Origins of Christian Holidays – Halloween and Lemuria – Part 4 of Several
The Real Depaganization – Lemuria
So if in all likelihood the moving of All Saints Day to November wasn’t to Christianize Samhain, what was it for? Well it might have been to Christianize a different festival from Rome called “Lemuria”.
According to Ovid the festival was instituted by Romulus himself to appease the spirit of his dead brother Remus. You were supposed to walk around barefoot and throw black beans over your shoulder and chant “haec ego mitto; his redimo meque meosque fabis” nine times. This would exorcise the vengeful spirits or “lemures”. It apparently turned into a huge three or four day party from May 11th to May 13th on the Julian calendar.
Supposedly Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon on the 13th of May to get rid of the holiday and replace it with All Saint’s Day. Though some link the date with St. Ephrem. I can’t find any sources in English to confirm or deny this. They’re all in Latin and I don’t read enough Latin to really tell what it’s saying one way or another. It does seem likely that the festival had at least something to do with it.
I find it odd that it took so long to do so. Constantine made Christianity the state religion of Rome in 313 and it was almost three hundred years later before Boniface did his thing in 609. Typically when Christianity takes over, pagan festivals and stuff go out the window fairly quickly, or at very least get a fairly thick coat of crosses, bread and wine painted over them. Usually doesn’t take three to five hundred years and three Popes to get rid of something not Christian. Heck, many times, the converted volunteer to abandon the old ways almost immediately. That’s the sort of thing you tend to expect when communities convert.
However, I find that there’s more to this idea than the Pope trying to supplant Samhain. The festival of Lemuria did take place in Rome, he was definitely trying to ‘cleanse’ a non-Christian temple to pagan Gods. Boniface was basically saying that instead of the Pantheon being dedicated to Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Neptune it is now dedicated to Mary, Peter, Paul, Joseph and Andrew, thus “de-paganizing” it and making a sort of holiday to all the saints and memorializing all the dead that have gone before.
Likely as not the idea of a holiday commemorating the dead saints or martyrs was a bit older than 609, but the timely gift of the Pantheon to Boniface IV and the festival of Lemuria fit very well with the idea. The idea took hold, spread and it was celebrated in May for almost three centuries until Gregory III changed it to November.