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Feasts of August
The "dog days of summer" occur in the northern hemisphere in the period between early July and early September. The precise dates vary somewhat, depending on one's location, but they are set down in the Kalendar of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer as July 7th through September 5th. The sweltering heat often experienced during the dog days was attributed by the ancients to the fact that the bright star Sirius, known as the Dog Star because of its position in the constellation Canis Major ("Greater Dog" or "Big Dog"), is in conjunction with the sun during this period. It was believed that Sirius added its heat to that of the sun, causing the sultry weather of late summer. Undeterred by the weather, and in some ways perhaps encouraged by it, the Church observes several great feasts during this period. In July, there is St. Mary Magdalene, known as "the apostle to the apostles" because she was the first witness of the Resurrection, and St. James the Greater, patron of the thousand year old pilgrimage to Compostela in Spain. In August, the English observe a harvest festival known as Lammas Day, and the universal Church observes the radiant feast of the Transfiguration and the principal feast of Saint Mary the Virgin, a feast known by various titles depending on one's dogmatic allegiance. Saint Bartholomew and the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist round out the major feasts of August.
Lammas Day was the traditional beginning of the wheat harvest in England and it was the custom to take some of the first grain which was harvested and bake it into loaves which were presented at the altar and blessed. The word "Lammas" derives from the Saxon Hlaf-masse, or "loaf mass." Like offerings of the first fruits in the Old Testament, this was a harvest festival that gave thanks to God for his bounty, and also prayed for the success of this and succeeding harvests of other crops. Lammas Day is still listed in the Kalendar of the Church of England, but it is a day which mostly goes unnoticed. It seems never to have been listed in the American Prayer Book. It might fairly be asked whether such a feast can have any relevance to an urban industrial society. Like the Rogation Days in the spring which were once marked by processions to bless the fields for planting, is not Lammas Day nothing more than a quaint reminder, even a romanticization of a bucolic past which can never be retrieved? To accept such a proposition would be to make a serious error. Click here to read more about this feast which we at Full Homely Divinity believe is worthy of revival and incorporation into official Church Kalendars.
Blessing of Loaves at Lammastide
Most gracious God, by whose knowledge the depths are broken up and the clouds drop down the dew: We yield thee hearty thanks and praise for the return of seedtime and harvest, for the increase of the ground and the gathering in of its fruits, and for all the other blessings of thy merciful providence bestowed upon this nation and people. We beseech thee to bless these loaves of bread, symbols of the first fruits of this year, and to bless all those who share them. Give us a due sense of thy great mercies, such as may appear in our lives by a humble, holy, and obedient stewardship of Creation and all its goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all glory and honor, world without end. Amen.
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The Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ
The Feast of the Transfiguration is of great antiquity, though it was not established as a feast of universal observance in the West until 1457 in the pontificate of Callistus III. It is, perhaps, for this reason, that there are few special customs associated with the feast. The feast always seems to have been observed on August 6th in the East. It is likely that this is the date of the fourth century dedication of a church on Mount Tabor, the traditional site of the biblical event. However, the earliest Western liturgical reference to the feast is found in the fifth century, when Matthew's account of the Transfiguration was the Gospel for the Ember Saturday in Lent. To make a long story short, it was the 15th century before English Benedictines were keeping it as a major feast in its own right on August 6th and it finally made its way into the Sarum Kalendar. Even so, it had not caught on too strongly since, in spite of its clear biblical warrant, it was dropped in 1549. It appears in some subsequent Prayer Book Kalendars, but without a proper collect and readings. Its full restoration in the American revision of The Book of Common Prayer in 1892 may be attributed to the influence William Reed Huntington. In addition to its celebration on August 6th, the Transfiguration is also commemorated on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday in some recent Prayer Books, such as the 1979.
