On the 8th day

(Despite its theme, this posting is notably lacking in salaciousness and jokiness.)

News for penises. Mail from a colleague reminds me that on the Christian liturgical calendar, January 1st (coming up next Tuesday), is the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. And points me to the peculiar history of the Holy Prepuce.

Circumcision of Jesus, by Fra Angelico (1451-2) — one of an enormous number of representations of the subject, in both the Western and Eastern church traditions

Vocabulary background, from NOAD:

noun prepuce [ /ˈpriˌpyus/ ]: Anatomy 1 technical term for foreskin [‘the retractable roll of skin covering the end of the penis’]. 2 the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris.

From Wikipedia:

The Holy Prepuce, or Holy Foreskin (Latin præputium or prepucium), is one of several relics attributed to Jesus, a product of the circumcision of Jesus. At various points in history, a number of churches in Europe have claimed to possess Jesus’s foreskin, sometimes at the same time. Various miraculous powers have been ascribed to it.

… All Jewish boys are required by Jewish law to be circumcised on the eighth day following their birth; the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, still celebrated by many churches around the world, accordingly falls on January 1. Luke 2:21 (King James Version), reads: “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

… Foreskin relics began appearing in Europe during the Middle Ages. The earliest recorded sighting came on December 25, 800, when Charlemagne gave it to Pope Leo III when the latter crowned the former Emperor. Charlemagne claimed that it had been brought to him by an angel while he prayed at the Holy Sepulchre, although a more prosaic report says it was a wedding gift from the Byzantine Empress Irene. Its authenticity was later considered to be confirmed by a vision of Saint Bridget of Sweden, who confirmed that it was somewhere in Rome. The Descriptio laternansis Ecclesia, written shortly before 1100, indicated that a cypress chest commissioned by Leo III and placed under the altar in the Chapel of St. Lawrence held three caskets. One of the caskets contained a gold jeweled cross. The document stated that in this cross was the foreskin and umbilicus of Jesus.

… a 25 July 1960 decree of Pope John XXIII enacted a wide-ranging revision of the General Roman Calendar, which included changing the name of the 1 January feast from “Circumcision of the Lord and Octave of the Nativity” to “Octave of the Nativity”, with no change of the Gospel reading about the circumcision of the child Jesus [so the name disappears from the Roman Catholic calendar — though not from the Anglican or Lutheran calendars]

… Most of the Holy Prepuces were lost or destroyed during the Reformation and the French Revolution. [And the relics have mostly disappeared as well]

More on the feast, from Wikipedia:

The Feast of the Circumcision of Christ is a Christian celebration of the circumcision of Jesus in accordance with Jewish tradition, eight days (according to the Semitic and southern European calculation of intervals of days) after his birth, the occasion on which the child was formally given his name.

The circumcision took place not in the Temple, though painters sometimes so represent it, but in the home.

The circumcision of Jesus has traditionally been seen, as explained in the popular 14th-century work the Golden Legend, as the first time the blood of Christ was shed, and thus the beginning of the process of the redemption of man, and a demonstration that Christ was fully human, and of his obedience to Biblical law.

Yes, there are hymns. Just not many.

The circumcision as the prefiguring of the crucifixion, the sacrifice on our behalf,  provides the basis for Circumcision hymns. The reading from the Coptic Hymnology site for the Feast of Circumcision:

Rejoice today all your nations joyfully / for Christ accepted to Himself the circumcision on our behalf

Then from the Hymnary.org site, “Christ’s birth and circumcision too” (text by James Relly, ca. 1722 – 1778); it was adopted as a Universalist hymn and appeared in hymnals through ca. 1835. Verse 1 of 4 (on the theme of Christ’s shedding his blood for us):

Christ’s Birth and Circumcision too,
His Fasting and Temptations shew,
His Agony and bloody Sweat,
His wounded Heart and Torments great,
His Blood, his Death, and all shall prove
The Fulness of the Godhead-Love.

For the feast day, my Anglican and Lutheran hymnbooks have hymns on the name of God (“Jesus, Name of wondrous love, / Name all other names above!” and the like), with no blood shed.

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