25 March 2011

25 March - Annunciation; Pope Ladies

Weather: Is't on St. Mary's bright and clear, fertile is said to be the year.

If before sunrise, the sky is clear and the stars shine brightly, the year will be fruitful.

An east wind on Lady Day, will keep in till the end of May. 
Mary blows out the candle; Michael lights it again.

At Our Lady in March we put them [candles] by; at Our Lady in September, we take them up again.

As there was now some 12 hours of daylight, it was traditional to leave off the use of candles in the evening, especially by the servants; this would last until September, either the Nativity of Our Lady (September 8) or St. Michael's Day (September 29).
Today we commemorate the message of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin full of grace that the Word was made flesh, and Mary's reply: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord.  Be it done to me according to thy word."
Roger Campin, "Merode Triptych" (c1425)

From Rev. Butler's "Lives of the Saints":
THIS great festival takes its name from the happy tidings brought by the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, concerning the incarnation of the Son of God.  It commemorates the most important embassy that was ever known: an embassy sent by the King of kings, performed by one of the chief princes of his heavenly court; directed, not to the kings or emperors of the earth, but to a poor, unknown, retired virgin, who, being endowed with the most angelic purity of soul and body, being withal perfectly humble and devoted to God, was greater in his eyes than all the sceptres in the world could make an universal monarch.  Indeed, God, by the choice which he is pleased to make of a poor virgin, for the accomplishment of the greatest of all mysteries and graces, clearly demonstrates that earthly diadems, dignities, and treasures are of no consideration with him; and that perfect humility and sanctity alone constitute true greatness.

The medieval Golden Legend believed that other incidences in the Bible occurred today as well:
This blessed Annunciation happened the twentyfifth day of the month of March, on which day happened also, as well tofore as after, these things that hereafter be named. On that same day Adam, the first man, was created and fell into original sin by inobedience, and was put out of paradise terrestrial. After, the angel showed the conception of our Lord to the glorious Virgin Mary. Also that same day of the month Cain slew Abel his brother. Also Melchisedech made offering to God of bread and wine in the presence of Abraham. Also on the same day Abraham offered Isaac his son. That same day S. John Baptist was beheaded, and S. Peter was that day delivered out of prison, and S. James the more, that day beheaded of Herod. And our Lord Jesu Christ was on that day crucified, wherefore that is a day of great reverence. 

A traditional treat for today is "Pope Ladies" (also called "Pop Ladies"), a yeast bread in the (rough) shape of a female figure.  Curiosities of Popular Customs (1897) offers the following explanation of its origins:
Pope Ladies. A species of buns sold in Hertfordshire, England, on the feast of the Annunciation. This is a custom that dates from a remote antiquity. A legend thus accounts for their origin. A noble lady and her attendants were benighted while traveling on the road to St. Albans.  Lights in the clock tower at the top of the hill guided their steps to the monastery, and the grateful lady gave a sum of money to provide an annual distribution to the poor on Annunciation or Lady Day of cakes baked in the form of ladies.  As this bounty was distributed by the monks, the Pope Ladies probably thus acquired their name.  At the time of the Reformation the dole came to an end, but the local bakers continued to bake and sell buns made on the same pattern.

Other sites call them "pop ladies" (as in lollipop); they are said to be a favorite addition to the New Year's Day table.  Well, at one time, Annunciation Day was considered the first day of the year, so it makes sense that once that was forgotten, the tradition would be moved to the 1st of January.

Catholic Culture has a recipe here or use your own favorite sweet yeast-bread recipe and add a little cinnamon or nutmeg to your dough.


This is a yeast-bread and needs time to rise twice.

Heat 3/4 cup of water to about 110° F.  Sprinkle 1 package of active dry yeast into the water, let it stand for a few minutes, and then stir until dissolved.

Meanwhile lightly beat 2 eggs.  In a large bowl, mix together eggs, 1/3 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter.   Stir in the yeast.  In a medium bowl, mix together 3-1/2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 2 teaspoons of nutmeg or cinnamon.  Add 2 cups of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and and beat well until smooth. Stir in the remaining flour and beat again until smooth.  Cover bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Punch down dough (or stir it down by beating it with 25 strokes).  Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface and roll to coat (this makes it easier to handle).  Now comes the fun.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (more or less).  You can roll the pieces into balls if it will make life easier. Take one piece/ball and divide it in half.  Flatten one of the halves and shape into an oval (or a body shape) for the body.  Take the other half and divide it in half again.  Roll one of the halves into a ball and attach it to the body for a head.  Pinch off a tiny bit of the remaining half and roll into a ball to make a nose (attach it to the face).  Roll the remaining half into a cylinder about 4 inches long (these are the arms); cut in half and attach to the body, then cross the arms over the body.

Repeat with the remaining pieces.

Place about 3 inches apart on greased cookie sheets and let rise until doubled, about 30 to 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Decorate buns with currants for eyes (I don't know if Our Lady had buttons, but you could add them down the front of her dress if you like.  Or decorate the hem).  Brush with egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of water).  Bake in the preheated hot oven until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.