Nativity of Mary

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The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Giotto - Scrovegni - -07- - The Birth of the Virgin.jpg
The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Giotto, in the Scrovegni Chapel
Padua, Italy (circa 1305)
Pure, Sinless,[1] Immaculate
Without Original Sin
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church, Some Oriental Orthodox Churches, Anglican Communion
Feast September 8 (Universal)
Attributes Birth of Mary, by her mother Saint Anne

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary,[2] the Nativity of Mary, or the Birth of the Virgin Mary, refers to the traditional birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The modern canon of scripture does not record Mary's birth. The earliest known account of Mary's birth is found in the Protoevangelium of James (5:2), an apocryphal text from the late second century, with her parents known as Saint Anne and Saint Joachim.[3]

In the case of saints, the Church commemorates their date of death, with Saint John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary as the few whose birth dates are commemorated. The reason for this is found in the singular mission each had in salvation history,[4] but traditionally also because these alone (besides the prophet Jeremiah, Jer 1:5) were holy in their very birth (for Mary, see Immaculate Conception; John was sanctified in Saint Elizabeth's womb according to the traditional interpretation of Lk 1:15).

Devotion to the innocence of Mary under this Marian title is widely celebrated in many cultures across the globe.

Traditional account

The Infant Mary wrapped in swaddling clothes. Museum of Valenzuela City, Philippines .

The "Protoevangelium of James", which was probably put into its final written form in the early second century, describes Mary's father Joachim as a wealthy member of one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. He and his wife Anne were deeply grieved by their childlessness.[5]

Pious Roman Catholic tradition places Mary's birthplace in the ancient town of Sepphoris.[6]

Feast day

Tradition celebrates the event as a liturgical feast in the General Roman Calendar and in most Anglican liturgical calendars on 8 September, nine months after the solemnity of her Immaculate Conception, celebrated on 8 December. The Eastern Orthodox likewise celebrate the Nativity of the Theotokos on 8 September.

This feast, like that of the Assumption of Mary, originated in Jerusalem. It began in the fifth century as the feast of the Basilica Sanctae Mariae ubi nata est, now called the Basilica of Saint Anne. The original church built, in the fifth century, was a Marian basilica erected on the spot known as the shepherd's pool and thought to have been the home of Mary's parents.[3] In the seventh century, the feast was celebrated by the Byzantines as the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The feast is also celebrated by Syrian Christians on 8 September[7] and by Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians on 9 May (1 Bashans, EC 1 Ginbot). At Rome the Feast began to be kept toward the end of the 7th century, brought there by Eastern monks.[4] The feast is also included in the Tridentine Calendar for 8 September.

The winegrowers in France called this feast "Our Lady of the Grape Harvest". The best grapes are brought to the local church to be blessed and then some bunches are attached to hands of the statue of Mary. A festive meal that includes the new grapes is part of this day.[8]

The scene was frequently depicted in art, as part of cycles of the Life of the Virgin. Late medieval depictions are often valuable records of domestic interiors and their fittings – at this period the setting was often in a wealthy household.

In Catholic iconography

Holy card depicting the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. University of Dayton Libraries.

Catholic devotion to Mary under this title vary by culture and geography. Medieval depictions of Mary in her infancy is often shown by her birth by Saint Anne.

In 1730, devotion to Mary in her first infancy among the Franciscan nuns in Lovere, Italy, where a wax state of the Santissima Maria Bambina was venerated and later brought to Milan under the care of Sisters of Charity. In Southern France, the devotion penetrated into the bride gift wedding custom of Globe de Marièe, where the baby Mary is placed on the cushion, representing children and fertility as one of the ideal wishes of a newlywed bride.

A similar devotion showcasing the toddler stage of Mary began to develop, mainly in former Spanish territories such as Mexico, Guatemala and the Philippines, where the La Niña Maria is portrayed as a prepubescent girl.

In the 19th century Mexico, the Conceptionists nun Sister Magdalena endorsed a devotion to the virgin infant, using the Cabeza or head of a cherubim angel from a damaged monstrance to create a Santo image. The pious devotion was later sanctioned by Pope Gregory XVI who granted indulgences to the beliefs of Marian apparition. Ten years later, another Marian visionary, Rosario Arrevillaga, began a religious order devoted to the same Marian title called the Order of the Slaves of the Immaculate Child.

Pope Benedict XV recognised the Marian image in Senglea, Malta under the title of Maria Bambina honouring the nativity of the Virgin Mary, granting the decree of its canonical coronation on 1 May 1920, subsequently crowned by Archbishop Mauro Caruana on 4 September 1921. The image which once adorned a Catholic galleon was shipwrecked in 1618 near the Dalmatian islands and was rescued to the present town, which also celebrates its feast on September 8.[9]

In the Philippines, pious Roman Catholic faithful adapted the same devotion by maintaining the devotion to the toddler Virgin Mary, dressing her in pastel colours and crowning her with a floral tiara to emphasise her virginity and innocence, as opposed to the traditional diadem often reserved to adult images of saints. Similar to Hispanic traditions, candies and cakes are popularly offered in the Virgin's honour, emphasizing her pageantific honorific title as La Dulce Maria or the Sweet Mary.

Though unrelated, certain places with Marian devotion juxtapose the Feast of Mary's birthdate with their own respective localised images such as Cobre in Cuba, (Our Lady of Charity), Pampanga in the Philippines (Our Lady of Remedies), and Velankanni in India (Our Lady of Good Health).

In Islamic scripture

The birth of Mary is narrated in the third sura (chapter) of the Qur'an with references to her father Imran, after whom the chapter is named, as well as her mother, Hannah. Hannah prayed to God to fulfil her desire to have a child[10] and vowed, if her prayer was accepted, that her child (whom she initially thought would be male) would be dedicated to the service of God. She prayed for her child to remain protected from Satan (Shayṭān) and Muslim tradition records a hadith, which states that the only children born without the "touch of Satan", were Mary and Jesus.[11]


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