I ♥ Maccabees (and the Virgin Mary)

02.08.2012 § Leave a comment

The days from August 1 to 12th are celebrated in the Bulgarian Orthodox calendar as the days of the Holy Maccabean martyrs – a woman, her seven sons and their teacher, who were all martyred in the 2nd century BC.

According to tradition, each of the Maccabean days corresponds to a month of the year, with August 1 being September, August 2 – October and so on. Legend has it that the weather on that day will predict whether its corresponding month will be mild or harsh for the crops.

Additionally, on August 1st, all the зетове (sons-in-law) of a particular household gather at their father-in-law’s house and the oldest among them chases them around and beats them with a tube stuffed with wool for good luck and to (somehow) positively affect the fertility of mares, cows and sheep. Whoever works on this day will bring misfortune to his or her household: it will burn down or a wolf will steal some of his or her livestock.

The Maccabean feast day, August 1, falls on the same day as the start of the 14-day Dormition fast. Dormition, I am told, is the Eastern Orthodox equivalent of Assumption – the August 15th feast that commemorates the death of Mary, the mother of Jesus. In Orthodoxy, Mary, referred to as the “God-bearer”, is believed to have died a natural death and been welcomed into Heaven by Christ. In contrast, Catholics believe that she ascended into Heaven without experiencing death as a mortal.

It is actually quite easy to tell the two of them apart in iconography.

When depicted in Dormition, the Virgin Mary is lying in death, with Christ shown standing at the centre of the composition holding Mary’s soul, or kneeling beside her to bless her. In very rare cases, such as the above early Renaissance painting in the St. Peter & Paul church in Veliko Tarnovo, Christ is shown caressing his mother’s face.

When dealing with Assumption, Mary is standing, gazing up into the heavens, and typically defying gravity somehow. Shafts of light and cherubim are also common.


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