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Assumption of the Virgin Mary

Assumption of the Virgin Mary 2017 and 2018

Commemorating the death of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her bodily assumption into Heaven, the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is celebrated every year on August 15 in Austria.

YearDateDayHoliday
201715 AugTueAssumption of the Virgin Mary
201815 AugWedAssumption of the Virgin Mary

The origin of this popular feast is actually uncertain and believed to be more the remnant of a church dedication than the actual date on which Mary’s body was taken up to heaven. Regardless of the answer now lost to history, the feast is recorded as originating during the time of the Council of Ephesus. The month of its celebration has also been widely varied with Palestinians celebrating in August and the Gauls celebrating in January. In Rome, the seat of the Catholic Church, the first feast of the Assumption was held on the 1 of January, seven days after the birth of Christ.

In 377, Saint Epiphanius of Salamis stated that no one knew if Mary had died or not to denounce the popular texts circulating that all claimed to be the true story of Mary’s death. With the passage of time came a slowly altered idea of what, exactly, had happened to the Virgin Mother. In the 5th century, the Transitus Mariae described the apostles transcending to the clouds where Mary’s deathbed was, heavily hinting that her physical body was up in the sky. John of Damascus, who lived between 675 and 749, was the first church authority to advocate Mary’s assumption, and his followers spread the doctrine.

By the time the 7th century rolled around, the story had changed even further. Initially, Mary had died in Jerusalem. Now, St. Thomas was purportedly on his way to pay homage to Mary’s body, but as the tomb was reopened, it revealed no body and a pile of empty clothes. Other versions had her tossing her girdle back to Earth as a sign she had ascended with her clothes. This version of the story was the one that carried it through popular teachings and, in the 8th Century, Pope Leo IV declared the feast to be official.

In Austria colourful processions featuring fireworks is the favourite way to celebrate the Feast. Usually, a statue of Mary decorated with flowers is carried through a town to a statue of Christ. Once reunited, the statues are inclined to each other three times.  As a national holiday, businesses are closed except for the more touristy areas.