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All Hallows’ and All Saints’ are one and the same feast day

Posted in Customs, Historical articles, History, Religion, Saints on Wednesday, 31 July 2013

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This edited article about the Church year originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 355 published on 2 November 1968.

Hallowe'en, picture, image, illustration

Victorian Hallowe'en card showing children apple-bobbing

Many people have never heard of All Hallows’ Tide, but everyone knows the word “Hallowe’en”, which simply means “the eve of all hallows.”

But who or what is a “hallow”? The word is familiar enough from the Lord’s Prayer, in which we say “Hallowed be Thy Name,” but otherwise we rarely hear it. In fact it is the Saxon word for “holy” and, used as a noun, means a holy person, or a saint. All Hallows therefore means “All Saints,” and is the name of some churches. There is a famous church called All Hallows near the Tower of London.

The traditional ceremonies and pranks of Hallowe’en – the bob-apple game, the turnip lanterns, and the ghosts – have little to do with Christianity. They belong to the days when witchcraft was believed in and widely practised. These customs and superstitions were linked to All Hallows’ Tide because on this day (1st November) the Church remembers all the un-named saints of olden days who lived the Christian life, and in many cases died for their faith, but who have no particular day set aside in their honour. The belief that they live on in another kind of existence led to the linking of the day with the many superstitions connected with belief in ghosts.

Such a day has been kept by Christians since very early times. In the Orthodox Church (Greek, Russian and others) the Sunday after Whit Sunday has for centuries been set apart in honour of “All Martyrs” (that is, those who have actually died for their faith).

In the Western Churches, the customary date of All Saints’ Day had a striking origin. On that day, in the year 608 A.D., one of the most splendid of the ancient pagan temples in Rome, the Pantheon of Agrippa, became a magnificent Christian Church. Today this church is still one of the most famous shrines in Christendom, remarkable for its vast dome, which has been widely copied by architects of many countries. Its dedication to “Saint Mary and all Martyrs” on 1st November may have led to the fixing of that day for the commemoration of All Saints’ Day, which has been observed ever since on the same date.

In the New Testament, the name “saint” is given to all faithful members of the church, as for instance, by St. Paul in his first Epistle to the Corinthians (chapter one, verse two). But as the years passed, the title came to be reserved for those who had shown themselves to be outstanding examples of what a Christian should be. Even so, not all were actually martyrs. Some led quiet and uneventful lives, but by their example brought home to others the message of Christianity.

Christians of all times who were faithful believers but have not been “canonised” (that is, officially declared to be saints, by the Church) are remembered on the day after All Saints’ Day (2nd November). This is observed as “All Souls’ Day” in many churches, the day when the “rank and file” of Christians are remembered, following the commemoration of the real heroes. A few churches have this name – the church of the parish in which London’s Broadcasting House stands is one of them. All Souls’ is also the name of one of Oxford’s oldest and most distinguished colleges.

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