Today’s celebration of all the Saints is a very special one for the church. All Saints day grew out of a need in the early church to remember all the martyrs that couldn’t fit into the emerging liturgical calendar. Initially every martyr (saint) was given their own feast day – but in the first three hundred years of the church, so many were killed by Roman emperors (about 100,000 according to some scholars) - that they couldn’t fit them in the emerging liturgical calendar – hence the birth of all saints day. The status of Christianity changed dramatically during the reign of Emperor Constantine. He was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christian, and agreed on the Edict of Milan, which stressed religious tolerance. His mother St Helena is credited with discovering the true cross of Christ. Christianity went from being a sect, heavily persecuted and underground, to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. A bit further down the line Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. This was a remarkable moment where the ancient temple to all the gods of ancient Rome became a Christian church dedicated to all the saints of the early church. Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended this celebration to the entire Church and gave the feast universal status – So for Catholics it is called a Holy Day of Obligation (i.e. they must go to mass) . Such important feast days have their own vigil – hence Halloween – the evening of all Hallows. Wearing costumes / jack-o-laterns etc / partys (fiestas) can all be traced back to the start of this three-day holiday.
There are two paths to ‘sainthood’ in the Catholic Church. One is to be a martyr – or to be killed distinctly out of hatred for the faith (“odium fidei”), the other is to live a life of heroic virtue. The second process usually requires independent proof of miracles as a result of someone praying for your intercession. The pictures on either side of the blog today come from a marvellous set of tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady and the Angels in Los Angles. THe tapestries are called the communion of Saints consisting of females and males of all ages, races, occupations and vocations the world over. Saints from the Renaissance are intermingled with people from the 1st century and the 20th century. The artist – John Nava - combined digital imaging and “Old Master” methods in creating the saints for the tapestries. He constructed figures from multiple studies, combined drawn and painted elements, had costumes made when needed and even drafted family members to serve as models on occasion. He wanted the figures to look like people we know now, and did not use a highly stylized form to depict the saints. Nava’s desire is that people identify and see that “a saint could look like me.”