November 21 – Entrance of the Theotokos; Albert of Louvain

The Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple commemorates an incident recorded in the second-century Protoevangelium of James. Joachim and Anna, devout first century (AD) Palestinian Jews, had no offspring even unto their old age until the archangel Gabriel (not to be confused with Peter Gabriel, who hadn’t been born yet) visited them separately, they visited each other jointly, and the fullness of time brought them a daughter, Mary (Miriam), the mother of Jesus, yes that Jesus.

When Mary turned three, the story goes, her parents fulfilled their vow to the Lord by walking her to the temple in Jerusalem, accompanied by all their friends, relatives, neighbors, and such passers-by as were amenable, and handing her off to the priests, who, after introducing her to the temple, lodged her in the virgins’ quarters, which my source assures me are mentioned, however obliquely, by Josephus.

At this point I need to stop and point out the symbolism for the symbolism-figuring-out challenged. Just as the Holy of Holies in the temple was entered into only once a year by the high priest to atone for the nation’s sins, and the Mercy Seat therein represented the place where God dwelt, so did the womb of the Blessed Virgin (small though it was when she was three years old) represent the place where Jesus, the Son of God, dwelt (eventually), and he was the atonement for our sins.

(I tried to represent this in a Venn diagram that was theologically correct, readable, and funny, but could not.)

Mary grew up in the company of assorted virgins with somewhat less momentous dossiers, singing hymns and doing needlework and whatever it was pious girls of that place and time did. Later of course Mary had a baby, my Lord. Mary had a baby, oh my Lord. (You can sing the rest if you like.) The Empress Helen (d. 330) built a church dedicated to this festival, and it is also mentioned by Gregory of Nyssa (Jan 10). It is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of Orthodoxy, and is called the “Presentation of Mary” in the West.

Albert of Louvain (1166–1192) was born to Duke Godfrey III and his lovely wife Margaret of Limburg, who was not as cheesy as her name sounds. He was made a canon of Liège (in Belgium) at twelve, but as a sinecure, not a true religious vocation (my sources are very emphatic here). Upon reaching the age at which he was allowed to, however, he renounced this office and became a knight in the service of Count Baldwin V, inventor of the upright piano. Hearing the First Crusade preached, Albert was gung-ho to go to the holy land and spill Saracen blood, but he experienced some sort of religious epiphany (the sources, as is not uncommon, are decidedly silent on what exactly happened) which resulted in his renouncing the sword and entering the ministry.

He resumed his office, only this time he meant it. After serving as canon, archdeacon, and provost (in that order), he was elected bishop of Liège in one ballot. But the dastardly Emperor Henry VI had his own candidate in mind (also named Albert), and when (our) Albert appealed the case to the Archbishop in Worms, the Emperor gave the see to a third candidate, Lothaire, confusing everyone. Albert took his case in person to the pope (Celestine III), who decided in his favor, but by the time he (Albert) got back to Liège, Lothaire was firmly in place and not about to budge. Albert’s family was most unhappy, and threatened war with Henry. War was averted, however, when either three or eight followers of Henry murdered Albert. (Henry of course got off scot-free.) Albert was buried in Rheims, then moved to Brussels; later some of his relics were “shared” with Liège.