Martha of Bethany (Aramaic: מַרְתָּא Martâ) is a biblical figure described in the Gospels of Luke and John. Together with her siblings Lazarus and Mary of Bethany, she is described as living in the village of Bethany near Jerusalem. She was witness to Jesus resurrecting her brother, Lazarus.
Martha on the left, Jesus at the house of Mary and Martha, Harold Copping
|Virgin, Myrrhbearer, Wonder Worker of Southern Gaul|
|Born||probably Iudaea Province (modern-day Israel or West Bank)|
|Died||traditionally Larnaca, Cyprus or Tarascon, Gaul (modern-day France)|
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Christianity, Anglican Communion, Lutheran Church|
|Feast||July 29 (Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran), June 4 (Eastern Orthodox)|
|Patronage||butlers; cooks; dietitians; domestic servants; homemakers; hotel-keepers; housemaids; housewives; innkeepers; laundry workers; maids; manservants; servants; servers; single laywomen; travellers; Tarascon; Villajoyosa, Spain; Pateros, Metro Manila, Philippines|
Etymology of the name
The name Martha is a Latin transliteration of the Koine Greek Μάρθα, itself a translation of the Aramaic מַרְתָּא Martâ, "The mistress" or "the lady", from מרה "mistress", feminine of מר "master". The Aramaic form occurs in a Nabatean inscription found at Puteoli, and now in the Naples Museum; it is dated AD 5 (Corpus Inscr. Semit., 158); also in a Palmyrene inscription, where the Greek translation has the form Marthein.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus visits the home of two sisters named Mary and Martha. The two sisters are contrasted: Martha was "cumbered about many things" while Jesus was their guest, while Mary had chosen "the better part", that of listening to the master's discourse. The name of their village is not recorded, nor (unlike in John 11:18) is there any mention of whether Jesus was near Jerusalem. Biblical commentator Heinrich Meyer notes that "Jesus cannot yet be in Bethany, where Martha and Mary dwelt [according to John's Gospel]". but the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges claims that it was "undoubtedly Bethany".
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
In the account of the raising of Lazarus, Jesus meets with the sisters in turn: Martha followed by Mary. Martha goes immediately to meet Jesus as he arrives, while Mary waits until she is called. As one commentator notes, "Martha, the more aggressive sister, went to meet Jesus, while quiet and contemplative Mary stayed home. This portrayal of the sisters agrees with that found in Luke 10:38–42." In speaking with Jesus, both sisters lament that he did not arrive in time to prevent their brother's death: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died". But where Jesus' response to Mary is more emotional, his response to Martha is one of teaching calling her to hope and faith:
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. "Lord", Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
"Yes, Lord", she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."
As the narrative continues, Martha calls her sister Mary to see Jesus. Jesus has Mary bring him to Lazarus' tomb where he commands the stone to be removed from its entrance. Martha here objects, "But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days", to which Jesus replies, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?". They then take away the stone and Jesus prays and calls Lazarus forth alive from the tomb.
Martha appears again in John 12:1–8, where she serves at a meal held in Jesus' honor at which her brother is also a guest. The narrator only mentions that the meal takes place in Bethany, while the apparently parallel accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark specify that it takes place at the home of one Simon the Leper. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, "We are surely justified in arguing that, since Matthew and Mark place the scene in the house of Simon, St. John must be understood to say the same; it remains to be proved that Martha could not 'serve' in Simon's house." It is at this meal that a woman (Martha's sister Mary, according to John) anoints Jesus with expensive perfume.
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are represented by St. John as living at Bethania, but St. Luke would seem to imply that they were, at least at one time, living in Galilee; he does not mention the name of the town, but it may have been Magdala, and we should thus, supposing Mary of Bethania and Mary Magdalene to be the same person, understand the appellative "Magdalene". The words of St. John (11:1) seem to imply a change of residence for the family. It is possible, too, that St. Luke has displaced the incident referred to in Chapter 10. The likeness between the pictures of Martha presented by Luke and John is very remarkable. The familiar intercourse between the Saviour of the world and the humble family which St. Luke depicts is dwelt on by St. John when he tells us that "Jesus loved Martha, and her sister Mary, and Lazarus" (11:5). Again the picture of Martha's anxiety (John 11:20–21, 39) accords with the picture of her who was "busy about much serving" (Luke 10:40); so also in John 12:2: "They made him a supper there: and Martha served." But St. John has given us a glimpse of the other and deeper side of her character when he depicts her growing faith in Christ's Divinity (11:20–27), a faith which was the occasion of the words: "I am the resurrection and the life." The Evangelist has beautifully indicated the change that came over Martha after that interview: "When she had said these things, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying: The Master is come, and calleth for thee."
