Victorian photographers posed seminude adolescent girls, many living in charity schools named after her, as "Magdalenes," a prurient mixed message perpetuating the saint's image as the vixenish Lady Godiva of Christianity.
Finally, in 1969, 1,378 years after Gregory fused three New Testament women into Mary Magdalene—and more than 450 years since religious scholars rejected this fusion confusion—the church officially corrected the mistake. Even so, the legend of the repentant prostitute still exercises a tenacious hold on the public imagination. Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese in 1988's Last Temptation of Christ and Mel Gibson in The Passion of the Christ in 2004 keep the fiction alive.
The sexy, reformed Mary Magdalene is a symbol that's proven difficult to abandon. But the visionary Mary, full of faith at the foot of the cross and messenger of the Resurrection, a founding disciple entrusted by Jesus with a special mission to spread God's word, carries the greater ring of truth.