In his article of May 1904 Fr. Thurston speaks of a metrical Calendar of the second half of the tenth century, in which is found at the date May 2nd: concipitur Virgo Maria cognomine senis;4 further, the Martyrology of Gorman, written, according to Dr. Whiteley Stokes,5 by an Irishman of the ninth century, also a Martyrology of Tallaght of the year 900, which the Bollandists seem to have confused with the Felire of Ængus,6 both of which documents mention the Conception of Mary at the date May 3rd.
But why this date of the 2nd or 3rd May, instead of December 8th? Fr. Thurston replies: “We are inclined to seek an explanation of this Irish Conception feast in some oriental influence, most probably a Calendar of Coptic origin.”7
Mr. Edmund Bishop8 has also studied the origin of this feast, in Anglo-Saxon documents; and in a more recent work9 he returns to the hypothesis of an Italo-Greek importation.
M. Jugie, in the Revue Augustinienne, November 15th, 1908, seems to prefer this last explanation; but instead of placing the first stage of the importation at Winchester, he places it at Canterbury in the second half of the seventh century. If, he says, it is true that the Pope Vitalian (657-672) chose Theodore, a Greek monk of Tarsus, to govern the church of Canterbury, the feast came from the East, through Italy.
These indications seemed to me to be of a nature to interest the readers of this translation, and to complete what is said on p. 111, in affirming that in the West, this feast was first celebrated in England (perhaps in Ireland), while they in no way detract from the part taken in it by the Benedictines.
Usuard, alone among the Martyrologists of the Middle Ages, mentions the feast at December 8th. This mention, it is true, is not found in the edition of Du Sollier,10 but Dom Bouillart has published a manuscript which he considers to be the autograph of Usuard—it is in any case the work of a contemporary—in which is found: ad oram pagine: Conceptio beatissime Dei genitricis virginis Mariæ.12
Fr. Doncœur (op. cit.) says that the date 1496 must be modified, for Sixtus IV. died in 1484; nor does he consider the date 1246 rests on any better foundation, and in this case the first appearance of the festival will have to be ascribed to 1272. (Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique, Louvain, 1907, p. 276.)
1 “The Irish Origins of Our Lady’s Conception Feast,” The Month, May 1904, vol. ciii. pp. 449 seqq.
2 The Month, Dec. 1904, vol. civ. pp. 568, 569,—“English and the Immaculate Conception.”
3 The Month, Dec. 1904, vol. civ. pp. 568, 569,—“English and the Immaculate Conception.”
4,5 MSS. Cotton, Galba A. xviii., British Museum. The Month, May 1904, pp. 452-4.
6 Acta Sanctorum, Maii t. i. Prætermissi.
7 The Month, May 1904, p. 459.
8 Downside Review, 1886.
9 On the Origins of the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, London, 1904.
10 Acta Sanctorum, Junii, t. vi.
11 Migne, Patr. Lat., cxxiv. 779.