Eastern Orthodox tradition
In Orthodox Church tradition, though not specifically named as such in the gospels, Martha and Mary were among the Myrrh-bearing Women. These faithful followers of Jesus stood at Golgotha during the Crucifixion of Jesus and later came to his tomb early on the morning following Sabbath with myrrh (expensive oil), according to the Jewish tradition, to anoint their Lord's body. The Myrrhbearers became the first witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus, finding the empty tomb and hearing the joyful news from an angel.
Orthodox tradition also relates that Martha's brother Lazarus was cast out of Jerusalem in the persecution against the Jerusalem Church following the martyrdom of St. Stephen. His sister Martha fled Judea with him, assisting him in the proclaiming of the Gospel in various lands, while Mary Magdalene remained with John the Apostle and assisted him with the Church of Jerusalem. The three later came to Cyprus, where Lazarus became the first Bishop of Kittim (modern Larnaca). All three died in Cyprus.
Martha is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, and commemorated by the Lutheran Church and the Anglican Communion. Through time, as the reverence for St. Martha developed, the images of maturity, strength, common sense, and concern for others predominated.
The Latin Church celebrates her feast day on July 29 and commemorates her sister Mary of Bethany and her brother Lazarus of Bethany on the same day. The feast of Martha, classified as a "Semi-Double" in the Tridentine Calendar, became a "Simple" in the General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII, a "Third-Class Feast" in the General Roman Calendar of 1960, and a "Memorial" in the present General Roman Calendar.
The Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic Churches commemorate Martha and her sister Mary on June 4. They also commemorate them collectively among the Myrrh-bearing Women on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers (the Third Sunday of Pascha—i.e., the second Sunday after Easter Sunday). Martha also figures in the commemorations of Lazarus Saturday (the day before Palm Sunday).
Martha is commemorated on July 29 in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church (together with her siblings Mary and Lazarus) and in the Calendar of saints of the Episcopal Church and the Church of England (together with her sister Mary).
A number of churches are dedicated to St. Martha including:
- Roman Catholic churches:
- United States:
- Roman Catholic Diocese of Pasig: Diocesan Shrine of St. Martha and Parish of St. Roch, Pateros, Metro Manila, Philippines and St Martha Parish of Kalawaan Pasig City.
- Anglican Communion:
- St Martha's Methodist Church in Tring, Hertfordshire, England, United Kingdom
- St. Mary and St. Martha Lutheran Church, San Francisco, California, United States
According to legend, St. Martha left Judea after Jesus' resurrection, around AD 48, and went to Provence with her sister Mary (conflated with Mary Magdalene) and her brother Lazarus. With them, Martha first settled in Avignon (now in France). The Golden Legend, compiled in the 13th century, records the Provençal tradition:
Saint Martha, hostess of our Lord Jesus Christ, was born of a royal kindred. Her father was named Syro and her mother Encharia. The father of her was duke of Syria and places maritime, and Martha with her sister possessed by the heritage of their mother three places, that was, the castle Magdalen, and Bethany and a part of Jerusalem. It is nowhere read that Martha had ever any husband nor fellowship of man, but she as a noble hostess ministered and served our Lord, and would also that her sister should serve him and help her, for she thought that all the world was not sufficient to serve such a guest.
After the ascension of our Lord, when the disciples were departed, she with her brother Lazarus and her sister Mary, also Saint Maximin [actually a 3rd-century figure] which baptized them, and to whom they were committed of the Holy Ghost, and many others, were put into a ship without sail, oars, or rudder governail, of the paynims, which by the conduct of our Lord they came all to Marseilles, and after came to the territory of Aquense or Aix, and there converted the people to the faith. Martha was right facound of speech, and courteous and gracious to the sight of the people.
The Golden Legend also records the grand lifestyle imagined for Martha and her siblings in its entry on Mary Magdalene:
Mary Magdalene had her surname of Magdala, a castle, and was born of right noble lineage and parents, which were descended of the lineage of kings. And her father was named Cyrus, and her mother Eucharis. She with her brother Lazarus, and her sister Martha, possessed the castle of Magdala, which is two miles from Nazareth, and Bethany, the castle which is nigh to Jerusalem, and also a great part of Jerusalem, which, all these things they departed among them. In such wise that Mary had the castle Magdala, whereof she had her name Magdalene. And Lazarus had the part of the city of Jerusalem, and Martha had to her part Bethany. And when Mary gave herself to all delights of the body, and Lazarus entended all to knighthood, Martha, which was wise, governed nobly her brother's part and also her sister's, and also her own, and administered to knights, and her servants, and to poor men, such necessities as they needed. Nevertheless, after the ascension of our Lord, they sold all these things.
