BY JORDAN GIBBONS
Sept. 8 marked the birth of the Virgin Mary and the Feast of the Nativity, which commemorates her birth.
According to the Protoevangelium of James, which was written in the second century, Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, were childless for many years. Despite their faithfulness to God, their prayers for a child went unanswered. Joachim went to the temple one day to make an offering, but he was turned away by the high priest because of his lack of children. Riddled with shame, he retreated to the hill country to live among the shepherds and their flocks.
While Joachim prayed in the hills, Anna was praying at the same time at their house in Jerusalem when an angel appeared to both of them and said that Anna would have a child whose name would be known throughout the world. Anna promised to offer her child as a gift to the Lord. Joachim returned home and shortly after, Mary was born. Pious tradition places Mary’s birthplace in Tzippori, Israel.
The feast, similar to the Assumption of Mary, originated in Jerusalem. Tradition celebrates the event as a liturgical feast in the General Roman Calendar and in most Anglican liturgical calendars on Sept. 8, nine months after the solemnity of her Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8. The Eastern Orthodox celebrates the Nativity of the Theotokos on Sept. 8.
The feast began in the fifth century as the feast of the “Basilica Sanctae Mariae ubi nata est,” now called the Basilica of Saint Anne. The original church, built in the fifth century, was a Marian basilica erected on the spot known as the shepherd’s pool and thought to have been the home of Mary’s parents. In the seventh century, the feast was celebrated by the Byzantines as the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The feast is also celebrated by Syrian Christians on Sept. 8 and Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians on May 9. In Rome, the feast began to be held toward the end of the seventh century after it was brought there by Eastern monks. The feast is also included in the Tridentine Calendar.
The winegrowers in France called the feast “Our Lady of the Grape Harvest.” The best grapes are brought to the local church to be blessed and then some bunches are attached to hands of the statue of Mary. A festive meal, which includes the new grapes, is part of this day.
The scene of the feast was frequently depicted in art, as part of cycles of the Life of the Virgin. Late medieval depictions are often valuable records of domestic interiors and their fittings; at this period the setting was often in a wealthy household.
In Islamic scripture, the birth of Mary is narrated in the third sura (chapter) of the Qur’an with references to her father Imran, after who the chapter is named, and her mother, Hannah. Hannah prayed to God to fulfill her desire to have a child and vowed, if her prayer was accepted, that her child (whom she initially thought would be male) would be dedicated to the service of God. She prayed for her child to remain protected from Satan and Muslim tradition records a “hadith,” which states that the only children born without the “touch of Satan” were Mary and Jesus.
Although the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not celebrated today with the same solemnity as the Immaculate Conception, it is still an important feast, because it prepares the way for the birth of Christ.
Reach Reporter Jordan Gibbons at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @jgibbons2.