong French Catholic tradition holds that Mary Magdalene spent her later life in Marseilles, France, where she was instrumental in evangelizing Provence.
What are saints?
Protestants consider all followers of Jesus saints, citing the Apostle Paul, who called believers “saints,” and Protestants have no canonization process. In Roman Catholicism, exceptionally holy people are declared saints through lengthy examination by church courts. In Orthodoxy, popular acclaim and veneration of a holy example can lead to canonization. Moreover, many uncanonized persons are considered saints.