It's Blessed Virgin's Birthday / The swallows do depart
September 8: Marymas (Rosewater Cakelet Recipe | Botanicals | Original Art)
It’s Blessed Virgin’s Birthday,
The swallows do depart;
Far to the South they fly away,
And sadness fills my heart.
But after snow & ice & rain
They will in March return again.
Celebrated since before the 6th century, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary likely dates back to the dedication-feast of the 5th c. church of St. Mary in Jerusalem (built at the site of the home in which Mary was supposedly born, and later rededicated to St. Anne).1 By the 7th century, Mary’s Nativity was celebrated in Rome and featured a procession; it later gained an octave, which has since fallen by the wayside. Mary’s is one of only three Nativities celebrated in the liturgical calendar (the others being those of Christ & John the Baptist) - the narrative of her life journey is woven throughout the calendar, and her Nativity is one of the touchstones we get to hold to as we mold ourselves into this annual pattern.
Like so many Marian feasts, Our Lady’s Nativity manifests itself in the life of the Church as a harvest feast…a rural celebration of autumnal abundance that brings to the fore - at the intersection of practical farm work & necessities, the changing seasons, and theology - the contours of Mary’s pivotal station.
Through this Marian harvest feast, Mary’s Nativity tastes of grapes and smells of azure alpine flowers…a joyful song of promise and abundance, echoed in the fruit brought in with celebration from the fields this time of year.
“Some…'attribute the institution of this feast to certain revelations which a religious contemplative had; who, they say, every year upon the 8th of September, heard most sweet music in heaven, with great rejoicings of the angels; and once asking one of them the cause, the answered him, that upon that day was celebrated in heaven the nativity of the mother of God; and upon the relation of this man, the church began to celebrate it on earth.’”
William Hone (quoting earlier writers), The Every-Day Book (1835)
Marymas Rosewater Cakelets
In September, near the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, many rose bushes here in the Pacific Northwest have another bloom. Since Mary is so intertwined with roses, a whimsical rosewater delicacy is such a fitting way to "taste" the beauty of this holiday!
"The brightness of the sun is upon thy head: the beauty of the moon is beneath thy feet. Shining orbs adorn they throne: the morning stars glorify thee forever."
St. Bonaventure, from The Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary
For this vanilla/rosewater birthday dessert for Our Lady, I used a festive cakelet pan featuring flower-shaped molds. Just using a cupcake pan would work wonderfully, too!
I picked some fresh rose petals to make the rosewater vanilla icing, and the result was a fragrant, effervescent birthday treat that was a big hit with everyone. The rose/vanilla combination is so delicate and helps to keep the flavor from being overwhelmingly floral.
We added a whimsical touch by sprinkling pearl sugar over the iced cakelets - they almost look like dewdrops on flowers!
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Our Lady’s Fringes (Gentiana ciliata): In flower around the date of Mary’s nativity, this vibrant blue flower is dedicated to her.2
“The Gentiana ciliata is one of those beautiful ornaments of the alpine regions in autumn which adorn the Swiss and other mountain valleys, covering whole tracts of country in those elevated situations with a fine azure blue.”
Thomas Forster, The Catholic Yearbook (1833)
Pellitory-of-the-Wall (Parietaria officinalis): In Tuscany, Parietaria is gathered on the Ascension, then suspended on the walls of bedrooms until the BVM’s Nativity:
“In Tuscany there grows on walls a rootless little pellitory (Parietaria), with tiny pale-pink flowers and small leaves. They gather it on the morning of the Feast of the Ascension, and suspend it on the walls of bed-rooms till the day of the Nativity of the Virgin (8th September), from which it derives its name - the Herb of the Madonna. It generally opens its flowers after it has been gathered, retaining sufficient sap to make it do so. This opening of a cut flower is regarded by the peasantry as a token of the special blessing of the Virgin. Should the flower not open, it is taken as an omen of the Divine displeasure.”
Ricahard Folkard, Plant Lore, Legends, & Lyrics (1884)
Winter Wheat: Mary’s Nativity is the traditional day to bring winter wheat seed to church for blessing:
“Closely associated to the Assumption was the blessing of ‘seed and seedlings’ on September 8, the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While some regions of the country or world would have had September plantings, its3 recommendation for most places in the United States seemed misplaced since most farmers would have been harvesting at this time. The prayer of blessing spoke of the harvest in relation to Moses, who counseled the people to offer their firstfruits upon entering the Promised Land. Otherwise, the blessing begged God to protect the seeds from harm and allow them to germinate and grow. The second part of the blessing said essentially the same thing, calling on God the ‘Sower and Tiller of the heavenly word, who cultivates the soil of our hearts with heavenly tools…’ to protect the crop and make it fruitful.”
Michael J. Woods, Cultivating Soil and Soul: Twentieth-Century Catholic Agrarians Embrace the Liturgical Movement
Grapes: On her Nativity, Mary often bears the name “Our Lady of the Grape Harvest”4 ; this is the traditional time to begin the grape harvest in some regions (which of course is a symbolically important fruit), and grapes are sometimes brought to churches to be blessed on this day, and they also adorn her statues.
Will you be celebrating Marymas this year? What local bounty is available in your neck of the woods during this early part of September? Whatever it may be, it could serve as a fitting celebration for a harvest-holiday of fragrance, abundance, & promise.
Joye in the risinge of our orient starr,
That shall bringe forth the Sunne that lent her light;
Joy in the peace that shall conclude our warr,
And soone rebate the edge of Satan's spight;
Load-starr of all engolfd in worldly waves,
The card and compasse that from shipwracke saves.
The patriark and prophettes were the floures
Which Tyme by course of ages did distill,
And culld into this little cloude the shoures
Whose gracious droppes the world with joy shall fill;
Whose moysture suppleth every soule with grace,
And bringeth life to Adam's dyinge race.
For God, on Earth, she is the royall throne,
The chosen cloth to make His mortall weede;
The quarry to cutt out our Corner-stone,
Soyle full of fruite, yet free from mortall seede;
For heavenly floure she is the Jesse rodd
The childe of man, the parent of God.
Robert Southwell, “Her Nativity” (16th c.)
Adolf Adam, The Liturgical Year: Its history & its meaning after the reform of the liturgy
Ed. Rev. Matthew Russel, SJ, The Irish Monthly: A Magazine of General Literature (1897)
Philip T. Weller, S.T.D., The Roman Ritual
Joelle Mellon, The Virgin Mary in the Perceptions of Women: Mother, Protector, and Queen Since the Middle Ages