La Toussaint

November_2006_all_saints_dayFrance, the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church, takes its feasts very seriously. I remember my first All Saints Day (la Toussaint) spent in France.

(Image on left: All Saints by Albrecht Dürer)

As a Mormon, I often find myself jealous of the liturgical calendar and the regular feasts and days of remembrance that tie the cycles of the physical world into the realm of the mystic. In France, the entire country shuts down; banks and government institutions are closed, as are most stores. Church bells chime in visitors to celebrate this solemnity of solemnities, a sort of fill-in-the-gap holy day to make up for deficiencies in worship throughout the rest of the year, but also a time to remember the dead. In many ways this time of year brings the Catholic church closest to the spirit of Elijah we Mormons cherish. There’s a good summary of the day here.

Here is a rough translation of what the Diocese of Pas-de-Calais has to say about today:

For most of our fellowmen, All Saints’ Day is a time of remembrance; a time to remember departed friends and family. The gesture of placing flowers on gravestones brings these heartfelt ties before our eyes.

In the Catholic liturgical calendar, All Saints Day came to be in the 4th century. The Syrian Church set the day apart to celebrate all martyrs, whose number had by then grown so large that it became no longer possible to individually celebrate each one. This day was kept between Easter and Pentecost. They celebrated the victory of Christ in the lives of many men and women who died as testaments to their faith. Three centuries later, in his effort to Christianize pagan traditions, Pope Boniface IV transformed a Roman temple dedicated to “all the gods,” the Pantheon, into a church consecrated to all the Saints. This custom spread throughout the West, but each local church celebrated this on different dates, until 835 AD, when it was set as November 1. To this day, in the Byzantine (Orthodox) church, All Saints Day is the Sunday after Pentecost. At the beginning of the 9th century, Saint Odilon, Abbey of Cluny, began to make All Saints Day the Day of the Dead (All Souls Day). Today, the liturgical calendar splits these days between the 1st and 2nd of November.

Our families or friends may be grieving over the deaths of infants, youths or adults. A list of “the dead to remember” will be circulated for our communal prayer. Soon we will visit the graves of our dearly departed ones. As we remember our dead, may we enlarge our hearts and and pray for them all.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks so much for this, Steve. I have a bad tendency to forget that Halloween originated as the vigil for All Saints’ Day.

    I freely admit to a little bit of sacred envy for more liturgical traditions that pay attention to this sort of thing.

  2. So you inspired me to pop out and see if there’s anything happening at the local CC. Alas, it’s cold and raining so I went to the gas station instead and bought a drink! Everyone here is shivering at the cemeteries right now.

  3. Steve Evans says:

    That’s it Ronan, drown your sorrows in alcohol.

  4. Tsk Evans. My new addiction is “Vanille-Milch.”

  5. Steve Evans says:

    Vanille-Milch mit kirsch, no doubt.

  6. I never made the connection before. Thanks for letting me know, Steve.

  7. FYI, tomorrow is All Souls Day, the day of the dead. The timing of these two events — All Saints and All Souls — is something quite special, in my opinion.

  8. In an odd bit of revisionist history, a local radio in San Antonio did announce that today was dia de muerte, but tied it back to an aztec tradition of “mocking death” to celebrate life.

  9. Arras is a fine city. I spent the majority of my mission in the Pas-de-Calais. So, this is an interesting counterpoised against American traditions. I have heard evangelicals rail against Halloween, but do they celebrate All Saints Day? And if so, do other denominations get upset that they don’t follow the liturgical calendar?

  10. Admittedly off topic, but this non-French speaker had only one thought at seeing the title of this post: Toussaint l’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian revolution (who made it, picture and all, into my 6th grade social studies textbook).

    I never suspected the link between his name and “All Saints”, but Wikipedia says that his birthdate is given as “May 20 or November 1 (All Saints Day procuring the name Toussaint)”.

    So, thanks for the link, Steve, tying two otherwise unrelated bits of information into the great seamless web. (Unfortunately, there are days when that web looks more like a bowl of overcooked mush.)

  11. Steve Evans says:

    LOL, Mark — I know! the google search for Toussaint is a fun one.

  12. Another French missionary here, checking in to say how much I enjoyed watching the people going into the church across the narrow street from our Grenoble apartment, and listening to the bells that were usually silent.

  13. When we lived in Ecuador we spent All Saint’s and All Souls day in a small village somewhere. We were on holiday from work, and whatever little town we were in had a procession. We followed along and ended up in a graveyard. We marvelled at the decorated tombs and headstones. People had picnics on the cemetary grounds. All the bakeries sold “guagua de pan” which means “bread baby,” in a combo of Spanish and Quechua — little breads shaped in the form of a little baby doll. Thanks for this post to bring back such a delightful memory.


  1. […] Just about every Catholic blog out there has a post about it, but of course I must highlight the Mormon blog that has a very nice post including a very cool painting: By Common Consent, in a post by Steve Evans.  Many thanks, Steve. […]

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