*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 1st of November 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Last night was All Hallow’s Eve- or “Halloween,” making today All Hallow’s Day- “a “Hallow” is a saint- and so last night was the eve of All Saints Day and today is All Saints Day- an ancient holiday on the calendar and a feast day that survived the Reformation in some places- it is not uncommon to see the day recognized in Lutheran and Anglican churches- it was a favorite of John Wesley and so is celebrated in the Methodist Church.
Commemorating the dead, giving thanks for them, praying for them, and sometimes praying to them is a universal human practice. So it is no surprise that the early church would take these commemorations and use them to remember those who had gone onto eternal life in Christ. In Rome (necessary because the Church grew up in the Roman Empire's days), the Lemuralia feast was held in May. It was a day when it was believed the spirits of the dead roamed the earth and could be exercised by sacrifices and ceremonial washing.
As early as the 4th century, we hear sermons preached about a day for the dearly departed in the church to be held on May 13th as a counter-offense to the feast of Lemuralia.
In 609, Pope Boniface IV dedicated the pantheon (given to him by Emperor Phocas) on this day, the 1st of November, to Mary and all the Martyrs.
It was Pope Gregory III in 732 who, while dedicating a Chapel in the Vatican on November 1st, dedicated it to all the departed Saints. He then asked Louis the Pious to proclaim that day the official day of the feast of All Saints across the empire. We have a record of Alcuin (one of the foremost scholars of the Carolingian Renaissance- that’s Medieval) celebrating this day in 800. By 837, Pope Gregory IV ordered its general observance across the church.
The move from May to November might make sense, as Roman festivals were not as common as those practiced by other European pagan religions in the Middle Ages. November 1st was celebrated amongst the Celts as Samhain- the official beginning of winter. Samhain was the god of the dead, and his name means (Summer’s end). On the eve of Samhain, it was believed that malevolent spirits wandered about, and you might dress up as an animal to confuse the spirits (perhaps this is why we dress up for Halloween?).
There were also old Roman holidays associated with the turn into November- the celebration of Feralia was to honor the dead, and there were celebrations of Pomona- the goddess of the harvest. That’s right- even those harvest festivals have pagan roots!
In the Middle Ages, especially in the wake of the Black Death, that holiday- All Hallow’s Day and Eve would become associated with the artistic tradition of “memento mori”- that is, “remember you are going to die.” You would be reminded of pictures of the dead- skeletons and the like. Getting spooked was a legit Christian practice to remember your mortality. This has been especially strong amongst Mexican Catholics and the tradition of the Die De Los Meurtos and the making of candy skulls.
All Saints Day should not be confused with All Souls Day, the 2nd of November. It would develop as a general day to remember and pray for those who had died but had not yet been sainted- that is, those in Purgatory. That is, therefore, a specifically Catholic practice.
Whether you celebrated or not- today need not be spooky, but a day to remember those who died in the faith- if you’ve got a steaming service for music, why not check out St. Paul’s Cathedral Choirs rendition of “For All The Saints”- a rollicking tune to by which to remember the dead.
The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Ephesians 1:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 1st of November 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who, as a child, continually dressed as a bearded pastor and coffee roaster… Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by who, as a kid, dressed up as, among other things, Roger Rabbit, Vanilla Ice, and the Unabomber… for reals. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.