The Three Marys at the Sepulchre – attributed to Hubert van Eyck and/or Jan van Eyck, 1420-1440
In Mark’s Gospel, three Marys go to the tomb: Mary Magdalene, Mary of Jacob and Mary Salome the Disciple. They go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body and find him absent:
16 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
In the Eastern Church, the women are numbered among the Myrrhbearers – all those who were ‘involved in the burial or who discovered the empty tomb following the resurrection of Jesus’. The second Sunday after Easter is the ‘Sunday of the Myrrhbearers’.
van Eyck’s painting shows an astonishing scene; the guards are asleep, an angel guards the tomb, the Christ is risen. I like these stories, because I like the idea of the women going together, to fulfill their duties. I imagine them rising early, walking in silence, astonished beside the grave. As ever, the angel says ‘Do not be afraid’. But I would be terrified too.
The Women at the Tomb, Icon from the Church of the Transfiguration, Kizhi Pogost, Russia