6. All Souls Day
In 1030 AD, at the Abbey of Cluny in France, Odilo, it’s Abbott, instigated the first celebration of masses for the broader Christian dead. A resident of Cluny had been shipwrecked on an island while on pilgrimage. While he was stranded, he had a vision of souls in purgatory, suffering. So on his return to Cluny, he went to the abbot and asked that the monastery begin to say masses for all of the deceased. Thus, Odilio instigated an annual commemoration of prayers and offerings for the souls in purgatory in all his associated monasteries.
However, according to Professor Ronald Hutton in his Stations of the Sun, these first All Soul’s masses were not held in November but in February. February was yet another month where the Romans had traditionally held ceremonies for the dead: The Parentalia and the Feralia. These festivals were possibly the inspiration behind this original date.
The Parentalia traditionally began on February 13. It was a time for families to remember their deceased in a gentler way than at the Lemuria. Instead of driving the spirits of their ancestors away, the Romans visited their graves, bringing them offerings of wine and flowers and even sharing a family picnic with them. The Parentalia ended after just over a week later, and the Feralia, on February 21, was the ceremony that ended its events and closed the door between the living and dead for another year.
The Parentalia may have been gentler than the Lemuria. It was, however, just as crucial to the Romans. For its aim was also to ensure that the dead remained in their place. The Romans believed if they did not honor and remember the dead, they would return- with a vengeance. The festival’s traditional ceremonies at the graveside and attentiveness to the ancestors matched the ideals of Christian remembrance. However, the idea of pacifying potential vengeful spirits also suited the atmosphere of the ancient festival of Samhain. This similarity is probably why, by the end of the eleventh century, the date had shifted to November 2- the day after All Saints Day and became the closing stage of the season’s ceremonials.