The feast commemorates a truly startling event, shortly before Jesus went up to Jerusalem to enter into his Passion. Going up to the top of a mountain with Jesus, the inner circle of the disciples, Peter, James, and John, are overwhelmed with a brilliant and unearthly manifestation of their Lord in glory as he converses with Moses and Elijah about the things that are to come. For a moment, the humanity of Jesus is infused with light and it is as if his divinity has become palpable. In fact, the disciples are dumbfounded, and can barely find words with which to respond. Although they have been with Jesus constantly for three years, they still do not really understand who he is, but a voice from heaven removes any uncertainty when it proclaims, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
Orthodox Christians have focused on the light that was manifest on this occasion. The thirteenth century Archbishop of Thessalonica, St. Gregory Palamas, taught that the light which infused this scene was not natural, created, or material light, but was the uncreated light of God who is unapproachable in his Essence, but who can be perceived by his energies. St. Gregory taught that the light of Tabor was a particular manifestation of those energies which are also sometimes perceived by those who are deeply immersed in a particular method of prayer known as hesychastic prayer. Hesychastic prayer has evoked some interest among Western Christians in recent years as a result of interest in the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner"), which is at the heart of hesychast ascetical practice. The Russian spiritual classic, The Way of the Pilgrim, has popularized the Jesus Prayer among many Western Christians who seek new ways of entering more deeply into the spiritual life.
This extraordinary approach to the light of Tabor is one way of understanding the Transfiguration, but it is dependent on a theology with which most Westerners are not particularly at home. Dr. Marianne Dorman, an Anglican educator offers this meditation on the light of Tabor. Noting that the Orthodox do indeed seem to take this feast more seriously than the Western Church does, she draws on Orthodox liturgical texts and goes on to explore other aspects of this event which can both trouble and transform us in deep and powerful ways. For in the Transfiguration we are taken back in time to creation when God was the only Light, as well as forward to the City of the Lamb where, once again, God is the only Light. The Transfiguration reveals in an unmistakable way the "true light that enlightens everyone coming into the world" (John 1:9) and also foreshows the light of the Resurrection, by which all believers are raised to the light and life of the Kingdom in the Day when he shall come again in glory. Occurring as it does on the way to Jerusalem, the Transfiguration centers all of this in the Cross when even death itself is unable to quench the Light. In short, we may say that the Transfiguration is the Gospel in sum: manifesting the glory and power of God as he renews the whole creation and redeems his people from darkness and sin.
William Reed Huntington was one of the giants of the 19th century Episcopal Church. A leader and a reconciler in critical times, rector of Grace Church, New York City, and a member of the House of Deputies of the General Convention for 36 years, he was known, unofficially of course, as "first presbyter of the Church." Summers usually found Dr. Huntington on Mount Desert Island, Maine, where he was active in the church of St. Mary-by-the-Sea, which had been founded by William Croswell Doane, the Bishop of Albany, who also summered there. It was Dr. Huntington who proposed to revise the Prayer Book and he contributed two collects: the Collect for Monday in Holy Week, and the Collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration. That feast was first observed at St. Mary's in 1887 and it was while climbing nearby Sargent Mountain that he found the inspiration for the Collect, which originally read:
O God, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistering; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.
Like Jesus, Dr. Huntington sought out a lonely mountaintop for prayer. It can hardly be imagined that Peter and James and John found the experience anything but disquieting, and Jesus himself, speaking with Moses and Elijah about the trials to come, must also have had some ambivalence about the experience. Nevertheless, it is through such a transforming experience that we are at last permitted to see the vision glorious--the uncreated Light of Tabor which is the King himself in all his beauty. In view of this, time apart, on a mountaintop if possible, but wherever we may withdraw for undisturbed prayer and meditation, is surely the most suitable way of extending this feast beyond the Liturgy into our personal and family festal observances.
Just as Lammas Day marks the beginning of the wheat harvest with a special blessing of bread, the Transfiguration has traditionally marked the beginning of the harvest of fruit, particularly the fruit of the vine. The transformation which takes place as fruit develops from the bud, to flower, to ripened fruit is a natural transfiguration. The symbolism here is even more pointed with grapes which continue to be transformed from fruit, to juice, to wine, and then, sacramentally, to the Blood of Christ received in the Eucharist. In the East, it is customary to bless a variety of fruits at the conclusion of the Liturgy on the Feast of the Transfiguration. In the West, however, only grapes are blessed and it was the custom, at one time, for a handful of grapes to be squeezed directly into the Chalice, mingling the fresh juice with the already consecrated Wine of the Eucharist. Here is a blessing that may be used to bless grapes for distribution at the conclusion of the Eucharist.
