By Michael Hoffman
We often hear the term “medieval mind” employed as a calumny by the enthusiasts of modernist change-for-the-sake-of-change, and devotees of scientism (as distinguished from science; note the difference). Some Protestants are also guilty of imagining that the “medieval mind” connotes a woeful ignorance of Holy Scripture and an inclination toward superstition, which may have been true in its fading years, but not at its height, and it is to that promontory that we draw your attention.
The Middle Ages was an epoch that spanned the 900s to the early 1400s and across those five centuries there was much that was altered (think of the degree to which America has changed in less than half that time, 1776 to 2022). The early medieval period was fiercely opposed to the Money Power as personified by the example of Saints Edward the Confessor, Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, and the lay poet Dante Alighieri. The Bible was the central chart of spiritual navigation and daily life; the latter with an impact we can scarcely imagine today, in part because we have lost the sense of the pageantry of “the holy days,” wherein we awaken ourselves to a perennial reality.
All days are sacred, New Age believers will respond. But if that claim is anything more than psychobabble, we say, prove it. Are each of your days consecrated and set apart in all their twenty-four hours? The medieval mind being far less utopian understood that the charge in Genesis that Adam would earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, signified that much of our daily routine would be consumed with labor that is not always edifying. For this reason many civilizations set aside holy days as particular times. First, for calling to mind the event that hallowed the time, and then through contemplation and commemoration “slowing” time during the sacred period, to dwell within the memory that had marked it and thereby render it a lived experience.
What remains of our holy days now — reduced to Christmas and Resurrection Sunday (“Easter”) — has decayed, and as many have lamented, been “commercialized.” In some cases souls are so put upon during “the holidays” that the sacred period becomes more a source of depression than renewal and blessing.
The medieval calendar was chock-a-block with a plenitude of sacred times of the season, now forgotten. One of those was observed today, March 25, as “Lady Day” (the Feast of the Annunciation).
Eleanor Parker, an Oxford University medievalist, recounts Lady Day and its paradoxical counterpart, Good Friday, coming as it did in the midst of Lent, the cycle that re-lives the 40 days of Jesus in the desert, as well as His “Passion,” His arrest (Holy Thursday), execution (Good Friday), sojourn in Hades (Holy Saturday—which in Greek denotes the underworld of the grave, not “hell”)—and His Resurrection (“Easter”), on the First Day of the Week, henceforth forever The Lord’s Day.
Lady Day is not a rival or competition for the Lord’s Day, though much that is profound and blessed is lost when it is subsumed, as it was by the Reformation. In our day it has been eclipsed to the point of invisibility by a secularized Churchianity in which the Ecclesia has abandoned its mission as a militant counter-culture — a Sign of Jonas held aloft in the face of a mad age of murder and carnality cloaked in the Jim Dandy platitudes of humanism and “luhv.”
Eleanor Parker: “In patristic and medieval tradition, March 25 was considered to be the historical date of the Crucifixion.”
As noted, March 25 was also regarded as the date of the Annunciation, when the humble Israelite woman Mary responded to the Angel Gabriel’s offer to become the mother of the Lord of Creation. To which she responded, “Be it done unto me according to thy Word,” and with that fateful obedient assent, conceived the Christ child by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Parker continues, “The conjunction of the two dates (the Crucifixion and the Annunciation) was considered to be both deliberate and profoundly meaningful. The date of the feast of the Annunciation was chosen to match the supposed historical date of the Crucifixion…in order to underline the idea that Christ came into the world on the same day that he left it: his life formed a perfect circle. March 25 was both the first and the last day of his earthly life, the beginning and the completion of his work on earth. The idea goes back at least to the third century. Augustine explained it in this way:
“He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since.” (End quote from St. Augustine).
“According to some calculations, 25 March was also considered to be the eighth day in the week which saw the creation of the world, as well as the date of certain events from the Old Testament which prefigured Christ’s death, including the sacrifice of Isaac and the crossing of the Red Sea. It is the single most significant date in salvation history, and for that reason has also made it into some fictional history too: those of you who are Tolkien fans will know that the final destruction of the Ring takes place on 25 March…
“(I)t’s the link between the Annunciation and the Crucifixion which has most fascinated theologians and artists over the centuries. Here's one beautiful passage from the Old English Martyrology, in its entry for March 25, explaining what was by the ninth century the common understanding of the date: ‘On the twenty-fifth day of the month Gabriel first came to St Mary with God’s message, and on that day St. Mary conceived in the city of Nazareth through the angel’s word and through the hearing of her ears, like trees when they blossom at the blowing of the wind…’
“At the Annunciation Mary becomes like the blossoming trees in spring, and like the tree which became Christ’s cross: she bears new life to the world. The parallel reflects the ancient tradition which links Mary with scriptural images of the tree or the vine, frequently used in the liturgy on feasts of the Virgin…She is the root of Jesse from which grows the rod…most honored among human beings and closest to Christ, as the tree of the cross is the most honored among creatures of the natural world.
“With Mary’s Ave from the angel at the Annunciation, began the work of redemption completed on Good Friday; and so, as many medieval writers note, her answer makes her the inverse of Eva, the means by which Eve’s sin is turned to good.
