Monday, June 24, 2013

Birth of St John the Baptist

Tintoretto - Birth of John the Baptist
We celebrate today the birth of St John the Baptist, the only other Saint, besides Jesus and the Blessed Mother, whose birth is celebrated by the Catholic Church with a special festivity. There is another feast relating to his martyrdom, which is held on August 29, but it’s his mysterious birth that is commemorated today, since Elizabeth his mother was advanced in age. Nowadays, when a baby is born, the announcement is made in the papers, Godparents are chosen, the baptism is held and a party usually follows. In John’s time, his birth was announced in a very unusual way. Similar to what the Native Indians did when sending a message, his father Zechariah made a bon-fire and lit it in the evening, so that his relatives and friends would know that Elizabeth gave birth to her baby boy. This is actually a tradition that is still held in many countries, among them Malta. Many towns and villages collect wood, sticks and logs for a few weeks, pile them up and then light a bon-fire on the evening of June 23, in commemoration of the birth of John the Baptist. Certainly a much different way to share a news that the social media offers us today, when a picture of a newborn baby is spread throughout the globe through a cell-phone, Facebook, etc. 
We honor today this great underrated Saint, who set the stage for Jesus, then disappeared, getting hardly any credit, and even losing his life through the envy of Herod. The above painting of the birth of the Baptist by Italian painter Tintoretto may appear too elaborate and flashy for what actually must have happened 2000 years ago. But this is the style of pre-Renaissance painters. One can see a retinue of nurses helping in the birth. Elizabeth is in bed recovering from the ordeal, Zechariah is praising the Lord, while even a women is ready to start nursing the newborn John. The Blessed Mother is the one holding the baby, as she is depicted with a halo, herself still pregnant with the unborn baby Jesus.

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