Whoever arrives in St. Peter’s Square is welcomed by the great embrace of Bernini’s colonnade. On top of it dominate the figures of saints, men and women who have lived their lives dedicating themselves to others and to God. The “Holy” nickname, in the Bible, it was reserved only to the Most High. With the advent of Christianity, the title was extended to all the baptized, so that the Church in the early centuries used to be called “holy” to their members. But how was born the solemnity of All Saints that Catholics celebrate today?
From the beginning in the early Christian communities, were honored after death, the martyrs, those who had lost their lives in witness their faith in Jesus Christ.These commemorations began to be celebrated with more emphasis from the fourth century A.D. both in the Eastern churches in the Latin ones. The first traces of a “feast” are evidenced in Antioch, and refer to the Sunday after Pentecost. Even the theologian Efrem Siro speaks about this event, placing it on 13th May.
This date was chosen because on that day, in 609 A.D., the Pantheon in Rome was dedicated to Santa Maria of the Martyrs by Pope Boniface IV. About a century later, Gregorio III erected a chapel in San Pietro in which were preserved the relics “of the holy apostles and all saints, martyrs and confessors, and of all the just made perfect resting in peace throughout the world”. The date chosen to consecrate this place was November 1.
In regions of northern Europe, however, during this period, druids priests gathered to celebrate the transition from summer to winter performing the ritual of Samhain, the “lord of death” intended to defeat the god of the sun by returning from the afterlife the souls of the dead, that would take possession of the living body. A pagan ritual on which has been grafted the Halloween tradition.
To facilitate the process of Christianization of the region, still strongly tied to its traditions, Pope Gregory IV in 834, moved the feast of All Saints from May 13 to November 1. Later in the second day of the penultimate month of the year it was placed the celebration of the dead. Ludovico il Pio, in 835, upon request of the same Pontiff, decreed Saints holy day of obligation in the whole empire. After him, all the monarchs of the Old Continent established November 1 as a rest day.
Today the Church remembers, as Benedict XVI said, “an innumerable crowd to which the liturgy urges us to raise our eyes. This multitude not only includes the officially recognized saints but the baptized of every epoch and nation who sought to accomplish with love and fidelity the divine will. We don’t know the faces and even the names of the greater part of them but with the eyes of faith we see them shine like stars full of glory in the firmament of God. ”
In Italy, each region celebrates the holidays with traditions and typical dishes. In Puglia, for example, it is used to prepare the “cooked grain”, a sweet made of wheat grains steamed with boiled wine, dark chocolate and pomegranate. Consuming this dish is thanked Saints of good harvest. Many more, however, the customs connected to the anniversary of the November 2, the day of commemoration of all the faithful departed. In Lombardy, the night between 1 and 2 November, it leaves a vase of water in the home kitchen, to give drink to the dead visiting. In the countryside around Cremona, they get up early, they mend quickly the beds so that the dear souls may find rest; then they go around from house to house to collect bread and flour to make cakes. In Sicily “The Dead” have a meaning similar to that of Christmas. Parents invited, in fact, their children to be good in order to receive a gift on the occasion of November 2 from their dead loved ones. This tradition is still practiced in many areas of Puglia and Basilicata.