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FEAST - Two Related Celebrations for the Day (August 15): The Assumption of the BVM / The Dormition of the Theotokos


John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>


medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>


Mon, 15 Aug 2016 08:52:51 +0000





text/plain (1 lines)

medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Today (15. August) is the feast day of:

1a) The Dormition of the Theotokos.
1b) The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As indicated by the entry in the early sixth-century Calendar of Carthage for an August feast of Mary among the Saints, these two closely related Marian feasts are probably at least as old as the later fifth century. Narrative texts providing diverging accounts of Mary's transit are known from at least the mid-fifth century onward and these will have stimulated a desire for formal celebration, despite whatever theological reservations such writings will have evoked (e.g. a book called _The Assumption of Holy Mary_ is among the apocrypha specifically rejected in the sixth-century _Decretum Gelasianum_). A major study of these early texts, with English-language translations, is Stephen J. Shoemaker, _Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption_ (Oxford Univ. Pr., 2002).

In some places in late antiquity (e.g. Egypt, Arabia, Gaul) the feast in question took place in January; in others (e.g. Palestine) it was kept in August, though not always on this day: the aforementioned Calendar of Carthage has it on 12. August. The emperor Maurice (d. 602) is reported to have established it for the empire as a whole as falling on 15. August. In Thessaloniki, at least, the observance seems to have begun only in the time of its earlier seventh-century bishop John (610-649), to whom we owe the oldest surviving Greek-language sermon for this feast.

Differences in emphasis led early to the feast's being called in Greek that of the Dormition (_Koimēsis_; "falling asleep", a metaphor for death), beginning with Mary's death (in what became the standard view for medieval Hellenophones, her soul ascended immediately and her body was taken up after its burial), and, in Latin, that of the Assumption (a term that avoids declaring a position on Mary's physical state at the time of her entry into Heaven). As the divergent narrative constructions and theological interpretations have hardened over time, it has become customary to speak -- in a modern context, at least -- of two feasts rather than of one.

Some period-pertinent images (those of the Dormition sometimes depict Mary's entombment as well and consequently are sometimes called by that name):

a) The Dormition as portrayed in relief on three late tenth- or early eleventh-century Byzantine ivories:
1) late tenth-century; in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York:
2) late tenth- or early eleventh-century; in the Musée National du Moyen Âge (Musée de Cluny) in Paris:
3) late tenth- or early eleventh-century; in the Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA:

b) The Dormition as depicted in an eleventh-century sacramentary for the church of Verdun (Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 18005, fol. 118v):

c) The Dormition and the Assumption as depicted in a later eleventh-century sacramentary for the use of Saint-Bertin (ca. 1075; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 819, fol. 97v):

d) The Assumption as depicted in a late eleventh-century missal from the abbey of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés (Paris, BNF, ms. Latin 12054, fol. 218v):

e) The Dormition as depicted in an earlier twelfth-century gospel lectionary from the abbey of Prüm in the Eifel (ca. 1101-1133; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 17325, fol. 51v):

f) The Dormition as depicted in the mid-twelfth-century mosaics (betw. 1142 and 1151) in the chiesa di Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio (a.k.a. chiesa della Martorana) in Palermo:
Detail views:

g) The Dormition and Funeral and the Assumption as depicted in the later twelfth-century Hunterian Psalter (ca. 1170; Glasgow, University Library, MS Hunter 229 (U.3.2), fols. 18r, 19v):
1) The Dormition and Funeral (fol. 18r):
2) The Assumption (fol. 19v):

h) The Dormition (at right) and the Assumption (at left) as portrayed in relief on the lintel of the central portal of the later twelfth-century west facade (1170s?) of Senlis' cathédrale Notre-Dame:
Detail view (the Assumption):

i) The Dormition as depicted (at far right) in a later twelfth-century icon on an iconostasis beam in the Holy Monastery of the God-trodden Mount Sinai in St. Catherine (South Sinai governorate) in Egypt:

j) The Assumption as portrayed in relief by the Master of Cabestany on the later twelfth-century former tympanum (ca. 1151-1180) of the église Notre-Dame at Cabestany (Pyrénees Orientales) now in the Centre de Sculpture Romane "Maître de Cabestany" there:

