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Assumption Day

Assumption Day 2017 and 2018

201715 AugTueAssumption DayBY & SL
201815 AugWedAssumption DayBY & SL

In many parts of Europe and Latin America, the Roman Catholic anniversary of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven is observed every August 15th. In Germany, Assumption Day is a public holiday in the province of Saarland on the border with France and in most areas of Bavaria, which is situated in the southeastern part of Germany on the border with Austria. These are the two German provinces with a Catholic majority, and it is only in Catholic-majority parts of Bavaria, which includes both Munich and some 1,700 towns and villages.

According to Roman Catholic tradition, Assumption Day is the most important feast to “the Blessed Virgin,” who gave birth to Jesus Christ. It is not exactly the belief that Mary “ascended” on August 15th to Heaven, but it is believed that her body and soul were “assumed,” meaning taken by God into Heaven, on this day. The main point of the belief seems to be to avoid any thought that the body of Mary saw corruption in the tomb after her death.

Not until the fifth century A.D. does belief in the Assumption first appear in the historical record, and it was not established officially as a Catholic feast day until 451 A.D. at the Council of Chalcedon. The date of August 15th, however, was not fixed until about 700 A.D.

Mary is thought to have lived with the Apostle John, into whose care Jesus entrusted her as he died on the cross, and to have travelled with him to reside in Ephesus when John became pastor of the church there. Both Ephesus and Jerusalem lay claim to the death-place of Mary. Her grave has been identified by some in Jerusalem, but Catholic tradition continues to maintain her tomb is, like Christ’s, an empty one.

Famous paintings of Mary being assumed into Heaven, such as the depiction by Correggio and the one by Rubens, have served to visualise this tradition for centuries. Typically, Mary is rising in the middle on her way toward Heaven, Jesus or God the Father awaits her above, and various saints and Christians stand below to represent life on earth. Angels and cherubim also often accompany her as her guides into glory.

In Bavaria and Saarland, there are many special masses, ringing church bells, and religious pilgrimages on Assumption Day. When two churches are close to one another, they often ring their bells in unison. In some areas, there are processions and summer festivals on August 15th as well.

There are two major German Assumption Day traditions. The first says that the first-ripe walnuts and hazelnuts are to be dubbed “Mary’s nuts” and handed out free to children. The second tradition, mostly celebrated in rural areas today, has villagers go out into the fields to gather various herbs and flowers, which are then formed into bouquets and blessed by priests. Some of these bouquets are put on church altars, but others adorn the walls of homes. The most common herbs gathered include: chamomile, thyme, clover, mugwort, yarrow, and wormwood.

Some events and activities those visiting Germany on Assumption Day may be interested in include:

  • The Assumption Day services in Altotting, Bavaria. Since the 9th Century A.D., Altotting has marked Assumption Day with great solemnness. In Holy Chapel, seven kinds of herbs are tied into bouquets and blessed during Holy Mass. This is done to represent the seven sacraments or, according to some, Mary’s seven sorrows. The bouquets are later stored in the church attic to ward off sickness, thunder storms, and all manner of evil.
  • In Munich, you may wish to spend your time at the railway station since those will be the only shops open at this time. Beergardens and authentic Bavarian restaurants will also be open for service. A visit to the Frauenkirche cathedral and a walk outside on this day when Munich residents say summer ends would also be appropriate.
  • In Saarland, since Assumption Day dates from Roman times, you may wish to visit the Roman Villa Borg, an unearthed and reconstructed 6th-Century Roman village. Also consider visiting the art museum in the Palace Church in Saarbrucken, which specialises in religious artwork from Medieval times up to 1900.

Visiting Bavaria and Saarland on Assumption Day will mean that most businesses are closed, but public transport, tourist zones, and diners are often open. There are still many activities to enjoy, and all will be open just before and after Assumption Day.