The Assumption of the Virgin Mary is an important date in the French calendar as it heralds the end of the long period of the summer holidays. Although a secular country, France has kept the date of the Assumption a public holiday.
The tradition of the Assumption
Assumption (Assomption in French) derives from Latin assumptio meaning ‘a taking’.
Formally known as the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven, the date commemorates a belief shared by the Roman Catholic Church. According to tradition, the body of the Virgin Mary was taken up into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. The dogma defined by Pope Pius XII on the 1st November 1950 teaches that “having completed the course of her earthly life, the Virgin was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.“
Although respecting Mary as the earthly mother of Jesus-Christ, the belief of Mary’s assumption has no Biblical basis for Protestants who do not teach nor believe in the dogma.
France: a nation consecrated to the Virgin Mary
On the 10th February 1638, King Louis XIII made a vow of consecration of himself, the royal family and France to Mary and chose Our Lady of the Assumption as their patroness. He instituted the date of the 15th August as a national day of processions in honour of Mary throughout the kingdom. The first procession was held at Notre-Dame de Paris on the 15th August 1638. Louis XIII vowed to undertake the reconstruction of the high altar of Notre-Dame.
The painting by Ingres below depicts the consecration of Louis XIII to the Virgin:
The celebration of the Assumption
Despite a dramatic decline in church attendance both in cities and in rural areas, Catholicism is still deeply ingrained in the culture of France. This may explain partly why the 15th August has been kept as a national day since Louis XIII’s vow in 1638.
The day is an important celebration day for many Catholic Christians who attend church services. In France, there are many cathedrals and churches dedicated to the Assumption of Mary which held special celebrations.
On the 15th August, administrations, businesses and shops are generally closed. Catholics attend church and most French people have family meals followed by afternoon outings.
In small towns and rural areas, a wide range of events are organised: parades, markets, sporting events or communal meals.
The pilgrimage town of Lourdes in the Pyrenees welcomes thousands of visitors on the 15th August who come to attend one of the many special celebrations.
In Le Puy-en-Velay, a renowned procession of international dimension takes place in honour of Mary.
The sea resort of Arcachon on the Atlantic Coast celebrates Assumption Day with grand fireworks.
At Quimper in Brittany, the day dedicated to the Virgin is also known as the ‘Feast of the Soul’ accompanied with the sound of bagpipes and the light of bonfires.
(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin, (adj) for adjective and (v) for verbs
- Assumption = Assomption (f)
- cathedral = cathédrale (f)
- Catholicism = catholicisme (m)
- celebration = célébration (f)
- church = église (f)
- dogma = dogme (m)
- Heaven = Cieux (m,p)
- Mary = Marie (f)
- patroness = patrone (f)
- procession = procession (f)
- Pope = Pape (m)
- public holiday = jour férié (m)
- Roman Catholic Church = Église Catholique Romaine (f)
- religion = religion (f)
- summer = été (m)
- Virgin = Vierge (f)