The laundries at the centre of the inquiry take their name from St Mary Magdalene, otherwise known as Mary of Magdala, whose name has attracted not just rival spellings but contrasting histories.
For centuries, the woman who supported Jesus at his crucifixion was portrayed as a reformed prostitute, but the Catholic Church admitted in 1969 that this had been an error of interpretation.
The notion that Mary was a “fallen” woman inspired the use of her name for the laundries, initially known as “Magdalen Asylums”. The alternative spelling – with a second “e” – has come to dominate contemporary references to the saint. The Irish Times house style is to name the institutions the Magdalene laundries.
This is also the practice of groups such as Justice for Magdalenes, although the interdepartmental committee opted for “Magdalen”, a spelling also preferred by historians.