St. Martha in Tarascon
A further legend relates that Martha then went to Tarascon, France, where a monster, the Tarasque, was a constant threat to the population. The Golden Legend describes it as a beast from Galicia; a great dragon, half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than a horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent, that dwelt in a certain wood between Arles and Avignon. Holding a cross in her hand, Martha sprinkled the beast with holy water. Placing her sash around its neck, she led the tamed dragon through the village.
The dedication of the Collegiate Church at Tarascon to St. Martha is believed to date from the 9th century or earlier. Relics found in the church during a reconstruction in 1187 were identified as hers, and reburied in a new shrine at that time. In the Collegiate Church crypt is a late 15th-century cenotaph, also known as the Gothic Tomb of Saint Martha. It is the work of Francesco Laurana, a Croatian sculptor of the Italian School, commissioned by King René. At its base are two openings through which the relics could be touched. It bears three low reliefs separated by fluted pilasters representing : on the left, Saint Martha and the Tarasque; in the center, Saint Mary Magdalene born aloft by the angels; on the right, Lazarus as Bishop of Marseille with his mitre and staff. There are two figures on either side: on the left, Saint Front, Bishop of Perrigueux, present at the funeral of Saint Martha, and on the right, Saint Marcelle, Martha's servant.
St. Martha and Villajoyosa
The town of Villajoyosa, Spain honors St. Martha as its patron saint and celebrates The Festival of Moors and Christians annually in her honor. The 250-year-old festival commemorates the attack on Villajoyosa by Berber pirates led by Zalé-Arraez in 1538, when, according to legend, St. Martha came to the rescue of the townsfolk by causing a flash flood which wiped out the enemy fleet, thus preventing the corsairs from reaching the coast.
Martha appears in the sacred gnostic text Pistis Sophia. She is instructed by the risen Christ on several of the repentances that must be made in order to have salvation. She also makes several prophetic interpretations of different Psalms.
Depictions in art and literature
The subject of Martha is mostly found in art from the Counter-Reformation onwards, especially in the 17th century, when the domestic setting is usually given a realistic depiction. However it appears in some Ottonian cycles of the Life of Christ.
- Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (Velázquez), a 1618 oil-on-canvas painting by the Spanish painter Velázquez.
- Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (Vermeer), a 1655 painting by Johannes Vermeer
- Martha and Mary Magdalene (Caravaggio), a 1598-9 painting by the Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.
Literary works about Martha include:
- Saint Martha, Saints.sqpn.com, Star Quest Production Network.
- Pope, Hugh. "St. Martha". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.
- "Mary", Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.
- Luke 13:22
- Luke 17:11
- Meyer's NT Commentary on Luke 10, accessed 11 June 2016
- Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Luke 10, accessed 11 June 2016
- Luke 10:38–42, New International Version
- Tenney, Merrill C. Kenneth L. Barker & John Kohlenberger III (ed.). Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.
- John 11:21, 32
- John 11:20–27, New International Version
- John 11:39–40
- Matthew 26:6–13
- Mark 14:3–9
- About the Holy Myrrh-Bearing Women, Holy Myrrhbearers Women's Choir, Blauvelt, N.Y.
- Righteous Mary the sister of Lazarus, Orthodox Church in America.
- Mary & Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
- ""St. Martha", Sisters of St. Martha of Antigonish". Archived from the original on 2013-01-26. Retrieved 2013-04-23.
- Martyrologium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2001 ISBN 978-88-209-7210-3), p. 398
- July commemorations in the Anglican Church, Oremus.com.
- "Congregation History", Sisters of St. Martha of Antigonish Archived 2013-01-25 at the Wayback Machine
- "The Life of Saint Martha" Archived 2010-03-30 at the Wayback Machine, text from the Golden Legend.
- "Of Mary Magdalene", Legenda Aurea, Book IV.
- Butler, Alban; Paul Burns (2000). Butler's lives of the saints. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-86012-256-2., p. 235.
- Church of Saint Martha Archived 2009-05-29 at the Wayback Machine, Tarascon Monuments and Museums, Official website of Tarascon's tourist office.
- Moors and Christians Fiesta, Events in Alicante, Instituto de Turismo de España.
- Pistis Sophia, Chapter 38
- Kniha apokryfů (2nd ed.). 1945 .
- Apocryphal Tales at Google Books
- McGerr, Patricia (1960). Martha, Martha: A Biblical Novel. New York: P. J. Kenedy.
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