All Saints Day

November 1

Every day of the Catholic calendar honors at least one Saint.

But for all those Saints who just weren’t saintly enough to get their own day, there’s All Saints Day.

Okay, not exactly.

Medieval liturgists traced All Saints Day in the Catholic Church to the consecration of the Pantheon, originally a pagan temple built by Emperor Hadrian around 125 AD. The Pantheon honored the Roman, well, Pantheon (literally, “All Gods”.)

On May 13, 609 or 610, the Pantheon was consecrated by Pope Boniface IV in the name of the Virgin Mary and All Martyrs. The date, May 13, may harken back to the old festival Lemuralia, during which Romans remembered the dead and cast out restless spirits.

In the 730s Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel at St. Peters Basilica on November 1 and declared it an annual holy day. The chapel housed the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.

St. Peters Basilica is believed to be the burial place of Saint Peter himself. This, the most famous place of worship in Christendom was built beside the “Circus” of Caligula, where the Emperor Nero organized mass executions of Christians beginning in 65 AD.

St. Peter was crucified there (upside-down) at the site in 67 AD. Today the Vatican City’s Colonnade surrounds what was once the notorious Circus, its center marked by an enormous Obelisk brought to Rome after the conquest of Egypt.

Some historians attribute the November 1 date to the church’s desire to supplant regional harvest festival holidays devoted to the dead, such as the Celtic Samhain.

Today All Saints Day glorifies the memory of those souls, known and unknown, who have found a place in heaven.

For all those stuck in Purgatory, there’s All Souls Day

Battle of Milvian Bridge

October 28

October 28, 2010 marks the 1698th anniversary of the Battle of Milvian Bridge, a battle of two Emperors that changed the course of history.

Maxentius and Constantine were brothers-in-law, both had valid claims to the throne thanks to Diocletian’s division of the Empire in 306, and both their fathers had been previous Emperors. In fact, Maxentius’s father had committed suicide after a failed rebellion against Constantine.

In 312 A.D. Maxentius held Rome; Constantine held the north. Hearing of Maxentius’s claim, Constantine gathered his army and headed south, encountering Maxentius’s troops at the Milvian Bridge just outside Rome. The actual Milvian bridge was not functional, perhaps purposefully destroyed by Maxentius in preparation for the expected attack. But Maxentius made a grave tactical error. He used a makeshift pontoon bridge to transport his troops to the other side of the Tiber, and placed them too close to the riverbank.

Battle of the Milvian Bridge
Battle of the Milvian Bridge

Constantine, a 40 year-old veteran of campaigns against the Franks and Gauls, forced Maxentius’s army against the river, allowing them only one means of escape: the bridge. During the retreat, the bridge collapsed, and the portion of Maxentius’s troops stranded on the north side were slaughtered or taken prisoner.

Maxentius supposedly drown in the river. His body was found, decapitated, and paraded through Rome the following day.

It is said Constantine had a vision the night before of the sign of the cross, and the words “In this sign, you shall conquer.”

Constantine’s victory over Maxentius was later seen as a victory of the Christian god over the Roman pagan deities. Constantine became the first Christian Emperor, reversed the ruthless persecution of Christians that had dominated the reign of Diocletian, and implemented a policy of religious tolerance throughout the Empire.

Though not an official holiday, many Christian sects observe the anniversary of Milvian Bridge on October 28 in memory of the historic turning point of early Christianity.

Milvian Bridge: Unique Historical Moments in Christian History

Mother Teresa Day – Albania

October 19

“If in coming face to face with God we accept Him in our lives, then we are converting. We become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we are…

“What approach would I use? For me, naturally, it would be a Catholic one…What God is in your mind you must accept. But I cannot prevent myself from trying to give you what I have…”

Mother Teresa

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born in Skopje, Albania (now Macedonia) between the Ilinden anti-Ottoman Uprising and the outbreak of the First World War.

At age 8, her father died. At 18, she moved to Ireland to join the Sisters of Loreto, with whom she began her monastic training in India the following year. Agnes chose the name Teresa, after Teresa of France, the patron saint of missionaries who died in 1897 at age 24.

Sister Teresa taught students at the Loreto convent school in Calcutta for several years. On September 10, 1946, on her annual retreat to Darjeeling, she felt the call of God, telling her to work not within the confines of the school, but among the sick and poor of the streets.