Blessing of Grapes on Transfiguration
Bless, O Father, this new fruit of the vine, which has grown and ripened through good weather, warm sunshine, and drops of rain and dew: may it bring refreshment and joy to us who partake of it. As the buds of the vine have been transformed into ripe and delicious fruit, and as the juice of the fruit is transformed by thy grace into the pure Blood of Christ, so may we be transformed into the mature likeness of him who shed his Blood for us and quenches our thirst with the Cup of Salvation, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
While Full Homely Divinity is not a political website, it would be unthinkable to omit mention of the fact that on August 6th, 1945, the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. However one chooses to characterize the reasons for that act, it is unarguable that the world was transformed for ever by its blinding light. As we reflect on the meaning of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, surely this is a day when, each year, we must give thought to the stark contrast between those two transforming events, between the power that is now in our hands and the ways in which we use it, and the power that belongs to God alone and the ways in which he uses it.
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The Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin
O God, who hast taken to thyself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of thy incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of thine eternal kingdom; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for the feast, 1979 BCP)
The feast days of the saints are often referred to as their "heavenly birthdays" since they ordinarily celebrate the day when the saint died and thus passed into the new life of the Kingdom of Heaven. No one illustrates this better than the Blessed Virgin Mary. Tradition relates that, when the time of her death drew near, all of the apostles gathered in Jerusalem to be with her--all except Thomas, who was preaching the Gospel in India and was unable to return to Jerusalem in time. The apostles gathered around her in a house on Mount Zion, near the Upper Room where they had shared the Last Supper with Jesus and had also received the Holy Spirit with Mary on Pentecost. In the charming medieval carving at the left, John still appears quite youthful, standing on the near side of her bed. Peter is wearing glasses and is reading to her. When she died, the apostles carried her to a tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane, which, tradition says, belonged to Mary's family.
Some time later, the apostles discovered that Mary's tomb was empty. This was not like the Resurrection of Jesus: Mary was not raised from the dead and did not appear to the apostles after her death; nor did an angel announce the news. Rather, her tomb was simply empty and they concluded that she had been taken directly into heaven ("assumed"), in much the same way that scripture and tradition attest that the greatest saints of the Old Testament--Enoch, Moses, and Elijah--were taken up bodily. In time, Thomas returned from India and the apostles told him what had happened, together with their conviction that Mary had been assumed into heaven. According to this tradition, Thomas once again played the role of the doubter and insisted that he would have to see the evidence before he would believe. At this point, we may perhaps be forgiven for thinking that the tradition is a bit unfair to Thomas. It hardly seems possible that this apostle who had traveled far and risked much to share his faith would make the same mistake twice. Nevertheless, the tradition has him going to the tomb of Mary where, instead of her body, he found the tomb full of fragrant flowers--one version of the tradition says the flowers were roses and lilies. And then, looking up, he saw Mary herself, going up to heaven. Looking back, she saw Thomas and dropped the girdle which had tied her robe and an angel delivered it into the hands of Thomas.
It was not until 1950 that the Assumption of Mary was defined as a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, when Pope Pius XII proclaimed that "the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven." In reality, however, this dogma was nothing new. It simply made it a matter of obligation for Roman Catholics to believe what many Christians have always believed, namely, that God had "taken to himself," for eternity, the blessed woman who had borne his incarnate Son in time. All believers look forward to "the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come." At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the emperor asked the patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople so that they could be enshrined at what was then the center of the world. The patriarch replied that there were no relics because, as he said, the apostles had found that her tomb was empty and her body had been assumed into heaven: she had already gone where we all hope to go.
Some Christians have difficulty with this idea because it is not in the Bible (though, as we have already noted, the Bible does tell of others who have been assumed, body and soul, into heaven). Nevertheless, Mary's role in our salvation, and her particular relationship with God is a pivotal one on our behalf. Her "yes" to the Archangel Gabriel opened the way for God to take on our humanity, to become fully one with us in the flesh. As an ancient prayer says, God humbled himself to share our humanity in order that we might share in his divinity. In the moment that Mary said "yes" to God's plan, she was already one with God in a unique way, bearing within her body God himself. A connection such as this transcends by far the intimacy of human relationships. Indeed, it reaches beyond death--and so the Church believes.
