08 September 2011

8 September - Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Weather: As the weather is on the day of Mary's birth, so it will be for four weeks.


"This is a festival celebrated with great joy by the church for the birth of the spotless, holy, beautiful, blessed, and glorious Mary. As the Lily among Thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters: thou art all fair, and there is not a spot in thee"—Cant. iv. 7.

Other than that effusive description of the day from The Perennial Calendar, there is not a whole lot about today in the almanacs.  The old Roman Martyrology writes, "The Nativity of the most Blessed and ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God" before moving smartly along to St. Adrian.

The Golden Legend, which hardly ever misses a chance to embellish a feast-day story, spends a goodly amount of time on the events leading up to her birth (which more properly belong to the feast of her Immaculate Conception on 8 December) and then says "And Anne conceived and brought forth a daughter, and named her Mary."  That's it.

Indeed, most of what is 'known' of Mary's birth comes from two sources, both apocryphal: "The Protoevangelium of St. James" and "The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary".  They make interesting reading, if nothing else, but medieval artists delighted to illustrate each part of the story, as taken from these manuscripts, and several Books of Hours include illuminated episodes as part of the Hours of the Virgin, such as this one here:

Unlike Our Lord, Mary was born in the family home, and the illuminators reflected that, giving us glimpses of the world they knew.  So there is Saint Anne, well-coiffed, resting against her pillows in a handsomely appointed bed (check out that carved headboard) while a neat and trim waiting-maid brings a bowl of something nourishing to revive her after her efforts.

The new-born infant is held by another well-dressed serving-woman, perhaps the midwife, the sleeves of whose gown are rolled up over her elbows to leave her arms bare.  In preparation for the imminent baby-bath, her feet and legs are bare as well, and her gown turned up over her knees.  This woman has bathed babies before!

A less trim (and slightly sluttish) young woman, probably the scullery-maid, uses her over-gown to hold the bucket of warmed water which she pours into the wooden tub.  Her face is rather sour, so she may be the maid who jeered at her mistress Anne for her barren state.

And the baby looks like she already has a vigorous grasp of the loose tendril of hair escaping from the coif of the woman holding her, all part of the details that any parent would recognize.

This is one of only three birthdays celebrated by the Church, the other two being those of Our Lord and St. John the Baptist, and it should not pass with nothing to mark it.  So read the page on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary at Fisheaters and also on Catholic Culture.  Both have suitable prayers to honor Our Lady (The Litany of Loreto, the Little Crown) and suggestions for activities.  I like the idea of a birthday cake, myself.

And this adorable image is  
Maria Bambina

about whom you can read at the History and Devotion to Maria Bambina page.