The Birth of Time

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The creation of the world and the beginning of time are two of the most significant anniversaries that occur in March.

Despite the fact that all the months are decorated with different types of happiness and honour, March is the most so. Byrhtferth of Ramsey, an 11th-century English expert in time measurement, held that idea, and many mediaeval scholars would have agreed with him. What distinguishes March as a wonderful month? The answer to that query can be found in one of the most complicated and puzzling aspects of mediaeval attitudes towards time and history. This aspect is extremely alien to modern science, but it is also clearly thought out, comprehensible on its own terms, and engaging.

According to experts on the mediaeval calendar like Byrhtferth, anniversaries and important dates—festivals and commemorations that raise specific days in the year to the status of sacred time—are what “adorn” the months. (I enjoy the concept of treating months as if they were Christmas trees, decked up in baubles and tinsel, with their festivals serving as their “decorations.”) According to one tradition, a string of seemingly ordinary days in late March commemorated the most significant anniversaries in human history. This made March unique.

The pivotal dates in this sequence are March 21, the day of the spring equinox, and March 25, which was commonly accepted in late antique and early mediaeval tradition as the actual date of the Crucifixion. The information provided concerning Christ’s passing in the Gospels—most notably its connection to Passover—was used to calculate that date. As Christ passed away at Passover, it was possible to determine the date of his passing and determine what it might have been on the Julian calendar. It was believed vital to recognise the Crucifixion and Resurrection as historical events that happened on particular days of the month, despite the moveable day on which the Church should commemorate these events being a separate problem.

Because it was deemed fitting that Christ should have been born on the same day that he died—making 25 March both the first and last day of his earthly existence—his conception, which is commemorated by the feast of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, was also set to 25 March on the Christian calendar. Calendar experts reasoned that it was appropriate to tie other significant events in biblical history to this date, one of which being the creation of time itself. On that auspicious day, 25 March, it was determined that God rested on the eighth day of creation, the final day of creation and the start of the world, marking the conclusion of another crucial cycle.

If the eighth day was on March 25, it was able to work backwards from that date and determine the dates of each of the days of creation, beginning on March 18. Hence, on March 18, God separated light from darkness, and on March 19, he formed the sky, and on March 20, the first trees and vegetation began to emerge from the land. The sun and moon were made on March 21, the equinox day, and that marked the start of time. Because the sun and moon produce cycles of days and nights, months and years, solstices and equinoxes, you couldn’t measure time before they were there.

Although there were other methods for determining these dates, this one was widely used. Early mediaeval calendars may include inscriptions like “18 March: First Day of the World” alongside the list of saints’ feast days and holidays. This manner of thinking about the world, particularly the idea that time began on a particular day of the month, may sound a little strange to a modern mind, but it makes sense in light of the priorities of mediaeval Christian intellectuals. It originates from the belief that the designs of nature’s structures were carefully considered by a divine Creator and that they could be comprehended by using human reason.From that perspective, it is both logical and lovely, showing how loving intention is expressed in the revolving months and the daily cycles.

One of the most difficult and fascinating elements of researching pre-modern cultures is trying to grasp such fundamentally different worldviews. If nothing else, it provides you with new dates to mark and intriguing facts to enhance your personal perception of time passing. In the final weeks of March, is there nothing else to celebrate? Why not celebrate the world’s birthday?

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