Aug 142017
 

Today is the feast day of St. Antonio Primaldo and his companion martyrs (I Santi Antonio Primaldo e compagni martiri), also known as the Martyrs of Otranto — 813 inhabitants of the Salentine city of Otranto in southern Italy (now Apulia) who were killed on this date in 1480 by invading Ottomans intent on conquering the Italian peninsula. The mass execution is commonly explained as taking place after the Otrantins refused to convert to Islam when the city fell to an Ottoman force under Gedik Ahmed Pasha. The actual events are in dispute by modern historians, but there is no doubt that hundreds of residents of Otranto were killed at this time, based on the physical evidence, that is, hundreds of skulls and other bones displayed in the local cathedral. The siege of Otranto, and the martyrdom of the inhabitants, was the last significant military attempt by a Muslim force to conquer southern Italy. The slaughter is celebrated by historians (notably Risorgimento historians such as Arnaldi and Scirocco) as a milestone in Italian and European history because this sacrifice prevented the Italian peninsula from being conquered by Muslim troops, and was the end of Ottoman designs on the region. Ottoman expansion into eastern and western Europe can be seen on this map (click to enlarge):

The contemporary Turkish historian Ibn Kemal claimed that the slaughter occurred because the inhabitants, en masse, would not convert to Islam.

Modern historians are more inclined to believe that the slaughter was a punitive measure, without religious motivation, exacted to punish the local population for the stiff resistance they put up, which delayed the Turkish advance and enabled the king of Naples to strengthen local fortifications.  It would also have been a warning to other Italian cities what to expect if they chose to resist and were defeated. They martyrs were beatified in 1771 and were canonized by pope Francis on 12 May 2013 with their feast day set as 14 May. They are the patron saints of the city of Otranto and the Archdiocese of Otranto.

On 28 July 1480 an Ottoman force commanded by Gedik Ahmed Pasha, consisting of 90 galleys, 40 galiots and other ships carrying a total of around 150 crew and 18,000 troops, landed beneath the walls of Otranto. The city strongly resisted the Ottoman assaults, but the garrison was unable to resist the bombardment for long. The garrison and all the townsfolk thus abandoned the main part of the city on 29 July, retreating into the citadel whilst the Ottomans began bombarding the neighboring houses.

According to an account of the story chronicled by Giovanni Laggetto and Saverio de Marco, the Turks promised clemency if the city capitulated but were informed that Otranto would never surrender. A second Turkish messenger sent to repeat the offer “was slain with arrows and an Otranto guardsman flung the keys of the city into the sea.” At this the Ottoman artillery resumed the bombardment.

A messenger was dispatched to see if King Ferdinand of Naples could send assistance. As time went on “Nearly seven-eighths of Otranto’s militia slipped over the city walls and fled.” The remaining 50 soldiers fought alongside the citizenry dumping boiling oil and water on Turks trying to scale the ramparts between the cannonades. On 11 August, after a 15-day siege, Gedik Ahmed ordered the final assault, which broke through the defenses and captured the citadel. When the walls were breached the Turks began fighting their way through the town. Upon reaching the cathedral “they found Archbishop Stefano Agricolo [ Stefano Pendinelli ], fully vested and crucifix in hand” awaiting them with Count Francesco Largo. “The archbishop was beheaded before the altar, his companions were sawn in half, and their accompanying priests were all murdered.” After desecrating the Cathedral, they gathered the women and older children to be sold into slavery in Albania. Males over 15 years old, small children, and infants, were all killed. According to some historical accounts, a total of 12,000 were killed and 5,000 enslaved, including victims from the territories of the Salentine peninsula around the city.

800 able-bodied men were told to convert to Islam or be slain. A tailor named Antonio Primaldi is said to have proclaimed “Now it is time for us to fight to save our souls for the Lord. And since he died on the cross for us, it is fitting that we should die for him.” To which those captives with him gave a loud cheer. On August 14 they were led to the Hill of Minerva (later renamed the Hill of Martyrs). There they were to be executed, with Primaldi to be beheaded first. After the blade decapitated him “his body allegedly remaining stubbornly and astonishing upright on its feet. Not until all had been decapitated could the aghast executioners force Primaldi’s corpse to lie prone.” Witnessing this, one Muslim executioner (whom the chroniclers say was an Ottoman officer called Bersabei) is said to have converted on the spot and been impaled immediately by his fellows for doing so.