At the Council of Ephesus in 431, Mary was given the title "Theotokos"--"God-bearer" or "Mother of God." Nestorius taught that the divinity and humanity of Jesus were distinct and never mingled, so that Mary was "Christotokos," the mother of the man Jesus, but not the mother of God incarnate. The teaching of Nestorius was rejected by the Council and Mary has been known ever since as Theotokos, in token of the fact that she carried God himself in her womb, and continued ever after to share a special union with him, both in life and in death. In the West, Mary's feast on August 15th is called the Assumption. In the East it is called Koimesis--"Dormition" or "Falling Asleep." Both titles are somewhat vague about the details. Indeed, in spite of the tradition concerning Thomas's vision of her ascent into heaven, the Church is officially silent on the way in which she got there. What is clear is that, as our Collect says, God took Mary to himself, to be with him and one with him for ever. And that is what we celebrate on this day.
There are two places in Jerusalem associated with the end of Mary's earthly life. One is the basilica in the Garden of Gethsemane (above) which houses her tomb. The other is a monastery on Mount Zion on the traditional site of her falling asleep. Dormition is the name the community of German Benedictines have given to the Abbey that crowns Mount Zion. A life-sized sculpture of the Theotokos in the crypt of the Abbey church shows the influence of traditional Byzantine iconography. In the traditional Orthodox icon, Jesus himself is depicted, standing by his Mother as she falls asleep, and holding her soul, like a child, in his arm.
Taking its cue from the experience of Thomas at the tomb of Mary, the celebration of this feast includes the blessing of fragrant flowers and herbs. Flowers have always been associated with Mary in a particular way. She is the Mystical Rose and many flowers are named for her or have popular names that relate to her. Here is a link describing many of Mary's flowers. And here is another link to a slide show with more information about Mary's flowers and Mary Gardens. A Mary Garden is a place to honor the Mother of God, as well as a place to go for quiet reflection and prayer. It could also provide a setting for your Easter Garden. Mary Gardens may be found on the grounds of monasteries and churches, and also in the gardens of private homes. They are planted with flowers, herbs, and trees that are named for Mary or associated with her and her Son in scripture and tradition. They may also have statuary, icons, and other art and symbols that provide a focus for prayer and contemplation. Ideally, a Mary Garden is enclosed to provide a place truly set-apart, but even a dish garden can serve the purpose if properly used as a means of focusing prayer.
August is the wrong time to plant any kind of garden, but Marymas would be a good day to begin planning and marking out a Mary Garden. Some plants and seeds and bulbs do best if planted in the fall, and others can be added in the spring. Here is a link that will help you choose appropriate plants for your Mary Garden. In addition to the online resources linked above, Vincenzina Krymow's book Mary's Flowers is a beautifully illustrated text about the flowers associated with Mary and their legends. It includes information about how to create your own Mary Garden. Krymow has also written a companion volume, Healing Plants of the Bible. (Click here to find both of these books in our Bookshop.)
Llandaff Cathedral in Wales has a unique variation on a Mary Garden which we like a lot: each of the niches in the reredos of the Lady Chapel has a sculpture of a flower named in Welsh in honor of Mary.
From ancient times, in every culture, herbs and various flowers have been known to have healing properties. The blessing of herbs and flowers on Marymas is a way of "baptizing" the wisdom of traditional healing and combining it with the Christian wisdom that recognizes that God is the true source of healing and that salvation (wholeness) is ultimately found only in the Son of Mary, Jesus Christ. Thus, it was customary for the faithful to bring bunches of herbs and wild flowers to church on this day. They were blessed at the beginning of the Eucharist and then taken home to be used for healing and protection through the coming year. For the renewal of this tradition, an abbreviated form of the traditional prayers are found on our Marymas Prayers page (click on the title).
In many parishes and especially at shrines, this is a day for processions and for celebrations that continue after the liturgical observances have been completed. Traditionally, working people had a holiday from work, so that there were also family celebrations. Today, we must be more creative about marking these holidays in our homes, and it may be necessary to transfer some of the celebration to the weekend in order to keep the spirit of a fully homely divinity alive and healthy. If your parish does not have a procession on this day, or if you are unable to attend, why not have a family procession? Hymn singing does not require an organ for accompaniment, and does not need to rival the Kings College Choir in order to praise God in joyful song. (You will find an assortment of good hymns on our Sing of Mary page.) Homemade banners can be as simple as strips of cloth waved by children, or as elaborate as those with greater skills can make them. Our homes can be filled with fragrant flowers and herbs. In the northern hemisphere, this is an outdoor feast. If you do not have a Mary Garden, any garden or park will serve--even the back porch, fitted out with potted plants and cut flowers and herbs, will serve quite well.