k) The Dormition as depicted in a later twelfth- or earlier thirteenth-century Gospels from Cyprus or Palestine (ca. 1151-1225; London, BL, MS Harley 1810, fol. 174v):

l) The Dormition and the Assumption as depicted in a later twelfth-century window (bay 123; ca. 1180) in the cathédrale St.-Maurice in Angers:

m) The Dormition as portrayed in relief by Bonannus of Pisa in a panel of his late twelfth-century bronze doors (later 1180s) for the Porta San Ranieri of Pisa's cattedrale metropolitana primaziale di Santa Maria Assunta and now in the Museo della Metropolitana there:

n) The Dormition as depicted in the late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century Cloud Icon, from the Desyatinny monastery in Veliky Novgorod, in the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow:

o) The Assumption and other images as depicted in a panel of the early thirteenth-century Glorification of the Virgin window (bay 42; ca. 1205-1215) of the basilique cathédrale Notre-Dame in Chartres:
1) The Assumption:
2) Christ receiving Mary's soul:
3) Related images in this window are linked to here (resolution could be better, though):

p) The Dormition and the Assumption as portrayed in relief on the lintel of the central portal of the earlier thirteenth-century north porch (betw. 1205 and 1230) of the basilique cathédrale Notre-Dame in Chartres:

q) The Dormition and the Coronation of the Virgin as depicted in the earlier thirteenth century Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of Castile (ca. 1225; Paris, BnF, ms. Arsenal 1186, fol. 29v):

r) The Dormition as portrayed in relief on the tympanum of the earlier thirteenth-century south portal (ca. 1240?) of the cathédrale Notre-Dame in Strasbourg:

s) The Dormition as depicted on a detached leaf from a mid-thirteenth-century gradual of south German or Austrian origin (Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, Walters Ms. W.756):

t) The Dormition as depicted in the later thirteenth-century frescoes (either ca. 1263-1270 or slightly later) in the monastery church of the Holy Trinity at Sopoćani (Raška dist.) in Serbia:
Greatly expandable detail views are here:

u) The Dormition as depicted in a later thirteenth-century book of prayers from Brussels for saints' vigils (ca. 1276-1296; London, BL, MS Harley 2449, fol. 230v):

v) The Assumption as depicted in a later thirteenth-century breviary (ca. 1276-1300; Den Haag, KB, ms. 76 J 18, fol. 428r):

w) The Dormition as depicted in a late thirteenth-century copy of French origin of the _Legenda aurea_ (San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, ms. HM 3027, fol. 101r):

x) The Assumption as depicted by Duccio di Buoninsegna in the central panel his relatively recently restored late thirteenth-century great window (1287-1288) for Pisa's basilica metropolitana primaziale di Santa Maria Assunta, now housed in the Museo dell'Opera della Metropolitana:
The panel below this one depicts the Dormition and the panel above this one depicts the Coronation.

y) The Dormition (at center; at right, a fragment of the Funeral of the Theotokos) as depicted in the late thirteenth-century frescoes (ca. 1295) by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios in the church of the Peribleptos (now Sv. Climent Novi) in Ohrid:
Detail view:

z) The Dormition as depicted by Jacopo Torriti in his late thirteenth-century apse mosaic (completed, 1296) in Rome's basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore:
Detail views:

aa) The Dormition as depicted by Pietro Cavallini in his late thirteenth-century mosaics (betw. 1296 and 1300) in Rome's basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere:
The verse inscriptions for this cycle were composed by cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi, a brother of the donor; as this example shows, insufficient attention was given to insuring that the mosaicists would render accurately the written texts.

bb) The Assumption as depicted in the late thirteenth- or early fourteenth-century Rothschild Canticles, a devotional miscellany of Flemish or Rhineland origin (New Haven, CT, Beinecke Library, Yale University, Beinecke MS 404, fol. 185v):

cc) The Dormition as depicted by Giotto di Bondone in an early fourteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1301-1310) in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin:

dd) The Dormition as depicted in the early fourteenth-century frescoes (ca. 1310) in the church of the Dormition in the Žiča monastery in Kruševica (Raška dist.) in Serbia:

