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August 15.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Alipius, Bp. A. D. 429. St. Arnoul, or Arnulphus, Bp. A. D. 1087. St. Mac-Cartin, or Aid, or Aed, Bp. of Clogher, A. D. 506.

Assumption, B. V. M.

So stands this high festival of the Romish church in the church of England calendar. No reason can be imagined for its remaining there; for the assumption of the virgin is the pretended miraculous ascent of her body into heaven. Butler calls it "the greatest of all the festivals the Romish church celebrates in her honour." In his account of this day, he especially enjoins her to be invoked as a mediator. The breviaries and offices of her worship embrace it as an opportunity for edifying the devotees with stories to her honour; one of these may suffice.

There was a monk very jolly and light of life, who on a night went forth to do his accustomed folly; but when he passed before the altar of our lady, he saluted the virgin, and then went out of the church; and as he was about to pass a river he fell in the water, and the devils took his soul. Then angels came to rescue it, but the devils maintained that it was their proper prey. And anon came the blessed virgin, and rebuked the devils, and said the soul belonged to her; and they answered, that they had found the monk finishing his life in evil ways; and she replied, that which ye say is false, for I know well, that when he went into any place, he saluted me first, and that when he came out again he did the same, and if ye say that I do you wrong, let us have the judgment of the sovereign king thereon. Then they contended before our Lord on this matter; and it pleased him that the soul should return again to the body, and that the monk should repent him of his sins. In the while, the monks had missed their brother, for he came not to matins, and they sought the sexton and went to the river, and found him there drowned; and when they had drawn the body out of the water, they knew not what to think, and marvelled what he had done. Then suddenly he came to life, and told them what had happened to him, and finished his life in good works.* [1]

Durandus, the great Romish ritualist, anxious for devotion to be maintained to the virgin, observes, that though her office is not to be read on the Sundays between Easter and Whitsuntide, as on every other Sunday, yet there is not any danger to be apprehended for introducing it on the Sundays not appointed. A priest once did actually intrude the virgin's office on one of these non-appointed Sundays, for which the bishop suspended him; "but he was soon forced to take off the suspension, in consequence of the virgin appearing to him, and scolding him for his unjust severity."

It is stated by Mr. Brady, that the festival of the assumption of the Virgin Mary was first regularly instituted in 813; and, that the assumption commemorated actually took place, is what none within the power of the late Inquisition would dare to disbelieve; and, that since its first introduction, further, there has been a zeal displayed on this holiday, which must be considered truly commendable, in all those who believe in the fact, and are amiably desirous of convincing others. The pageantry used in celebrating this festival has often been the subject of remark by travellers, but that at Messina seems for its grandeur and ingenuity to claim the preference: Mr. Howel, in his descriptive travels through Sicily, gives a very particular account of the magnificent manner in which this festival is kept by the Sicilians under the title of Bara; which, although expressive of the machine he describes, is also, it appears, generally applied as a name of the feast itself. An immense machine of about fifty 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 twelve little children turn vertically, representing so many seraphim, and below them twelve more children turn horizontally, as cherubim; 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 seven feet of the ground, are placed twelve boys, who turn horizontally without intermission around the principal figure, designing thereby to exhibit the twelve 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 sick, and others more grievously ill.* [2]

It is stated of a poor Frenchwoman a century ago, when invention was not so quick as it is in the present generation, that finding herself really incapable, from extreme poverty, of nourishing her infant, she proceeded with it near the church of Notre-Dame at Paris, during the procession in honour of the virgin, on the 15th of August; and holding up her meagre infant, whilst the priest was giving his solemn benediction to the populace, besought him so earnestly to "bless the child," that the crowd instinctively made a passage for her approach. The good priest took the infant in his arms, and, whilst all eyes were fixed on his motions, in the act of complying with the parent's request, she escaped back through the crowd, and was nowhere to be found; so that the infant became appendixed to its rich mother—the church.

In a very rare print of the Death of the Virgin, by Wenceslaus of Olmutz, she is drawn surrounded by her family and others; St. John places a holy candle in her right hand, St. Peter with a brush sprinkles holy water upon her before the Romish church existed, and therefore before that device was contrived; and another apostle with an ink-horn hanging from his side, looks through a pair of spectacles, to assist his sight, before spectacles were invented, in reading a book which another person holds. This subject has also been represented by Martin Schoen, Israel van Mechelen, and other artists.


Virgin's Bower. Clematis Vitalba.
Dedicated to the Assumption, B. V. M.


Notes [all notes are Hone's unless otherwise indicated]:

1. Golden Legend. [return]

2. Clavis Calendaria. [return]