An especially good, yet relatively simple way to celebrate this feast is to have a tea party. A festive table can be set in your version of a Mary Garden, which is already full of flowers. Perhaps a few Mary flowers could be put in a small vase on the table. For drinks, we suggest teas that are scented with herbs or made entirely with herbs, as well as a fruit and herb punch from our friends at Catholic Culture that children will enjoy. For those who like old fashioned black teas, there are teas that are flavored with roses--a natural for the feast of the Mystical Rose. Earl Grey tea is another good choice as it is infused with Bergamot, a variety of Monarda, or Bee Balm, which is also known as Sweet Mary. For food, at the tea party, we suggest nasturtium sandwiches and strawberry shortcake. It is a little late in the season for local strawberries but, with modern refrigeration and transportation, it seems that almost any fresh fruit or vegetable can be obtained year-round. The strawberry was known as the "Fruitful Virgin" because it blooms and bears fruit at the same time. Another lovely European tradition says that the strawberry is sacred to Mary who accompanies children to keep them safe when they go strawberry picking on St. John's Day. The nasturtium is known as "St. Joseph's Flower." It is an edible flower and can be combined with cream cheese to make tea sandwiches. Tea should be accompanied by prayers appropriate to the occasion, such as the Collect of the Day which begins this article. Children should be told the story of Mary's heavenly birthday--how else will they learn it? Tomie de Paola's beautifully illustrated book Mary:The Mother of Jesus (available in our Bookshop) tells the story reverently and well. Finally, everyone will enjoy a walk in the garden which could easily be made into a game, with an award, such as a Mary-blue ribbon, for the person who identifies the most flowers and herbs that are named for Mary.
For more information about Mary on FHD, click on the links below and also visit our pages on Marymas Prayers and Sing to Mary
Feasts of Mary
Here is a list of some of the Feast Days which celebrate Mary and her role in our salvation:
December 8th - The Conception of the Blessed
December 12th - Our Lady of Guadalupe
December 18th - Santa Maria de la O
December 25th - The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus
February 2nd - The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple,
also known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Candlemas
March 19th - Saint Joseph (Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
March 25th - The Annunciation of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary
May 31st - The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
July 26th - The Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Joachim and Anne
August 15th - Saint Mary the Virgin
(The Assumption, or The Dormition of the Mother of God)
September 8th - The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(Our Lady of Glastonbury)
September 24th - Our Lady of Walsingham
October 1st - The Protecting Veil of the Mother of God
November 1st - All Saints' Day (formerly Saint Mary and All Martyrs)
November 21st - The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple
November 27th - Icon of Our Lady of the Sign
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The Feast of Saint Bartholomew
Twice a year, as we change our clocks between Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time, it has become customary to remind people to change the batteries in smoke detectors and other devices. In an earlier age, people took their cues for important tasks from the sacred calendar. Thus, the arrival of Saint Bartholomew's Day (or "Bartlemas" as it was known in England) was the signal for the Irish to sharpen tools for the harvest. For people whose lives were steeped in the sacred round of feasts and fasts, this was more than a rather obvious mnemonic device. As everyone knew, the Apostle Bartholomew was martyred in Armenia by being flayed alive and pictures and statues of the saint almost always show him holding the knife by which he died. In a similar vein, Bartholomew is the patron saint of a number of knife-wielding professions, including butchers, cobblers, leather workers, and tanners. But the point of all of this is that these traditions call our attention to the essential nature of a truly homely divinity, namely the ordering of all of life according to a sacred pattern that reaches into every corner of existence. The world in which we live is a sacred place where nothing is merely mundane. We may, if we choose, live by secular calendars and almanacs and, in the process, find ourselves running in endless circles that always bring us back to the place where we started. Or we may live by the sacred calendar that points us beyond the humdrum to a life that is rooted in eternal values. We may think of knives as nothing more than functional tools. Or we may see them as pieces of a rich fabric of meaning in which every person and every thing has sacred significance and power to point us above.
