|Annunciation by Paolo de Matteis, 1712.,|
The Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Despite being a virgin, Mary would miraculously conceive a child who would be called the Son of God. Gabriel told Mary to name her son Jesus, meaning "YHWH delivers". Most of Christianity observes this event with the Feast of the Annunciation on 25 March, nine full months before Christmas. According to the Bible (Luke 1:26), the Annunciation occurred in "the sixth month" of Elizabeth's pregnancy with the child who would later become known as John the Baptist.
Approximating the Vernal equinox, the date of the Annunciation also marked the New Year in many places, including England, where it is called Lady Day. Both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches hold that the Annunciation took place at Nazareth, but differ as to the precise location. The Church of the Annunciation marks the site preferred by the former, while the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation marks that preferred by the latter.
The Annunciation has been a key topic in Christian art in general, as well as in Roman Catholic Marian art, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The Annunciation in the Bible
Main article: Mary (mother of jesus)
In the Bible, the Annunciation is narrated in the book of Luke, Chapter 1, verses 26-38 (WEB):
26Now in the sixth month, the archangel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28Having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, you highly favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women!" 29But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of salutation this might be. 30The angel said to her, "Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and will call his name ‘Jesus.’ 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom." 34Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?" 35The angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God. 36Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37For everything spoken by God is possible." 38Mary said, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to your word." The angel departed from her.
A separate annunciation, which is more brief but in the same vein as the one in Luke, is given to Joseph in the Gospel of Matthew, 1:18-21 (WEB):
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was like this; for after his mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, before they came together, she was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, intended to put her away secretly. 20 But when he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to take to yourself Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She shall bring forth a son. You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins."
In Eastern Christianity Mary is referred to as Theotokos (Θεοτόκος="God-bearer"). The traditional Troparion (hymn for the day) of the Annunciation is:
Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
"Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!"
The Feast of the Annunciation is one of the twelve Great Feasts of the church year. As the action initiating the Incarnation of Christ, Annunciation has such an important place in Eastern theology that the Festal Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is always celebrated on March 25, regardless of what day it falls on—even if it falls on Pascha (Easter Sunday) itself, a coincidence which is called Kyriopascha. The only time the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated on Great and Holy Friday is if it falls on March 25. Due to this, the rubrics regarding the celebration of the feast are the most complicated of all in Eastern liturgics. The Annunciation is called Euangelismos (Evangelism) in Greek, literally meaning "spreading the Good News".
The Annunciation, by El Greco (1575)
In the Catholic Church, Anglican, and Lutheran liturgical calendars, the feast is moved if necessary to prevent it from falling during Holy Week or Easter Week or on a Sunday. To avoid a Sunday before Holy Week, the next day (March 26) would be observed instead. In years such as 2008 when March 25 falls during Holy Week or Easter Week, the Annunciation is moved to the Monday after Octave of Easter, which is the Sunday after Easter.
It might be thought that with a very early Easter, the feast of St Joseph would be displaced from 19 March to the Monday after Easter week, thus displacing the Annunciation to the Tuesday. However, in the Roman Catholic calendar, if the Feast of St Joseph, normally falling on March 19, must also be moved as a consequence of Easter falling on one of its earliest possible dates, it is moved to an earlier rather than a later date. This will normally be the Saturday before Holy Week. (This change was announced by the Congregation for Divine Worship in Notitiae March-April, 2006 (475-476, page 96).) In the Church of England, it is moved to the Tuesday after Easter Week, following the Annunciation on the Monday, which is of higher rank and takes precedence.
The Eastern churches (Eastern Orthodox, Oriental and Eastern Catholic) do not move the feast of the Annunciation under any circumstance. They have special combined liturgies for those years when the Annunciation coincides with another feast. In these churches, even on Good Friday a Divine Liturgy is celebrated when it coincides with the Annunciation. One of the most frequent accusations brought against New Calendarism is the fact that in the New Calendar churches (which celebrate the Annunciation according to the New Calendar, but Easter according to the Old Calendar), these special Liturgies can never be celebrated any more, since the Annunciation is always long before Holy Week on the New Calendar. The Old Calendarists believe that this impoverishes the liturgical and spiritual life of the Church.
The Annunciation, mural from Ubisi, Georgia,
The date is close to the vernal equinox, as Christmas is to the winter solstice; because of this the Annunciation and Christmas were two of the four "Quarter days" in medieval and early modern England, which marked the divisions of the fiscal year (the other two were Midsummer Day, or the Nativity of St. John the Baptist—June 24—and Michaelmas, the feast day of St. Michael, on September 29).
When the calendar system of Anno Domini was first introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in AD 525, he assigned the beginning of the new year to March 25, since according to Christian theology, the era of grace began with the Incarnation of Christ.
The first authentic allusions to it are in a canon, of the Council of Toledo (656), and another of the Council of Constantinople "in Trullo" (692), forbidding the celebration of any festivals during Lent, excepting the Lord's Day (Sunday) and the Feast of the Annunciation. An earlier origin has been claimed for it on the ground that it is mentioned in sermons of Athanasius and of Gregory Thaumaturgus, but both of these documents are now admitted to be spurious. A synod held at Worcester, England (1240), forbade all servile work on this feast day. See further Lady Day.
