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Feast of the Ass: All you need to know about the Christian festival celebrated on 14th January, condemned later by the Church as ‘blasphemous’

The journey would end at the village church, where a special 'Mass of the ass' was observed. The donkey would then be strapped to the altar and decorated with fine linen and jewellery. It would then be fed good food and water.

The Feast of the Ass (also called the Festum Asinorum in Latin) was an ancient Christian festival that was observed on January 14 each year until the 15th Century. It was celebrated primarily in France to pay tributes to the ‘donkey’ that carried Mother Mary from Israel to Egypt, following the birth of Jesus Christ. The Holy family, at that time, was trying to escape King Herod the Great’s killing of young children.

The Feast of the Ass (or Fête de l’âne in French) is believed to have been the adaptation of the Roman pagan festival of ‘Cervulus.’ While donkeys were first domesticated between 4600-4000 BC, it was not until 1000 CE that the festival was observed.

As part of the celebration, the most beautiful girl in the village would be paraded, with a child, on a donkey through the length and breadth of the village. The residents of the village would then sing about her carrying a baby or her pregnancy.

The journey would end at the village church, where a special ‘Mass of the ass’ was observed. The donkey would then be strapped to the altar and decorated with fine linen and jewellery. It would then be fed good food and water.

And the Mass would commence with an introit (saying) that went as –

“From the Eastern lands the Ass is come, beautiful and very brave, well fitted to bear burdens. Up! Sir Ass, and sing. Open your pretty mouth. Hay will be yours in plenty, and oats in abundance.”

As per an article by Ucatholic, the Catholic Christians in the Northern French city of Beauvais would ‘bray like a donkey’ instead of saying ‘Amen’. They would also chant ‘hee-haw’ thrice instead of the traditional chant of Deo gratias. Even the Priest at the Church would bray thrice on the occasion of the “Feast of the Ass.’

However, the celebration went out of practice after the Catholic Church condemned the ‘Feast of the Ass’ and ‘Feast of the Fools’ (observed on January 1) for being ‘improper, extravagant and blasphemous’ towards the end of the 15th century.

Back in the day, donkeys held both spiritual and symbolic importance. In Christianity (New Testament), they are viewed as the embodiment of human suffering and salvation. They are known for their defiance and advanced sense of self-preservation.

As such, it comes as no wonder why the donkey was the favourite mode of transport for the Messiah and his family.

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Duttahttps://dibakardutta.in/
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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