“…The traditional pairing of the Annunciation and the Crucifixion means that the two scenes are often depicted together in medieval art…The first example from England is probably the one found on the eighth-century Ruthwell Cross, where a depiction of the Crucifixion was added directly below the Annunciation scene…Some six hundred years later, artists were still finding new ways to explore this conjunction.
“Towards the end of the fourteenth century, the idea inspired the development of a distinctive and beautiful image found almost uniquely in English medieval art: the lily crucifix. This iconography combines the Annunciation and the Crucifixion by depicting Christ crucified on a lily amid an Annunciation scene. The lily is the symbol of Mary, of course, and is often referenced in depictions of the Annunciation and in poetry about the Virgin; this idea grafts that flower imagery into the tradition which links Mary to the root of Jesse and the tree of the cross. (T)here’s a gorgeous example of a lily crucifix from a Welsh manuscript, the Llanbeblig Hours, made at the end of the fourteenth century…”
Although the Annunciation and the Crucifixion are closely linked, they don't often occur on the same (calendar) day. Good Friday last occurred on March 25 in 2016. Counting from 2022, it will not occur again for 135 years, in 2157 A.D.
Good Friday fell on March 25 in 1608, when John Donne wrote a poem on the occasion: “Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day 1608,” from which we extract this excerpt:
“All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angel’s Ave and Consummatum est.”
Parker: “The overlapping cycles of the church's calendar offer many such conjunctions, which change every year as the fixed cycle intersects with the variable one…(W)ith the kind of approach Donne exemplifies here (these coincidences) can be read in meaningful…ways. Through such eyes, a meeting of feasts…is not exactly a coincidence, but perhaps one of those ‘occasional mercies’ of which Donne writes elsewhere: ‘such mercies as a regenerate man will call mercies, though a natural man would call them accidents…’
“(T)hese coincidental graces can be found, as beauty and meaning are produced by the changing juxtaposition of feasts and fasts, the fixed and the moveable seasons. Lent, Easter, Ascension Day, Whitsun (Pentecost) — all can at various times coincide with different fixed occasions, different stages in the seasons of spring and summer, and the experience of each can accordingly change from year to year. As the cycles intersect in different ways, familiar texts and images breathe new life into each other, and bring forth new and different fruit (to borrow the Old English Martyrology’s metaphor for Mary’s having conceived by the Holy Spirit). In such ways the interlocking wheels of the calendar give cosmic meaning to the cycle of our own days, months, and years.”
There has been much publicity for the “wonders of the Mayan Calendar” and comparatively little for the cosmic Christian calendar and its mysteries and wonders, a species of neglect and oversight which has stunted our vision and impoverished our walk on earth in this, the time of our lives.
“On the seventh day God ended his work (that is, on 24 March),…The eighth day…was 25 March. That day was marked out in God's providence. On that day the angels were created; on that day the archangel Gabriel was sent to St Mary…” And on March 25 Jesus died for the salvation of humanity.
This calendar is richly woven with the history of our people. The 18-25 of March holy days were observed in early medieval England, partly due to the influence of the early Anglo-Saxon historian, Venerable Bede, who lived circa 673-735. He penned a textbook on the subject which is worthy of study: The Reckoning of Time (Liverpool University Press  translated by Faith Wallis).
Eleanor Parker: “25 March was…the central turning-point around which all time and space revolved….The exactness of this date might raise a smile, and it’s a way of thinking about time which is foreign to a modern secular mindset; the day derives its meaning not only from a historical event but also from its place in the interlocking cycles of lunar, solar, seasonal…calendars, which were all understood to be imbued with purpose by the divine Creator who was their source. The complexity of the calculations (much more intricate than I can attempt to describe here) is so impenetrable that you can understand why today people prefer to believe that the date of Easter was just ‘stolen’ from some equinox-loving pagans — a much more immediately accessible explanation, if unfortunately wrong!
“Scripture and science are in harmony here; every aspect of the natural world is filled with meaning, and reveals God's creative purpose. This is a view of the world which sees nothing — no date, no rule, no custom — as meaningless or random, for those who have the will to understand…
“It strikes me (once again) that however many people today, in their ignorance of all but the broadest stereotypes about the Middle Ages, stigmatize the medieval church as…rigid, and oppressive, it was in some ways immeasurably more humane and creative than its modern successors….it was able to articulate a belief that material considerations, convenience, and economic productivity are not the highest goods, and not the only standards by which life should be lived.”
Pope Francis chose today, March 25, to "Consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary." Coincidence?
This stunt is by the pontiff who certified Joe Biden, who supports legalization of abortion up to the ninth month of pregnancy (i.e. infanticide), as a "good Catholic."
For Further Research
Eleanor Parker’s “Clerk of Oxford” blog entries for the following dates are profusely illustrated and contain additional valuable information
For March 25, 2017:
For March, 2016:
Eleanor Parker can be followed on Twitter:
Also cf. Benedictine Abbot Dom Guéranger’s multi-volume, The Liturgical Year
Rev. Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints (caveat: editions after 1956 may be redacted)
Michael Hoffman is the author Usury in Christendom: The Mortal Sin that Was and Now is Not (2013) and the editor of Revisionist History® newsletter.