Feast of Our Lady Herbaceous

Over a hundred years ago, Zygmunt Gloger wrote that “ just as flowers are the decoration of plants, annual customs are the comeliness of the domestic life of peoples”[1]. The words of this eminent historian, ethnographer and folklorist are worth recalling today – August 15th is one of the most important dates in the Polish calendar. On this day there are two important celebrations: the Feast of the Polish Armed Forces, set on the anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw in 1920, and religious celebrations commemorating the day when, as Catholics believe, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary took place.

The liturgical remembrance of this event is accompanied by a special custom in Poland, to which the celebration owes its popular name – the Feast of Our Lady Herbaceous. It is appropriate once more to quote Gloger’s words: “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a celebration which, of all the feasts in honour of the Mother of God, is the most ancient, as it dates back to the first centuries of Christianity and is always solemnly celebrated. This ecclesiastical feast [...] is associated in our country with the old custom of blessing herbs, which the village girls, having gathered them on the previous day, bring to churches, so that a priest might bless them at the great altar. Thus, apart from the celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi, this is the second day of the year dedicated to the blessing of herbs and wild-flowers.

In Mazovia and Podlachia, on the Feast of Our Lady Herbaceous, people bring southernwood, hyssop, lavender, mullein, chamomile and several other healing herbs to the church. In Kraków, people bring twelve plants for blessing: 1. a kind of thin grass called «the Hair of Virgin Mary», 2. A yellow blooming flower called «the Globetrotter» 3. Milkweed, 4 Plants called «Frogspawns», 5. Southernwood 6. Tansy, 7. Lovage. 8. Hazel with nuts. 9. Rye, 10 Cannabis, 11, Flax, 12 Mint. The above herbs, blessed on that day, could be seen in these regions in almost every hut, stuffed behind the joist, that is, the ceiling beam.

According to an old Polish custom, a handful of these herbs was placed in the coffin, under the head of the deceased. In other places, in addition to field herbs, among which there is always an artemisia, people bring various cereals to be blessed in the church, namely: linum, millet, poppies, rye, wheat, barley and oats, at least a few ripe ears of each of them. Then, they extract seeds from the blessed heads, to plant them during the first sowing on their fathers’ fields”[2].

In recent years, the tradition of blessing herbs, flowers and fruits is making a comeback. Every year, a series of events called the Miraculous power of bouquets is organized in Kraków. The organizers prepare various workshops and a competition for the most beautiful herbal bouquet.

Nowadays, the Feast of Our Lady Herbaceous goes beyond only the religious dimension – it reminds us of respect due to nature, which feeds, heals and impresses us with its beauty. It also allows us to demonstrate manual skills when arranging bouquets and getting to know the herbs of our native meadows – including those forgotten ones, which cannot be found on store shelves, or even in a local shop.

Elaborated by: Adam Spodaryk (Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums),
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 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

[1] Zygmunt Gloger, Rok Polski w życiu, tradycji i pieśni, Warsaw 1900, p. 1.

[2] Ibid., pp. 323–325.