All Saints Day: Origins and Paraphernalia

A strange post title but stick with me. Also, we’re going back to All Saints Day (Nov. 1) for a moment.

The feast of All Saints originated when Pope Boniface IV (AD550-615) converted the Pantheon in Rome into a Christian church, dedicating it around the year 609 to Mary, Mother of God, and all the Christian martyrs. For 450 years or so up to that point, the Pantheon had been used for pagan worship (the word “pantheon” means “all the gods”). Over at the NLM blog they have this wonderful quotation from a sermon in the old breviary, giving a bit of background on the Pantheon’s “conversion”:

Most beloved brethren, it is well known that this day’s most solemn festivity of All the Saints was established for this reason, namely, that Pope Boniface, wisely changing unto the worship of God and the reverence of the Saints those things which were formerly instituted in impiety for the rite of idols and the worship of demons, on this day dedicated a church for the common veneration of the Mother of God, and all of Christ’s martyrs. We truly believe this was done by God’s dispensation, that Christ, the wisdom of God, who had cast out the prince of the world, should vindicate unto Himself even those place and temples given over to his (i.e. the devil’s) worship.

Therefore, for nearly 1,400 years now, the Pantheon has functioned continuously as a Christian church. Its proper name is “St. Mary of the Martyrs”, even if almost everyone has continued to call it by its pagan name.

Let’s look, then, at some All Saints paraphernalia. Or, “how churches in Rome (and beyond) decorate for the Feast of All Saints”.

Here is what I found when I called in at the Pantheon (look closely at the area of the candlesticks on the altar, then read the caption beneath the photo):

Between the candleseticks and flanking them, you can see a total of 13 reliquaries holding the relics of various saints from down through the ages.

Just a block away, this is the display that they had at the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (which has the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena under the high altar):

Bust-style reliquaries: a bishop saint (left) and a pope saint (right). This is on the left side of the high altar.

And the right side of the high altar: a pope saint (left) and a bishop saint (right).

And here is the display at the church for German-speaking peoples, Santa Maria dell’Anima (Our Lady of the Soul):

A total of eight reliquaries set up on the high altar.

I did not get to go to St. Peter’s Basilica on All Saints’ Day this year, but every year they put out a very impressive display of relics on the high altar there. From the New Liturgical Movement blog, here is a photo of the display from the year 2011.

If I had had my druthers, the high school chapel in Huntsville would have had some reliquaries between the candlesticks. But the right kind of reliquary for this purpose – along the lines of the smaller ones on the Pantheon altar – is expensive, and they are a bit hard to secure in place so that some prankster or malicious thief can’t walk away with one. So we abandoned that plan. Alas!

In writing this post, the idea struck me that I should inaugurate a new tag: Catholic Culture. Thus I went back and tagged all the others that seemed to fit in the category, and you can explore themes on the blog by clicking on the tags lower down on the right side of the page. (If you’re using a mobile device, you can click the tag at the bottom of this post, or change your view to desktop mode to see the “tag cloud” on the right side of the page.)

This entry was posted in Scheduled and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.