Between August and September 1480, King Ferdinand of Naples, with the help of his cousin Ferdinand the Catholic and the Kingdom of Sicily, tried unsuccessfully to recapture Otranto. Seeing the Turks as a threat to his home, Alfonso of Aragon left his battles with the Florentines to lead a campaign to liberate Otranto from the Ottoman invaders beginning in August 1480. The city was finally retaken in the spring of 1481 by Alfonso’s troops supported by King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary’s forces. The skulls of the martyrs were placed in a reliquary in the city’s cathedral.

On 13 October 1481 the bodies of the Otrantines were found to be uncorrupted and were translated to the city’s cathedral. From 1485, some of the martyrs’ remains were transferred to Naples and placed under the altar of Our Lady of the Rosary in the church of Santa Caterina a Formiello, an altar that commemorated the final Christian victory over the Ottomans at Lepanto in 1571. They were later moved to the reliquary chapel, consecrated by Benedict XIII, then to a site under the altar where they are now located. A recognitio canonica between 2002 and 2003 confirmed their authenticity.

A canonical process began in 1539. On 14 December 1771 Pope Clement XIV beatified the 800 killed on the Colle della Minerva and authorized their cult. Since then they have been the patrons of Otranto. On 6 July 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree recognizing that Primaldo and his fellow townsfolk were killed “out of hatred for their faith” The martyrs were canonized on 12 May 2013 by Pope Francis. The announcement of the canonization was made on 11 February 2013 by Pope Benedict XVI in the consistory in which Benedict also announced in Latin his intention to resign the papacy.

Some modern historians, such as Nancy Bisaha and Francesco Tateo have questioned details of the traditional account. Tateo notes that the earliest contemporary sources describe execution of up to one thousand soldiers or citizens, as well as the local bishop, but they do not mention conversion as a condition for clemency. Bisaha argues that more of Oranto’s inhabitants were likely to have been sold into slavery than slaughtered. However, other historians, such as Paolo Ricciardi and Salvatore Panareo, have argued that in the first year after the martyrdom there was no information about the massacres in the contemporaneous Christian world, and only later — when Otranto was reconquered by the Neapolitans — was it possible to get details of the massacre from the local survivors who saw it. Their memories may or may not have been accurate, and they are certainly not directly recorded.

Some version of a salt cod dish (known under some cognate of baccalà) is known throughout the coastal regions of Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Salentine baccalà is regionally famous in and around Otranto. The addition of tomatoes and black olives make it distinctive.

Baccalà alla salentina

Ingredients

700 gm salt cod
700 gm potatoes, peeled and sliced
8 Italian tomatoes, coarsely chopped
black olives
1 onion, peeled and sliced
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
oregano
dried breadcrumbs
grated pecorino

Instructions

Soak the salt cod in water for at least 48 hours, changing the water regularly.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

In a deep, heavy skillet or Dutch oven, sprinkle a little extra-virgin olive oil followed by a thin layer of breadcrumbs. Then add a layer of potatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then add a layer of chopped tomatoes, followed by a layer of sliced onions and olives with a seasoning of oregano and grated pecorino cheese.

Sprinkle the dish with a little olive oil.

Cut the soaked cod in chunks and lay it on top of the dish. Add another layer of potatoes, then onions, then tomatoes, olives, and seasonings, finishing with a topping of breadcrumbs and cheese sprinkled with olive oil.

Bake the dish for around 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the dish in the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve with a green salad and crusty Italian bread.

Dec 242016
 

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Today is the Feast of the Seven Fishes in some parts of the Italian-American community. It is a Christmas Eve celebration, although it’s not called by this name in Italy and is not a “feast” in the strict sense of “church holy day” but, rather, a blowout meal. Strictly speaking, Christmas Eve is a vigil or fasting day, and the abundance of seafood reflects the Catholic tradition of abstinence from red meat until the actual feast of Christmas Day itself. Today in the Italian-American community Seven Fishes is a meal that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. It originates from (mostly) Southern Italy, where it is known simply as La Vigilia (short for Vigilia di Natale).

The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence from meat on Wednesdays, Fridays and (in the Latin Church) Saturdays, as well as during Lent and on the eve of specific holy days. The thing is that this supposed fast often transformed into an absolute feast of fish – especially in the Middle Ages, and beyond. Nowadays Christmas Eve dinner in Catholic countries in general can be an extremely lavish meal. In Argentina, for example, it is the main Christmas meal sprawling from about 10 pm to 4 am or longer. In Italy in general it is the time to (sometimes) go to Midnight mass, but always involves a special meal without meat. In Mantua, where I am now, the highlight is tortelli di zucca (with butter and sage) and maybe fish.

