Painting of the Italian artist Caravaggio “Marta and Mary Magdalene.” The size of the picture is 98 x 133 cm, canvas, oil. Magdalene asylums are charitable institutions whose mission is to support the fallen women who want to return to the path of honest labor; Their name is worn by the name of the repentant sinner, Saint Mary Magdalene.
Fallen women find shelter here for a certain period and are accustomed to work that could provide them in the future. Magdalene shelters began to be established in the Middle Ages by spiritual women’s congregations, whose members were called Magdalene sisters. Such congregations began to emerge in Germany around 1250, but especially spread in France and Italy. In 1640 the French priest Jean Edd founded the “Society of the Sisters of Saint Michael or the Mother of God of Christian Love” to combat prostitution. In 1835, various institutions bearing this name and existing independently, were united in the Order of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, whose chief chief has stay in Angers.
This order supports not only the fallen women who want to return to an honest life, but also to such girls who are in danger of falling into vice; with the last goal are arranged schools and shelters for the younger female generation. At the end of 1887 the Order had 158 Magdalene shelters in all parts of the world. In Protestant countries, Magdalene asylums are established by charitable societies; they are usually led by the Sisters of Mercy. In Russia, the first Magdalene refuge was established in St. Petersburg in 1833 by the efforts of Sarah Alexandrovna Biller and Anna Fedorovna Mikhelson. It was a private institution, which was under the auspices of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna and wrought up to 40 persons annually.
In 1844, it was annexed to the newly established Holy Trinity Community of Sisters of Mercy, called “separation for the penitents”. Of the 697 women who entered this department from 1844 to 1862, they went to the places of service and were placed in the care of their relatives. 505 were married, 17 left at their own discretion and excluded from the incorrigibility of the 133 sinners. Subsequently, the office was closed.
At present, there are two Magdalene shelters in St. Petersburg: 1) the House of Mercy, consisting of a large department for adults, and from a department for minors, to which minors who are unfortunate or who are in obvious danger of falling into vice are admitted. 2) The Evangelical Magdalene Orphanage is maintained by the Committee of the General Directorate of the St. Petersburg Evangelical Hospital, under the supervision of its pastor; only fallen women of the Lutheran faith are accepted. In Moscow, women’s guardianship of the poor contains a Magdalene refuge, spending annually about four and a half thousand rubles in gold.