Theories on the origins of the Feast
The Annunciation is observed from very early on in the Christian calendar, probably predating Christmas. Thomas J. Talley, the great Anglican American liturgical scholar, in his definitive study "The Origins of the Liturgical Year"(2nd ed 1991, Liturgical Press) built on the work of Louis Duchesne in the 19th century in arguing that the origin of 25 March date for the Annunciation lies in Jewish tradition. Talley notes the cyclical nature of historical thinking in Jewish tradition and rabbinic thought. He notes in particular the tendency to celebrate births and deaths, beginnings and endings, etc on the same day of the year, either on 14 Nisan (i.e. Passover) or at Tabernacles in Tishri.
Talley argues that the overwhelming importance of 14 Nisan as Passover in Jewish and Christian tradition made it the obvious choice for Christians to choose as the date for the beginning of their own story - i.e. the Annunciation. 14 Nisan when translated from the Jewish lunar calendar becomes 25 March in the solar calendar. Hence the date, on which the dating of Christmas on 25 December is therefore dependent.
Talley cites an early Christian tractate, 'De solstitiia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis domini nostri iesu Christi et iohannis baptista', which, evoking the tradition that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the Holy of Holies when he was serving as high priest on the Day of Atonement, would have placed the conception of John the Baptist during the feast of Tabernacles and his birth nine months later at the time of the summer solstice. Since Luke's gospel states that the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary in the sixth month after John's conception, this would place the conception of Christ at about the time of the spring equinox, i.e., at the time of the Jewish Passover and his birth at the time of the winter solstice. This would mean that the early Christian community had modified the earlier Jewish tradition to associate the beginning of the lives of both John the Baptist and of Christ with their conception, rather than with their births. He quotes the 'De solstitiia' as explicitly stating this in an almost laconic way:
Gold saluto of Charles II of Naples, depicting the Annunciation on the reverse.
"Therefore, our O Lord was conceived on the eighth of the calends of April in the month of March, which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on the day that he was conceived on the same he suffered."
Talley notes that Augustine was also aware of this tradition and cites it in his De Trinitate IV,5. Talley also points out that a similar tradition of dating of the passion and death of Christ on April 6 in the Eastern Church gives one the date of January 6 as the day of Christ's birth, a tradition which lasted long in the Eastern Church, especially in the Jerusalem Church and is still the day celebrated as the Nativity of Christ in the Armenian Church.
The Annunciation in the Qur'an
Main article: Islamic views on Mary
The Annunciation is also described in the Qur'an, in Sura 3 (Al-i-Imran - The Family of Imran) verses 45-51:
45Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah: 46"He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous." 47She said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?" He said: "Even so: Allah createth what he willeth: When he hath decreed a plan, he but saith to it, 'Be,' and it is! 48"And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, 49"And (appoint him) a messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message): "'I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah's leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah's leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe; 50"'(I have come to you), to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was (Before) forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear Allah, and obey me. 51"'It is Allah who is my lord and your lord; then worship him. This is a way that is straight.'"
And Sura 19 (Maryam - Mary) verses 16-26; both Suras without mentioning Jesus as the son of God:
16Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. 17She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then we sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. 18She said: "I seek refuge from thee to ((Allah)) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear Allah." 19He said: "Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son. 20She said: "How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?" 21He said: "So (it will be): Thy Lord saith, 'that is easy for me: and (we wish) to appoint him as a sign unto men and a mercy from us':It is a matter (so) decreed." 22So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place. 23And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish): "Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!" 24But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): "Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee; 25"And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee. 26 "So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, 'I have vowed a fast to ((Allah)) most gracious, and this day will I enter into not talk with any human being'".
Muslim tradition holds that the Annunciation took place during the month of Ramadan.
Annunciation in art
See also: Roman Catholic Marian art
The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci (1472-1475) Uffizi Gallery.
The Annunciation is one of the most frequent subjects of artistic representation in both the Christian East and as Roman Catholic Marian art, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and figures in the repertoire of almost all of the great masters. The figures of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel, being emblematic of purity and grace, were favorite subjects of Roman Catholic Marian art.
Because the natural composition of the scene–two parallel figures, often elegantly clad–the subject was often employed in the decoration of a diptych or tympaneum (decorated arch above a doorway). In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Annunciation is typically depicted on the Holy Doors (decorative doorway leading from the nave into the sanctuary).
Annunciation by Fabrizio Boschi, 17th century
In Roman Catholic Marian art, scenes depicting the annunciations are also used to represent the dogma of perpetual virginity, via the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel that Mary would conceive a child to be born the prophet of god.
Frescos depicting this scene have appeared in Roman Catholic Marian churches for centuries, and it has been a topic addressed by many artists in multiple media, ranging from stained glass to mosaic, to relief, to sculpture to oil painting.
It has been one of the most frequent subjects of Christian art, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The figures of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel, being emblematic of purity and grace, were favorite subjects of many painters such as Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Duccio and Murillo among others. The mosaics of Pietro Cavallini in Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome (1291), the frescos of Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (1303), Domenico Ghirlandaio's fresco at the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence (1486), and Donatello's gilded sculpture at the church of Santa Croce, Florence (1435) are famous examples.
Gallery of Annunciation in art