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It is unclear when the term “Feast of the Seven Fishes” was popularized. The meal may actually include seven, eight, or even nine specific fishes that are considered traditional. However, some Italian-American families have been known to celebrate with nine, eleven or thirteen different seafood dishes. “Seven” fishes as a fixed concept or name is unknown in Italy itself. In some of the oldest Italian-American families there was no count of the number of fish dishes. Dinner began with whiting in lemon, followed by some version of clams or mussels in spaghetti, baccalà, and onward to any number of other fish dishes without number. Seven is a nice lucky number, though.

The most famous dish for Southern Italians is baccalà (salted cod fish). The custom of celebrating with a simple fish such as baccalà reflects customs in what were historically greatly impoverished regions of Southern Italy, as well as seasonal factors. Fried smelts, calamari and other types of seafood have been incorporated into the Christmas Eve dinner over the years.

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Salt cod goes on sale in Italy well before Christmas. It keeps forever, so you can buy it well in advance.  You also need to begin preparation at least 3 days in advance. It must be soaked for 3 days or more to remove the salt and soften the flesh. This recipe is for baked baccalà which is less common than the normal method of simmering, but I prefer it.

Baked Baccalà

Ingredients

1 ¼ lb dried salt cod
2 large potatoes, sliced in thin rounds
1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
3 tbsp butter, chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
crushed hot pepper (optional)
freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Soak the baccalà in cold water for at least 3 days prior to cooking.

Preheat your oven to 375˚F.

Rinse the cod for a last time; dry it well and cut it into small pieces. In a shallow casserole dish, toss the potato rounds and onion slices with the butter and olive oil. Add the baccalà and gently toss. Season with crushed red and black peppers. Cover the casserole with foil and place into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Add a bit of water, about 2 tablespoons, if needed, during cooking; continue to stir while cooking, but gently to avoid breaking the fish. Season with salt, if needed.

Serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Apr 202014
 

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Today is the birthday of Joan Miró i Ferrà, extraordinarily revolutionary Catalan painter, sculptor, and ceramicist. A museum dedicated to his work, the Fundació Joan Miró, was established in his native city of Barcelona in 1975, and another, the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, was established in his adoptive city of Palma de Mallorca in 1981. His work has been interpreted as Surrealism, a sandbox for the subconscious mind, a re-creation of the childlike, and a manifestation of Catalan pride. It is all and none of these. In numerous interviews dating from the 1930s onwards, Miró expressed contempt for conventional painting methods as a way of supporting bourgeois society, and famously declared he desired an “assassination of painting” in favor of upsetting the visual qualities of established painting.

Miró  was born into the families of a goldsmith and a watchmaker and grew up in the Barri Gòtic neighborhood of Barcelona. His father was Miquel Miró Adzerias and his mother was Dolors Ferrà. He began drawing classes at the age of seven at a private school at Carrer del Regomir 13, a medieval mansion. In 1907 he enrolled at the fine art academy at La Llotja, to the dismay of his father. He studied at the Cercle Artístic de Sant Lluc and he had his first solo show in 1918 at the Dalmau Gallery, where his work was ridiculed and defaced. Miró was drawn towards the arts community that was gathering in Montparnasse and in 1920 moved to Paris, but continued to spend his summers in Catalonia.

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Miró initially went to business school as well as art school. He began his working career when he was a teenager as a clerk, although he abandoned the business world completely for art after suffering a breakdown. His early art, like that of the similarly influenced Fauves and Cubists exhibited in Barcelona, was inspired by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. The resemblance of Miró’s work to that of the intermediate generation of the avant-garde has led scholars to call this time his Catalan Fauvist period.

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A few years after Miró’s 1918 Barcelona solo exhibition, he settled in Paris where he finished a number of paintings that he had begun on his parents’ summer home and farm in Mont-roig del Camp. One such painting, The Farm, showed a transition to a more individual style of painting and certain nationalistic qualities. Ernest Hemingway, who later bought the piece, compared the artistic accomplishment to James Joyce’s Ulysses and described it by saying, “It has in it all that you feel about Spain when you are there and all that you feel when you are away and cannot go there. No one else has been able to paint these two very opposing things.” Miró annually returned to Mont-roig and developed a symbolism and nationalism that would stick with him throughout his career. Catalan Landscape (The Hunter) and Tilled Field, two of Miró’s first works classified as Surrealist, employ the symbolic style that was to dominate the art of the next decade.

