25th of March is celebrated by Catholic as the Solemnity of Annunciation. In Florence this Solemnity was so much loved that it was chosen as the New Year beginning, and it has been the first day of the year for Centuries! It is worth to go deeper into this devotion.
Conventionally it is the day when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. She was a teenage girl of Bethlem, and untill that day the idea to become the most relevant woman in history never crossed her mind!
“Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee”
The incipit of the Hail Mary are the exact words that the Angel used referring to Mary, and as he was send by God, we can believe the Lord shared that greeting.
The Angel did not gave her an announcement she could not refuse: it was a proposal, God was asking Mary to collaborate with him to the Redemption. She got scared and she was free to refuse But she simply asked the Angel a little explanation and it was enough to trust and say yes: “Nothing is impossible to God”. She would have given birth to the Son fo God making salvation possible.
Artists have unceasingly tried to depict this sacred dialogue, its intimacy, the tension of the Angel waiting for her answer, the greatness of an humble “yes” of a woman to the Lord, its definitive importance for mankind salvation.
This representation is rare in bizantine art, it became more frequent in Middle Age, and we would dare to say it had its propulsive center in Florence. Middle Age was a time when femminine was a central theme in arts and litterature, like a means of beatitude, and Mary summed up all women virtues and she alone was (ans still is) vehicle of divine Grace.
More important, the scene of Annunciation is the exact moment when God has taken human nature, when He entered in History. More than Nativity, Annunciation teaches christians that Jesus has a real human and divine nature.
And He subordered his human life, and world’s Salvation, to the will of a girl, in a time when women had no power and no rights.
Representations of Annuntiation are present in Florence since the XI century, and they make the glory of many Museums and Churches. The one the city is more fond of is in the Church of Ss.ma Annunziata: tradition says this 13th Century fresco was completed by an angel because the painter didn’t know how to represent the Full of Grace. This miracolous painting was originally in a small chappel of Mary’ Servants newly born order, 5 minutes walk outside the city walls. For the big devotion the immage gave the name to the Sanctuary that has been build over the chapel.
The Cathedral itself is named Saint Mary of the Flower, that means flower of Incarnation.
This is also a core theme in our tours. It can be properly appreciated by everyone, indipendently by the faith. Arts, direct immertion into Beauty and the atmosphere of century of devotion can surely help.
(Beato Angelico, Annunciazione in San Marco Museum, Florence)