Mary of the Day (September 8) – The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Catholic and Orthodox Churches

The Bible says nothing about Mary’s birth, only that the angel found her living in Nazareth in Galilee. Traditions about her birth rely on the 2nd-century apocryphal book Protoevangelium of James, which makes her the miracle child of aging childless parents, Anna and Joachim, born “in the ninth month” in an unspecified location.

It is thought that the feast of Mary’s birth originated in Jerusalem in the 400s and was quickly adopted by the Syrian church. In 603 Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, confirmed the belief that Mary was born there near the Pool of Bethesda on the site of St. Anne’s Church (and, presumably, following the Protoevangelium, later moved to Nazareth with her fiancé Joseph).

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The Nativity of the Virgin was celebrated in Rome and a few other places in the West in the 600s but did not become a major liturgical occasion in the Roman Catholic Church until the great Marian era of the 1200s. From then until 1955 the Nativity of Mary was preceded by a fast and celebrated for a week. Now,  although a simple feast and not a solemnity or day of obligation in most Catholic dioceses, September 8 is still the main commemoration day at many of the world’s Marian shrines. Some Orthodox churches celebrate the Nativity of Mary on September 21, the modern date corresponding to September 8 in the Julian calendar.In Domenico Ghirlandaio’s 1490 fresco Birth of the Virgin (as shown above) in Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy, St. Anne rests in bed while an attendant holds the newborn St. Mary and the donor’s daughter looks on. The inscription on the wall above is from the antiphon for this feast: “Nativitas tua, Dei Genitrix Virgo, / Gaudium annuntiavit universo mundo” (Thy Nativity, O Virgin Mother of God, / Hath brought joy to the whole world).

Why September 8?

In the Byzantine empire where the feast first evolved, the calendar year began on September 1, as the liturgical year still does in Greek denominations, so September 8 was the octave of New Year, one week later. “Scholars believe that this date was chosen since it was symbolic that the ‘beginning’ of the work of salvation should be commemorated near to the beginning of the new year. The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was later fixed at December 8, nine months prior” (Matthew Mauriello, “A Meditation on the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” The Mary Page,

The Greek church year begins with Mary’s birth in September and ends with her Dormition in August. Of course, it was also fitting that the Virgin be born under the sign of Virgo as She is the real Virgin of Virgins.


* Church of St. Anne in old Jerusalem, where Mary, the mother of Jesus, was born.

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