August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption. The day is a national holiday in Italy, where it is known as Ferragosto, a word that comes from Feriae Augusti, the festival of Augustus (r. 27 BCE-14 CE), Rome's first emperor.
The feast celebrates the taking up to heaven of the soul and body of the Virgin Mary. There is no scriptural foundation for this event; it rests solely on apocryphal literature from the 3rd and 4th centuries. Such writings relate that Mary was surrounded on her death-bed by the apostles when Jesus appeared and bore her soul away. Three days later angels bore Mary's body to Paradise, where it was reunited with her soul.
The Assumption of Mary was only declared an article of faith on November 1st, 1950, when Pope Pius XII (r. 1939-58) issued the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, in which it was affirmed that Mary, 'when the course of her earthly life was finished...was assumed (Latin: assumpta est: taken up) body and soul into the glory of Heaven'.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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