In the post on St Mary Magdalene, I wrote that the Saint “returned to Jerusalem together with the other Myrrh-bearers,”. But what are they ? And what was the purpose of this ritual?
Well Myrrh-Bearer is the name given to the women, including His Mother, that were present at Christ’s passion and then went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. This was an important role in Hebrew society and was given to those women who “were close to the deceased”.
Myrrh if you recall, was also offered by someone to Christ in a mixture of wine to alleviate his suffering; He refused. It was a traditional herb for alleviating pain and anointing holy things.
The herb itself comes from a small bushy tree, which was at the time cultivated from the Arabian peninsula. A small cut was made in the bark, when it was harvested and the resin would leak out. That was collected and stored for about three months or until it hardened into fragrant globules.
After that, the myrrh was used raw or crushed and mixed with oil to make a perfume.
It was also used medicinally to reduce swelling and stop pain, hence it being offered to Christ during the passion.
Myrrh though being applied to the dead was a tradition that the Hebrews adhered to because of Jakob, later named Israel, and spiritual father of the nation, who made a sacred vow to God after his dream of seeing the “gateway to heaven” and then anointing the stone that served his pillow by pouring oil on top of it .
Jacob names the pillar’s locale “Bethel” (or Beit-El, meaning “House of God.) The editors of the Ryrie Study Bible comment that by pouring this anointing oil, Jacob “consecrated” the pillar, thereby rendering it an altar holy unto God and so applying the oil to the dead would be harkening to that and making the body “holy” and “fit” so it could be received by God.
And yes, Myrrh was given to Christ at his birth by one of the Three Kings as a reminder of the “bitterness of life”; obviously myrrh is pretty bitter which is why when used medicinally it is mixed with sweet wine.
Footnotes since I cannot add in link:
- More about Myrrh
- Jacob’s original anointing