The Feast of the Circumcision (Medieval Calendar: January 1st)

On January 1st, the Catholic Church commemorates the Feast of Holy Mary Mother of God. In the Medieval Church Calendar, however, until the 15th century, January 1st was celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision. Old Testament Law stipulated that boys be circumcised eight days after they were born, January 1st is the eighth day after the Nativity, simple math. Since in Jesus' time the circumcision of the child and the naming were on the same day, the Feast has also commemorated the naming of Jesus as well, especially in the 15th century onwards. 

Perhaps it may seem a bit shocking to our modern sensibilities, that the event of Christ's circumcision is even mentioned at all, let alone celebrated as a Feast. The medievals were apt to concentrate much more on the whole picture, so they would have viewed such an event in the life of Christ as important. His circumcision was seen as the first time the blood of Christ was shed which commences the process of humanity's redemption, shows Christ's humanity, and is also a foreshadowing of His passion. 
There is a book called The Golden Legend (In Latin: Legenda aurea or Legenda sanctorum) by Jacobus de Voragine, which sheds some light on the meaning of Christ's circumcision. This book is a large collection of hagiographies (i.e. Stories about Saints) which was first written and compiled in 1275; it was an extremely popular book in the middle ages, and there are 900 surviving handwritten manuscripts. After the invention of the printing press from 1470 to 1530 it was actually the most printed book in Europe. 
In the sections on the Life Of Christ, the symbolism in His circumcision is unpacked -- it signifies to us His sacrifice and our salvation, in essence:

And he was that day circumcised and named Jesus, which is as much to say as Saviour. And at the circumcision must he cut a little of the skin at the end of the member or yard, and that is signified and shewed that we ought to be circumcised, and cut and taken away from us the sins and evil vices, that is to wit pride, wrath, envy, covetousness, sloth, gluttony, and lechery, and all sins, and purge us by confession, by contrition, by satisfaction, by almsdeeds, and by prayers, and to give for God's sake of the goods that he hath lent us. For we have nothing proper, but Jesu Christ hath lent to us all that we have. 

The Name of Jesus itself is also part and parcel to salvation, "And as to the second, this day was his name imposed to him, and was named with the new name that the mouth of God named. This is the name of which there is none other under heaven by which we may be saved, that is Jesus." 
To the medieval mind, these thoughts on Christ's circumcision and naming would have been used as meditations for prayer. People praying on Paternosters (for example) would be encouraged to reflect on a passage from the Bible or other religious writing that they had  heard, or perhaps read. This pondering while reciting a Paternoster is a precursor to the Meditations that are prayed on the Rosary today. So though this Feast is not now officially observed in the western church (the Orthodox church celebrates it still), we may recall its meaning and significance in our own meditations. 
Image courtesy of the British Library
From an early 14th century Italian choir book 
(For the curious, yes, the image is indeed of a naked baby being circumcised.)
This is the very first post ever co-written by Megan and Janelle. Not to be the last. 


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To help us prevent spam, please prove you're human by typing the words you see here.