She exchanged her convent habit for a simple cotton chira, became an Indian citizen, and continued to help the poorest of the poor for nearly 50 years. She established the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to help “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society…”

The Missionaries currently operate over 600 missions in 123 countries.

I don’t think there is anyone else who needs God’s help and grace more than I do…I need His help twenty-four hours a day. And if days were longer, I would need even more of it.

Mother Teresa

Today, Mother Teresa’s homeland of Albania honors her with a national holiday. October 19 is the anniversary of the day in 2003 that she was beatified by the Vatican.

“Christ will not ask how much we did but how much love we put into what we did.”

Mother Teresa

“Do not imagine that love to be true must be extraordinary. No, what we need in our love is the continuity to love the One we love.”


September 29

And when the tenants come to pay their quarter’s rent
They bring some fowle at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent,
At Christmasse a capon, at Michaelmasse a goose;
And somewhat else at New-yeres tide, for feare their lease flie loose.

Gasciogne, Posies (1575)

September 29 is the Feast Day of the Archangel St. Michael and All Angels.

The archangel Michael is featured prominently in both the Old and New Testaments, as well as apocryphal writings such as the book of Enoch. The appeal of the Archangel spread throughout Christendom during the Middle Ages. Perhaps because of his position as the leader of the army of angels in Revelation, Michael became the patron saint of knights, whom fighters called upon in times of battle.

He is also the “good guy” Angel of Death–the one with wings and a scale, not with a black cloak and scythe. Michael’s symbolic scale was believed to weigh the souls of the recently deceased, to determine their worthiness in heaven. Fittingly, St. Michael’s Feast falls during the zodiac sign of Libra, the scales.

The medieval painting above shows St. Michael's scales, weighing the soul of a tiny figure hoping to enter the kingdom of heaven. The devil weighs down the scale on the left while the Virgin Mary weighs down the right with a rosary.

Just as the figure of Michael replaced pagan deities such as the Germanic Wotan (Norse Odin) and the Greek Hermes during the conversion of Europe, his feast day on September 29 replaced nature-based celebrations of the autumnal equinox and the harvest. During the Middle Ages, the equinox fell on or around September 29.

In England, Michaelmas was one of the four quarter days by which debts and suits had to be settled, falling roughly on the solstices and equinoxes: Lady Day (March 25), Midsummer Day (June 24), Michaelmas (September 29) and Christmas (December 25).

Geese, which were fat and hardy this time of year, were often given to landlords and creditors as part of repayment. Goose became the traditional meal of Michaelmas, and a symbol of good luck; hence the saying:

Whoever eats goose on Michaelmas Day
Shall never lack money his debts to pay

In the Church of Latter-Day Saints, before Michael became an angel, he was Adam, the first man. Jehovah’s Witnesses, meanwhile, believe that Michael and Jesus are but one and the same.

Michaelmas was considered the last day to safely eat the season’s blueberries.

…We’ll pick in the Mortenson’s pasture this year.
We’ll go in the morning, that is, if it’s clear,
And the sun shines out warm; the vines must be wet.
It’s so long since I picked I almost forget
How we used to pick berries: we took one look round,
Then sank out of sight like trolls underground…

from Blueberries by Robert Frost

Feasts of the Cross

September 14

September 14 is the Triumph of the Cross, in the Roman Catholic Church, or the Exaltation of the Cross in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

It commemorates the rediscovery of the cross on which Christ was executed. The True Cross was discovered by Helena, mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, during her pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326 AD.

Constantine later ordered a church to be built at the spot where the True Cross was found. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was dedicated on September 13, 335. The following day, September 14, a portion of the Cross was placed outside the church for followers to worship.

The Cross was taken by the Persians in 614 AD. Fourteen years later it was reclaimed by Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. Today’s feast day also celebrates that recapture of the Cross in 628.

Other names for the Feast:

  • Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Creating Cross (Eastern Orthodox)
  • Raising Aloft of the Precious Cross (Greek)
  • Holy Cross Day (Anglican)
Proving of the True Cross, Jean de Colombe, 1410
Proving of the True Cross, Jean de Colombe, 1410

“Hail, O Cross! Brighter than all the stars! To the eyes of men thou art exceedingly lovely!” (Magnificat Antiphon I)

“The pieces of this true cross, which are worshipped in different parts of Catholic countries, would, (says a competent judge,) if collected in one place, amount to more splinters than might be taken from the mainmast of a man-of-war.” (Ingram Cobbin, 1842)

Enkutatash – Ethiopian New Year

September 11 (September 12 prior to leap years)


Happy New Year!