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In 1924, Miró joined the Surrealist group. The already symbolic and poetic nature of Miró’s work, as well as the dualities and contradictions inherent to it, fit well within the context of dream-like automatism espoused by the group. Much of Miró’s work lost the cluttered chaotic lack of focus that had defined his work thus far, and he experimented with collage and the process of painting within his work so as to reject the framing that traditional painting provided. This antagonistic attitude towards painting manifested itself when Miró referred to his work in 1924 ambiguously as “x” in a letter to poet friend Michel Leiris. The paintings that came out of this period were eventually called Miró’s “dream paintings.”

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Miró did not completely abandon subject matter. Despite the Surrealist automatic techniques that he employed extensively in the 1920s, sketches show that his work was often the result of a methodical process. Miró’s work rarely dipped into non-objectivity, maintaining a symbolic, schematic style. This was perhaps most prominent in the repeated Head of a Catalan Peasant series of 1924 to 1925. In 1926, he collaborated with Max Ernst on designs for ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev. With Miró’s help, Ernst pioneered the technique of grattage, in which he troweled pigment onto his canvases.

miro grattage

Miró returned to a more representational form of painting with The Dutch Interiors of 1928. Crafted after works by Hendrik Martenszoon Sorgh and Jan Steen seen as postcard reproductions, the paintings reveal the influence of a trip to Holland taken by the artist.

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These paintings share more in common with Tilled Field or Harlequin’s Carnival than with the minimalistic dream paintings produced a few years earlier.

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Miró married Pilar Juncosa in Palma (Majorca) on 12 October 1929; their daughter Dolors was born 17 July 1931. In 1931, Pierre Matisse opened an art gallery in New York City. The Pierre Matisse Gallery (which existed until Matisse’s death in 1989) became an influential part of the Modern art movement in the U.S. From the outset Matisse represented Joan Miró and introduced his work to the United States market by frequently exhibiting Miró’s work in New York.

Until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Miró habitually returned to Spain in the summers. Once the war began, he was unable to return home. Unlike many of his surrealist contemporaries, Miró had previously preferred to stay away from explicitly political commentary in his work. Though a sense of (Catalan) nationalism pervaded his earliest surreal landscapes and Head of a Catalan Peasant, it wasn’t until Spain’s Republican government commissioned him to paint the mural, The Reaper, for the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exhibition, that Miró’s work took on a politically charged meaning.

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In 1939, with Germany’s invasion of France looming, Miró relocated to Varengeville in Normandy, and on 20 May of the following year, as Germans invaded Paris, he narrowly escaped to Spain (at the time controlled by Francisco Franco) for the duration of the Vichy Regime’s rule. In Varengeville, Palma, and Mont-roig, between 1940 and 1941, Miró created the twenty-three gouache series, Constellations. Revolving around celestial symbolism, Constellations earned the artist praise from André Breton, who seventeen years later wrote a series of poems, named after and inspired by Miró’s series. Features of this work revealed a shifting focus to the subjects of women, birds, and the moon, which would dominate his iconography for much of the rest of his career.

In 1959, André Breton asked Miró to represent Spain in The Homage to Surrealism exhibition alongside Enrique Tábara, Salvador Dalí, and Eugenio Granell. Miró created a series of sculptures and ceramics for the garden of the Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, which was completed in 1964.

miro WTC

In 1974, Miró created a tapestry for the World Trade Center in New York City together with the Catalan artist Josep Royo. He had initially refused to do a tapestry, then he learned the craft from Royo and the two artists produced several works together. His World Trade Center Tapestry was displayed for many years at the World Trade Center building. It was one of many works of art lost during the September 11 attacks. In 1977, Miró and Royo finished a tapestry to be exhibited in the National Gallery in Washington, USA.

In 1981, Miró’s The Sun, the Moon and One Star—later renamed Miró’s Chicago—was unveiled. This large, mixed media sculpture is situated outdoors in the downtown Loop area of Chicago, across the street from another large public sculpture, the Chicago Picasso. Miró had created a bronze model of The Sun, the Moon and One Star in 1967. The maquette now resides in the Milwaukee Art Museum.