ee) The Dormition as depicted by Duccio di Buoninsegna in an upper panel on the front of his early fourteenth-century Maestà (betw. 1308 and 1311) in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Siena:
This panel is followed (at upper right in this view) by others depicting Mary's Funeral and her Entombment:

ff) The Dormition as depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1313 and 1318; conservation work in 1968) by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios in the church of St. George at Staro Nagoričane:

gg) The Dormition as depicted in an earlier fourteenth-century mosaic (betw. 1315 and 1321) in the Chora Church (Kariye Camii) in Istanbul:

hh) The Dormition as depicted in an earlier fourteenth-century pictorial menologion from Thessaloniki (betw. 1322 and 1340; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Gr. th. f. 1, fol. 5r):

ii) The Assumption as depicted in an earlier fourteenth-century copy of the _Legenda Aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1326-1350; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 185, fol. 23r):

jj) The Dormition and the Funeral of Mary as depicted in an earlier fourteenth-century French-language legendary of Parisian origin with illuminations attributed to the Fauvel Master (ca. 1327; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 183, fols. 58r, 59v):

kk) The Dormition as depicted in a mid-fourteenth-century panel painting of Czech origin (ca. 1340-1350; _The Death of the Virgin_ of Košátky) in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston:

ll) The Dormition as depicted in a mid-fourteenth-century copy of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (1348; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 241, fol. 204r):

mm) The Dormition and the Assumption as depicted in relief by Andrea Orcagna on his later fourteenth-century tabernacle (1359) in Florence's chiesa di Orsanmichele:

nn) The Dormition as depicted in the later fourteenth-century frescoes (1366-1371; restored in 1968-1970) in the church of St. Demetrius, Marko monastery in Markova Sušica (Studeničani municipality) in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:

oo) The Assumption as depicted in a later fourteenth-century copy of part of Vincent of Beauvais' _Speculum historiale_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1370-1380; Paris, BnF, ms. Nouvelle acquisition française 15940, fol. 67v):

pp) The Dormition as depicted by the Painter of Syuniq in full-page illumination in a fourteenth- or fifteenth-century Armenian-language Gospels (Yerevan, Matenadaran Ms. 6305):

qq) The Assumption as portrayed in three polychromed fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Nottingham alabaster plaques:
1) in the museum of the catedral de Cristo Salvador in Ávila de los Caballeros (fourteenth-century):
2) in the Leeds City Museum (early fifteenth-century):
3) in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (later fifteenth-century):

rr) The Dormition and the Assumption as depicted in an early fifteenth-century missal for the Use of Gand / Ghent (Valenciennes, Bibliothèque de Valenciennes, ms. 122, fol. 27v):

ss) The Dormition as depicted in an early fifteenth-century copy of Marco Polo's _Devisement du monde_ (ca. 1410-1412; Paris: BnF, ms. Français 2810, fols. 1-267, at fol. 163r):

tt) The Dormition as depicted in an earlier fifteenth-century Novgorod School icon in the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg:

uu) The Dormition as depicted in an earlier fifteenth-century mosaic (1442 or 1443) by Andrea del Castagno in the basilica di San Marco in Venice:

vv) The Dormition and the Assumption as portrayed in the central panel of Veit Stoss' late fifteenth-century polychromed wood altarpiece (betw. 1477 and 1489) in the bazylika katedralna Wniebowzięcia Najświętszej Maryi Panny (basilica-cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption) in Kraków:
Detail views:

ww) The Assumption as depicted in a late fifteenth-century breviary for the Use of Besançon (before 1498; Besançon, Bibliothèques municipales, ms. 69, p. 724):

xx) The Dormition as depicted by the Masters of the Dark Eyes in a late fifteenth-century prayer book of Netherlandish origin (ca. 1490-1500; Den Haag, KB, ms. 135 E 19, fol. 108r):

yy) The Assumption as depicted in a late fifteenth-century addition (1491?) in the guildbook of the London's Worshipful Company of Skinners' Confraternity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (London, Guildhall Library, MS 31692):

zz) The Assumption as portrayed in high relief by Tilman Riemenschneider in the central panel of his early sixteenth-century limewood altarpiece of Mary (ca. 1510) in the Herrgottskirche in Creglingen (Lkr. Main-Tauber-Kreis) in Baden-Württemberg:
Detail view:

John Dillon

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