Mary Magdalene was a Jewish woman who, according to the Gospels, traveled with Jesus as one of his followers and was a witness to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. She is mentioned by name in the Gospels more frequently than most of the apostles. The epithet Magdalene most likely means that she came from the town of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Later Mary Magdalene was conflated in western tradition with with Mary of Bethany and the ‘sinful woman’ who anointed Jesus’s feet, resulting in a widespread but inaccurate belief that she was a repentant prostitute: she became the archetype of the fallen woman (eg Magdalene Laundries)
During the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church used Mary Magdalene as a symbol of penance. It was only in twentieth century that the identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the ‘sinful woman’ was removed from the General Roman Calendar, but the view of her as a former prostitute has persisted in popular culture.