FEAST OF THE
ASSUMPTION - 15th August
On the fifteenth
of August, in the middle of the month when half of Spain already
seems to be on their annual holidays, there is a national bank holiday.
Its to celebrate the feast of the Assumption, an event which,
just like the Immaculate Conception back in December, is problematic
for many non-Catholic Christians, and similarly centres on the Virgin
Mary, the mother of Jesus.
problem with Mary is that the New Testament is frustratingly short
on detail about her, yet for Catholics she is a key figure: she
was, after all, the woman chosen to bear the Son of God. What happened
to her at the end of this great story? Surely she couldnt
just fade into the background? The Bible has little to say, so unsurprisingly
various stories concerning Marys later life appeared. One
of the best known is told by Saint John of Damascus, who recounts
that, a few years after Christs Ascension, the Apostles witnessed
Marys death and burial, but that they subsequently found her
tomb empty.Their conclusion?
That she must have been taken physically up to heaven.
we consider how widely dispersed are the relics and tombs of all
manner of saints, its strange that nowhere in Christendom
claims to be her burial place, nor even to have any relic of her.
Can we conclude that there werent any to have because, as
St John of Damascus wrote, she was taken up to heaven? Certainly
there has long been a widespread belief in the idea and in 1950
Pope Pius XII, after weighing up the evidence and consulting with
bishops worldwide, decreed that, having completed the course
of her earthly life, (she) was assumed body and soul into heavenly
glory and that this belief was infallible dogma.
is a neat avoidance of saying Mary actually died, and August 15th
was for a long time the feast simply of Marys dormition,
or falling asleep, not her death. But what evidence could Pius use
to take his decision? He certainly did not use any of the various
apocryphal accounts that exist, not even that of John of Damascus.
The reasoning seems to be similar to that which justifies the Immaculate
Conception, ie the Bible implies her Assumption. If she was conceived
without sin, the argument goes, she should not be subject to the
physical corruption of her body in the grave that all sinners undergo.
It was, moreover, surely impossible to imagine Jesus allowing the
body of the woman that carried Him in her womb to decompose. It
was only fitting, therefore, that her body should have the special
privilege of going to heaven along with her soul, thus also providing
a useful symbol for the future: her Assumption reassures believers
that one day they too will be physically raised up from the grave
and taken to heaven. The whole idea appeals to the need in many
people to believe in immortality, and in fact the feast is one of
the most joyous and optimistic in the calendar, because it shows
Gods gift to us of salvation and glory in heaven.
If you find
all this hard to follow, well, says the Roman Catholic Church, we
were founded by Christ and we are guided in our teachings by the
Holy Spirit, so if we state something to be definitely true, a dogma,
then it must be true, even if not explicitly stated in the Bible.
Its true because we say so, in other words.
in Cómpeta and Almuñécar
in Cómpeta on Assumption day they busy themselves with more
worldly concerns, by celebrating their wine night or
noche de vino. In fact things get under way much earlier
in the day: theres a Mass in honour of the Virgin, the villages
patron, theres a demonstration of grape-pressing (the grape
being the muscat or moscatel variety that grows so well
here), plus theres free wine-tasting, free food... Its
perhaps not surprising that this fiesta has become a major tourist
attraction. Plenty of atmosphere is provided by folk singers and
dance groups, and things go on well into the evening. It all has
its roots, apparently, in former celebrations of the vendimia or
grape harvest, which would start on the 15th and would involve the
pickers being away from home for a couple of months.
in Almuñécar, their annual fair will be reaching its
climax on this day, as it has done for centuries. The towns
patron, called la Virgen de la Antigua, is honoured by a procession,
a trip out to sea, and a spectacular firework display, before being
taken back to her home in the Encarnación church.