fasts.19 At Rome, 15-23 December seems to have been regarded as the end of the agricultural year, perhaps suggesting the theme of the end of history. In the East the themes of this season were concerned with Annunciations. The number of Sundays has also varied considerably. The only conclusion is that the season had its origins in the fourth century in pre-Christmas themes that differed from place to place.

Saints' days

Already in the second century, we have evidence from a letter of the church of Smyrna regarding the martyrdom of its bishop Polycarp that the remains of martyrs were regarded as precious relics. Commemorations were kept at the tomb of martyrs, their death day being celebrated as their heavenly birthday. At Rome the tombs associated with Peter and Paul were venerated, though their observance in the calendar cannot be attested prior to the fourth century. The claim to have relics of a founding apostle became increasingly important, and a life of sanctity and the working of miracles came to be as good as martyrdom to warrant commemoration and a place in a developing calendar. Many saints were recognised and commemorated only locally, but biblical personages such as the apostles gradually became universally commemorated. The feasts of Mary as Theotokos gained in popularity after the Council of Ephesus (431). The Koimysis or Dormition ('falling asleep') of Mary was being observed in Jerusalem by the fifth century. The faithful departed, and those known for their holiness, were regarded as eschatological beings, already with God, encouragers of the church militant here on earth. The observance of the day of their 'birth into heaven' served to underline the belief that, in all Christian worship, the voice of the temporal church joined with the heavenly choirs to sing unending praise to the glory of the triune God.


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