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In the final decades of his life Miró  worked at a rapid pace in different media, producing hundreds of ceramics, including the Wall of the Moon and Wall of the Sun at the UNESCO building in Paris. He also made temporary window paintings (on glass) for an exhibit. In the last years of his life Miró wrote his most radical and least known ideas, exploring the possibilities of gas sculpture and four-dimensional painting.

In 1979 Miró received a doctorate honoris causa from the University of Barcelona. On Christmas day 1983 he suffered a heart attack and died in his home in Palma (Majorca).

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Esqueixada de bacalao (salt cod salad) is a classic Catalan dish suitable for celebrating Miró.  There are recipes available, but you have a wide variety of choices of ingredients, so I will give you the outline and leave you to decide.  Salt cod and black olives are the only things you cannot dispense with.  Salt cod needs to be desalinated before using it.  Put 100 grams per person in a large non-reactive container of cold water and refrigerate for three days, changing the water often. Drain the cod and shred it.  Then in a large bowl add black olives plus your choice of chopped tomatoes, sliced onion, bell pepper, and hard boiled eggs . . . or whatever you fancy.  Dress with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar (or lemon juice) and refrigerate for several hours.  Serve on chilled plates.

Esqueixada can also be served — chopped finely — on warm garlic toast.

 

Mar 252014
 

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The Feast of the Annunciation marks the visit of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, during which he told her that she would be the mother of Jesus. It is celebrated on 25 March each year. It is a principal Marian feast.

Here is the relevant passage in Luke’s gospel (1:26-38):

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Here is the Annunciation hymn “The Angel Gabriel” sung by King’s College choir, Cambridge.  It is usually sung at Christmas but, in a liturgical sense, belongs here.

The celebration of the feast of the Annunciation goes back to the fourth or fifth century. The first certain mentions of the feast are in a canon, of the Council of Toledo (656), where it is described as celebrated throughout the church, and another of the Council of Constantinople “in Trullo” (692), forbidding the celebration of any festivals during Lent, excepting the Lord’s Day (Sunday) and the Feast of the Annunciation. A Synod of Worcester, England (1240), forbade all servile work on this feast day.

In the Catholic Church, Anglican, and Lutheran liturgical calendars, the feast is moved if necessary to prevent it from falling during Holy Week or on a Sunday. To avoid a Sunday before Holy Week, the next day (March 26) is observed instead. In years such as 2005 when March 25 fell during Holy Week, the Annunciation was moved to the Monday after the Octave of Easter, which is the Sunday after Easter. The Eastern churches (Eastern Orthodox, Oriental and Eastern Catholic) do not move the feast of the Annunciation under any circumstance. They have special combined liturgies for those years when the Annunciation coincides with another feast. In these churches, even on Good Friday a Divine Liturgy is celebrated when it coincides with the Annunciation.

The date is close to the (northern) vernal equinox, as Christmas is to the winter solstice; because of this the Annunciation and Christmas were two of the four quarter days in medieval and early modern England, which marked the divisions of the fiscal year (the other two were Midsummer Day, or the Nativity of St. John the Baptist—June 24—and Michaelmas, the feast day of St. Michael, on September 29). When the calendar system of Anno Domini was first introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in 525, he assigned the beginning of the new year to March 25, since according to Catholic theology, the era of grace began with the Incarnation of Christ.

In the western liturgical year, Lady Day is the traditional name of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin in some English-speaking countries. Because Lady Day is one of the four traditional English quarter days it has a secular function as well as a liturgical one.  As such Lady Day never moves like its liturgical counterparts. The “Lady” is the Virgin Mary, of course. The term derives from Middle English, many of whose nouns had no  genitive inflections.

In England, Lady Day was New Year’s Day up to 1752 when, following the move from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, 1 January became the start of the year. A vestige of this remains in the United Kingdom’s tax year, which starts on 6 April, that is, Lady Day adjusted for the lost days of the calendar change (until this change, Lady Day had been used as the start of the legal year). This should be distinguished from the liturgical and historical year. It appears that in England and Wales, from at least the late 14th century, the historical New Year’s Day was celebrated on 1 January as part of Yule.

