15 August 2012

15 August - Assumption

Weather: On Saint Mary's Day, sunshine brings much good wine. 
[Which is especially enjoyed in my backyard on a lazy August afternoon.]

If the sun shines on Mary's day, that is a good token, and especially for wind.

Rain on St. Lawrence is late but good            (August 10)
Rain on Assumption is also late but good     (August 15)
But if St. Bartholomew rains, slap him!         (August 29)
[once the harvest begins, we need dry weather.  A late rain can mildew the plants in both field and barn]

Farming and Gardening:
When Mary left us here before,
The Virgin's Bower begins to blow;

The Holy Queen of Heaven gives us the first nuts.


Today is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven – another joyous festival of the Church.

Hail, O Queen of Heaven!
Hail, O Lady of Angels!
Root and Gate from whom the world’s Light was born;
Rejoice, O Glorious Virgin,
Fairest of all who are fair.
Farewell, most beautiful maiden,
And pray for us to Christ.

V. Allow that I may praise thee, O sacred Virgin.
R. Against thy enemies give me strength.

Let us pray: Grant us, O merciful God, strength against all our weakness; that we who celebrate the memory of the holy Mother of God, may by the help of her intercession rise again from our iniquities.  Through the same Christ, our Lord.  Amen.


This is also known as Festum Herbarum or the Feast of Herbs.  Traditionally, herbs, grains, and other useful plants are blessed today.

Naogeorgus, in what the author of the Perennial Calendar calls his “churlish and ill-timed raillery” had much to say about the feast of the Assumption:

“The blessed virgin Mary’s feast has here its place and time,
Wherein departing from the earth, she did the heavens climb;
Great bundles then of herbs to Church, the people fast do bear,
The which against all hurtful things, the Priest does hallow there.
Thus kindle they and nourish still, the people’s wickedness,
And vainly make them to believe, whatsoever they express;
For sundry witchcrafts, by these herbs are wrought, and diverse charms
And cast into the fire, are thought to drive away all harms,
And every painful grief from man or beast, for to expel,
Far otherwise than nature, or the word of God does tell.”

The ‘witchcrafts’ to which he refers are the subsequent uses of the plants in the daily lives of the faithful.  John S. Stokes, Jr., in his article, “The Blessing of Mary Gardens as Holy Places” says, “Among the most important of Plant blessings were those at the time of harvest, beginning with those on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, on August 15th.  On this feast the first fruits of healing and life-sustaining herbs, grains and other plants were brought to Mass by the faithful tied in Assumption Bundles, and placed on the altar in special processions. Then, after blessinq during the Mass ceremony, they were taken home for reservation as blest holy objects for use - much as palm fronds blessed and distributed on Palm Sunday are used today.”

Some of the uses in Naogeorgus’s time (16th century) would, no doubt, resemble superstition, such as placing blest St. John’s Wort around an infant’s cradle to protect it from being stolen by fairies or burning petals of blest flowers during a thunderstorm.

[Don’t feel smug.  There are still people today who believe that the positions of the planets and the stars – as seen from earth – have the ability to regulate daily human activity, and won’t make a move without checking ‘their’ horoscope.]

But the reason for blessing them goes deeper than mere superstition. “Through the blessings bestowed upon them, their misuse is atoned for, their healing power enhanced, and their growth commended to God's protection."  According to Stokes, these should be, “placed in prominent positions in home or workplace - as a focus for prayers for protection from evil spirits and as reminders to prayers for physical and spiritual healing and well-being.”

Not even Naogeorgus could object to reminders for prayers.


A study made in the southeastern tip of Poland lists the plants which go into Assumption Bouquets and the beliefs surrounding their uses.  The author photographed several such bundles, which might give you an idea for your own bouquet.

Lithuanian tradition says that if you don’t hold herbs in church today, the devil will give you his tail to hold instead.  For more Lithuanian customs, see "Herbal Holyday – August 15."

In “Travels through Sicily, Malta, and Lipari’, a certain Mr. Howel facetiously described how the festival was celebrated in 18th century Messina:
“An immense machine of about 50 feet high is constructed, designing to represent Heaven; and in the midst is placed a young female personating the Virgin, with an image of Jesus on her right hand; round the Virgin 12 little children turn vertically, representing so many Seraphim, and below them 12 more children turn horizontally, as Cherubims; lower down in the machine a sun turns vertically, with a child at the extremity of each of the four principal radii of his circle, who ascend and descend with his rotation, yet always in an erect posture; and still lower, reaching within about 7 feet of the ground, are placed 12 boys, who turn horizontally without intermission around the principal figure, designing thereby to exhibit the 12 Apostles, who were collected from all corners of the earth, to be present at the decease of the Virgin, and witness her miraculous assumption. This huge machine is drawn about the principal streets by sturdy monks; and it is regarded as a particular favour to any family to admit their children in this divine exhibition, although the poor infants themselves do not seem long to enjoy the honours they receive as Seraphim, Cherubim, and Apostles; the constant twirling they receive in the air making some of them fall asleep, many of them vomit, and several do still worse!"

[Southern Italians are so exuberant in their celebrating]

Go thou and do likewise.


Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1670.  The Assumption of the Virgin.  Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Woodcut of the Assumption from The Golden Legend, 1489.