September 11th (or 12th) is New Year’s Day in Ethiopia, following the Coptic calendar and observed in the Rastafarian tradition. It marks the end of the rainy season in Ethiopia.

2000 years ago, the Ethiopian calendar fell on the equivalent of August 8 or 9. However, because of disparities between different calendars, the day now falls in September.

“The name Enkutatash was given when the famous Queen of Sheba returned from her expensive jaunt to visit King Salomon in Jerusalem. Her chiefs welcomed her back by replenishing her treasury with “Fuku,” or jewels.”

— Ethiopia, by Pascal Belda

2009’s celebration marks the year 2002 AM in the Ethiopian Calendar. The festival is also the saint day of John the Baptist.

Enkutatash is celebrated with bonfires on New Year’s Eve, dancing, singing and prayers. On September 11, 2001, Ethiopians in the homeland and around the world were celebrating Enkutatash when planes flew into the World Trade Center.

“People who passed by and did not know what we were here for thought we were celebrating the attack, but we would never do anything like that,” said Ras Delbert Christie of the Montego Bay Ethiopian World Federation. (“Rastafarians Celebrate Ethiopian New Year in Jamaica”, World Wide Religious News, 2002)

Two weeks after Enkutatash, Ethiopians celebrate the finding of the true cross, or Meskel.

Nativity of the Virgin Mary

September 8

Happy Birthday Madonna!

No, not that one.

On September 8, the Catholic world celebrates the birth of the Virgin Mary.

Nativity of Mary

Little is know of Mary’s birth from the Bible. The Gospel of James (which didn’t make the final cut) list her folks as Joachim and Anne (Hannah). The couple was childless until they were visited by an angel who informed them a child was forthcoming. Anne promised the child would be brought up to serve the Lord.

Mary would have been born “Mariam” or מרים

For two-thousand years, the Virgin Mary has been the symbol of feminine spirituality in Christian culture. While Eve was unfairly vilified as the bringer of original sin throughout the Middle Ages, Mary represented the opposite, the ultimate purity and the the bringer of God.

Pope John Paul ll in his 2000 millennium message elevates the status of both Eve and Mary. He describes Eve as the original symbol of Humanity, the mother who gave birth to Cain and Abel, and Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, as a symbol of the New Humanity; one in which All Humanity is One in Spirit with God. This statement changes the context which the Christian doctrine has relegated to women; that the Spirit of God resides equally in male and female.

Contemplation of Mary – St. Mary’s at Penn

Visions of the Virgin Mary have been spotted by worshippers throughout the Christian world. One of the most famous of these was witnessed initially by three children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

On the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, many Mediterranean and Latin-American villages carry her statue from local churches through the streets. Local Spanish processions are known as Virgin de la Pena, Virgin de la Fuesanta, and Virgin de la Cinta. Peru has the Virgin of Cocharcas, and in Bolivia it’s the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Virgin of Guadalupe procession in Bolivia (c) Reuters
Virgin of Guadalupe procession in Bolivia © Reuters

And it may not be Madonna (Madonna Louise “Like A Virgin” Ciccone)’s birthday, but singer-songwriter Aimee Mann turns 51 today…and rumor has it she’s still a Virginian.

Easter comes and goes
Maybe Jesus knows…

Aimee Mann, “Thirty One Today”

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Beheading of St. John

August 29

August 29 is the remembrance of the beheading of St. John the Baptist in the Catholic calendar.

John was the revolutionary religious leader foretold the coming of Christ and who baptized Christ in the Jordan River.

St. John enraged King Herod’s wife, Queen Herodias. Herodias was the widow of Philip, King Herod’s brother. St. John publicly expressed his contempt at the union. The Queen wanted St. John executed, but Herod refused. St. John’s popularity in Judea was too great. Instead King Herod threw him in prison.


At King Herod’s birthday celebration, his step-daughter danced for him and his guests…

…and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison.

Matthew 14:6

Said Jesus of John:

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.