As a year-end and quarter day that conveniently did not fall within or between the seasons for ploughing and harvesting, Lady Day was a traditional day on which year-long contracts between landowners and tenant farmers would begin and end in England and nearby lands (although there were regional variations). Farmers’ time of “entry” into new farms and on to new fields was often this day. As a result, farming families who were changing farms would travel from the old farm to the new one on Lady Day. After the calendar change, “Old Lady Day” (6 April), the former date of the Annunciation, largely assumed this role. The date is significant in some of the works of Thomas Hardy, e.g., Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd.

The logic of using Lady Day as the start of the year is that it roughly coincides with the equinox; many ancient cultures still use this period as the start of the new year, Iran for example. In some traditions the A.D. years are counted from the moment of the Annunciation, which is deemed by the church to be the moment of the conception of Jesus, and as such the moment the “word became flesh.”  Thus, theologically speaking, the Annunciation supersedes Christmas as the point of Christ’s arrival on earth.

The Annunciation has been one of the most frequent subjects of Christian art. Depictions of the Annunciation go back to early Christianity, with the Priscilla catacomb including the oldest known fresco of the Annunciation, dating to the 4th century. It has been a favorite artistic subject in both the Christian East and as Roman Catholic Marian art, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and figures in the repertoire of almost all of the great masters. The figures of the Virgin Mary and the angel Gabriel, being emblematic of purity and grace, were favorite subjects of Roman Catholic Marian art, where the scene is also used to represent the perpetual virginity of Mary via the announcement by the angel Gabriel that Mary would conceive a child to be born the Son of God.

Works on the subject have been created by artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Duccio, Jan van Eyck, and Murillo among others. The mosaics of Pietro Cavallini in Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome (1291), the frescos of Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (1303), Domenico Ghirlandaio’s fresco at the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence (1486), and Donatello’s gilded sculpture at the church of Santa Croce, Florence (1435) are famous examples.  Here’s a small gallery of some of my favorites.

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annun5  The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

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There are so many traditional recipes associated with the feast of the Annunciation across Europe.  Here is a sampling.

In Swedish the word våffla (waffle) is attested since 1642 and derives from the German Waffel, but is also associated by folk etymology with Vår Fru (The Virgin Mary). Waffles are served in a large number of Swedish households on Våffeldagen, that is to say, on Waffle Day, or Virgin Mary Day. Here is a traditional recipe for Swedish waffles for the Annunciation. They are traditionally eaten with whipped cream and berry preserves, cloudberry or lingonberry.

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Swedish Waffles

Ingredients:

1 ¾ cups heavy cream, well-chilled
1 ? cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
½ cup cold water
3 tbsps melted unsalted butter

Instructions

Whip the cream until stiff.

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Stir in the water to make a smooth batter. Fold the whipped cream into the batter. Stir in the melted butter.

Heat the waffle iron. (If it is well seasoned, it will not need to be greased.) Fill the grid surface about two-thirds full of batter. Bake until golden brown.

Place on a rack to keep crisp while you make the rest of the waffles.

Serve with whipped cream and berry preserves.

Yield: about 8 waffles

During the feast of the Annunciation, in most Greek homes they prepare Bakaliaros Tegantos kai Skordalia (Fried Salted Cod and Garlic Sauce) for the holiday meal.

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Μπακαλιάρος σκορδαλιά (Fried Salted Cod And Garlic Sauce)

For the salt cod:

Ingredients

1 ½ pounds dried salt cod
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
? cup cold water
¼ teaspoon baking powder
vegetable oil for frying

Instructions

Cut the cod into 4-inch sections. Place in a glass or earthenware bowl, cover with cold water, and soak for 12 hours in the refrigerator. You may want to change the water 2 or 3 times during the soaking period. Drain and discard the water.

Put the cod in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and lift out the cod with a slotted spoon. Remove the bones and the skin, and carefully pat dry with paper towels.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, water and baking powder to make a thin batter. Dip the cod in the batter and shallow fry in hot oil (about 1/2 inch deep, in a medium-hot cast-iron skillet) on both sides, then lower heat to medium and cook until tender, turning once again. Serve hot.

For the gravy
(makes 2 cups )

Ingredients

1 pound peeled red potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
10 garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¾ tsp kosher salt
4 tsp chopped fresh chives

Instructions

Place potatoes in a large saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Add garlic to pan; cook 1 minute. Drain potato mixture in a colander over a bowl, reserving ½ cup of cooking liquid. Place potato mixture and reserved liquid in a food processor; add oil, lemon juice, and salt. Pulse until smooth.

Serve warm or cover and chill overnight.

Sprinkle with chives before serving.