The Annunciation at the Holy House

Angels carrying the Holy House

This weekend we have an opportunity to look back nine months to the Annunciation on Saturday 25 March.

At the time we were all thinking about Mothering Sunday the next day.

This December weekend sees the annual celebration at Loreto in Italy where the Virgin Mary’s Nazareth house is now found inside a basilica.

The Holy House is the front part of the building where Mary and her parents lived in Nazareth. Here Mary may have been conceived (as we recalled yesterday).

It was also the scene of the Annunciation when Mary as a young woman was informed by the angel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of Jesus.

The tiny building, once attached to a cave, was transported from the Holy Land to Italy in 1273.

The Angeli family masterminded the operation which gave rise to the idea that the house was carried to Loreto by angels. It has inspired lovely iconography featuring angels carrying a house..

This year Our Lady of Loreto Day on 10 December, marking the arrival of the Holy House in Italy, will not have the usual wide observance as it  is the Second Sunday of Advent.

But in Loreto there is a celebration tonight.

On Sunday at the Church of Our Lady of Loretto & St Michael, in Musselburgh near Edinburgh, the congregation will sing their own Loreto hymn Wond’rous the throne from which Gabriel came  written and composed by Roy McGillivray, who died  year ago, and his wife Catrina.

A replica of the Holy House can be found at the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham in Norfolk.


Immaculate Conception: Lyon lights

Traditional lights in Lyon

Today is the Immaculate Conception when we focus on the VIrgin Mary who gave birth to Jesus.

We are celebrating the conception of the Virgin  Mary by her parents Anne and Joachim.

On 8 September in nine months, after the period of a pregnancy,  we celebrate Mary’s  birthday.

Mary was immaculate because she was born pure and free of sin ready to be the Mother of Jesus.

This morning in Rome a floral wreath has already been placed on the arm of Mary’s statue high up on a column in Spanish Place. This afternoon the Pope will add his flowers at the base.

In Lyon tonight, by a tradition dating from 1852, lights are placed on window ledges along the steep route uphill from the cathedral to Notre Dame de Fourvière.

After Vespers in the cathedral there is a candlelit procession which winds its way uphill to the hill-top basilica.

The big Lyon Fête des Lumières electric light and laser show is  recent modern addition.

Lyon street candle decoration

St Ambrose Day

Milan Cathedral in Advent

Today is St Ambrose Day when many will think of that great Italian city of Milan which is associated with this saint who was its bishop from 374 to 397.

In Milan the Ambrosian Rite is the norm in church which not only means that the Mass is a little different but so is the calendar.

The Ambrosian Advent begins on the Sunday after St Martin’s Day on 11 November which means that in Milan next Sunday is the 5th Sunday of Advent.

This maybe gives more time to reflect than we have or even allow ourselves to have.

Today’s St Ambrose Day celebration in Milan Cathedral is at 5.30pm.

St Nicholas Day: Father Christmas or Santa?

Dutch St Nicholas stamps

The National Trust has decided to be consistent by maintaining the name Father Christmas rather than Santa.

The Trust has been under fire for issuing the guideline to staff across its many sites.  As body with high standards it is correct.

The seasonal figure has been known in England as Father Christmas since Tudor times.

When he arrived for the first time in a department store, Beales of Bournemouth, in 1885 he was called Father Christmas.

The year before at Macy’s in New York he had been announced as Santa Claus. That is his American name derived from St Nicholas.

St Nicholas Day is today, Wednesday 6 December.

At least the National Trust did not stage Father Christmas appearances until this month. In the old days he was never seen in November.

Today there will be  a ceremony in a church at Demre in Turkey where Nicholas was buried in 342.

In 1089 his remains were moved to Bari in Italy where today there will be crowds visiting, a procession and fireworks.

There are many churches in England dedicated to Nicholas and Exeter Cathedral once had a relic brought from Demre.


Parish Clerks’ Company banner depicting St Nicholas and a miracle

This evening at 5.15pm the Company of Parish Clerks in the City of London will gather at St Sepulchre’s for a service of Holy Communion on their patron saint’s day.


Boy Bishops used to be installed today. Salisbury Cathedral does so next Sunday when a choirboy is dressed as a bishop during evensong at 4.30pm.

Advent Sunday

Today in many churches we light the first candle on the Advent wreath.

It’s not Christmas yet and the wreath with its four candles reminds us that there are four Sundays before we celebrate Christ’s birth.

Vestments today are purple except in Salisbury where they are blue by ancient tradition.

Our church service is less joyful than last week, no gloria for example, but reflective will special hymns as we think about Christ coming again.

Tonight there will be more Advent carol services in cathedrals to mark the start of this season.

Book signing on Advent Sunday

I am signing copies of my new book Keeping Advent & Christmas at Southwark Cathedral from 12.30pm on Sunday.

The signing follows the 11am Advent Sunday Choral Eucharist and is part of The Friends Christmas Market.

Also signing books at Sunday lunchtime will be Timothy West and Prunella Scales whose book Our Great Canal Journeys: A Lifetime of Memories on Britain’s Most Beautiful Waterways accompanies their TV series.

Stir Up Sunday

Today is Christ the King Sunday although it is better known as Stir Up Sunday.

This is thanks to the opening words of the ancient collect for this Sunday which is now heard as the post communion prayer at today’s Anglican Eucharist.

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

So some people make their Christmas pudding today.

But it’s not Christmas yet. Today is the climax of the Christian year.

We begin Advent next weekend.

First blog post

This is the first of the blog posts which will follow the great days of Advent and Christmas and complement my new book Keeping Advent & Christmas.

But it will not stop in the New Year because Christmas, which ends at Candlemas on 2 February, gives way to Lent and Easter.

So this blog will run from Stir Up to the end of Easter in the summer.

A companion Keeping Lent & Easter book will  be available in the New Year.

Leigh Hatts