In the course of history, this day has been the occasion of a number of shameful massacres, putting the knife to use in a way that can hardly be justified as sacred. However, in England the name of Bartholomew is also associated with a noble ministry of healing and charity, and with other traditions to mark the waning days of summer. It began with a man named Rahere, a member of the court of King Henry I who was moved to leave the pleasures of the court and go on pilgrimage to Rome. While he was there he contracted malaria, a disease which was almost always fatal in those days. Rahere made a vow that if he recovered and returned safely home he would found a priory and a hospital. Not only did he recover, but on the way home he had a vision of Saint Bartholomew. In response to the vision, Rahere dedicated both the priory and the hospital to the saint. Henry granted Rahere land in an area called Smoothfield (Smithfield) and in 1123 Rahere began building the church and the renowned hospital which have continued to this day. Rahere served as the first prior and many miracles were reported at the shrine of Saint Bartholomew.
Having been a successful man of the world, Rahere was careful to take thought for the future of his new foundations and secured the right to hold a fair on the feast of his patron saint, bringing tradespeople, their customers, and revenue to Smithfield for three days every year, beginning on the Feast of Saint Bartholomew. The nature of the fair changed with changing times. Like other medieval fairs, it was originally a mercantile endeavor, featuring cloth, as well as other goods and cattle. Eventually, it became primarily a pleasure fair, with minstrels, curiosities, and wild beasts on display, sacred and secular drama, as well as booths for artisans to sell their wares. Ben Jonson wrote a play, Bartholomew Fair, which was set at the fair. In later years, the fair lost respectability and it was finally closed for good in 1855.
Gingerbread was a popular treat at the Bartholomew Fair, as at many medieval fairs. Gingerbread figures representing the local patron saint and other figures were decorated with colored icing and sold by hawkers. This site gives some of the history of gingerbread. And here is another site with more information and recipes about medieval gingerbread which featured honey and bread crumbs, rather than the molasses and flour which are more typically used in today's gingerbread. As Bartholomew was the patron of the honey crop, it was also traditional to bless mead on his feast day and, needless to say, to taste generous samples of the refreshing drink, perhaps using it to wash down some of Bartholomew's Pig which was roasted at the fair. Also on this day, it was customary for the almshouse connected with the ancient foundations to distribute Saint Bartholomew's dole of bread, cheese, and ale to any who requested it.
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The Feast of the Beheading (Decollation) of
Saint John the Baptist
This is a feast which is most notable for the fact of its omission from most Anglican liturgical Kalendars. It is a curious omission. Virtually all of the saints on the Kalendar are commemorated on the traditional day of their death, i.e., their "heavenly birthday." However, two saints were also accorded the privilege of being commemorated on the occasion of their nativity, or earthly birthday, Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, and John the Baptist, his cousin. This was true up until 1549 when both of Mary's feasts were dropped from the Kalendar, along with the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist. Clearly, Mary's feasts were suppressed in protestant reaction against the Romish cult of the Virgin. However, when Mary finally did make it back into the Kalendar, it was, as with most other saints, the feast of her heavenly birthday that was restored. John the Baptist, on the other hand, still has no liturgical celebration of his heavenly birthday--only his human nativity is officially celebrated. We hope that this omission will one day be rectified, and in the meantime we include the traditional day of this feast in our August pilgrimage.
St. John's Day in June (i.e., the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24th), falls quite near to the summer solstice. Several customs relating to the remembrance of the Forerunner, such as St. John's Bonfire, give Christian meaning to older customs. The bonfire which the ancients lit to celebrate the high point of the sun in the annual solar cycle, became for Christians a reminder of the saint who points us to the one who was to come to "give light to them that sit in darkness." The August feast which celebrates his "decollation" (a marvelously polite way to describe the rather gruesome reality of the sudden separation of his head from his shoulders) does not have a lot of customs of its own. However, our friends at Catholic Culture suggest a Tuscan recipe for a dish of mussels in tomato sauce, served on trinitarian triangles of garlic bread. If the image this conjures is not too unsettling to sensitive minds and stomachs, this would be a very tasty dish to serve on this feast.