The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

The Feast of St. John the Baptist, also known as the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24 every year. Unlike other Saints, the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is one among the few to be celebrated as part of the liturgy. St. John the Baptist is known as the Patron Saint of tailors, shepherds and masons.

At the time of the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel informed Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy. On the basis of this account, the Church celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist by a feast of his nativity on June 24, assigned exactly six months before the nativity of Christ.

The story of St. John the Baptist begins when the Archangel Gabriel appears to an aged Zacharias in the Temple and tells to him that his wife Elizabeth though advanced in age would bear him a son. Since he did not believe what the Angel had said, he was struck with dumbness until the child’s birth.

St. John the Baptist has been described as one living in the wilderness, wearing clothes made of camel’s skin with a leather belt tied around the waist and eating locusts and wild honey. In his public ministry, he was known for attracting large crowds and for proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins. He would also baptize people. St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the river Jordan when he came to him. Later on, he was imprisoned and then beheaded by the orders of King Herod.

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, also known as St. John’s Day, is one of the oldest feasts celebrated by Christians. It is celebrated as a public holiday in some countries with customs varying from location to location. Typical customs may include the gathering of the perennial herb St. John’s Wort, the collection of flowers for floral wreaths. In many places fires are lit on the eve of the nativity of St. John the Baptist, communal bonfires as well as small fires in the home that burn past midnight.

In Goa, the Feast of St. John the Baptist is traditionally celebrated every year on June 24. On the day of the feast, youngsters go from door to door collecting fruits, liquor and gifts. They then offer prayers and jump into the wells and ponds. The youngsters jumping in the well has an interesting account from the Holy Bible associated with it. When Elizabeth was pregnant with John she was visited by Mary, and it is written that when Mary greeted Elizabeth the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt with joy. Newly married couples are also blessed on this occasion.

Besides solo images, St. John the Baptist’s portrait is also found in images of St Catherine of Alexandria and the Madonna and Child images. Whenever, Christ is also in the image, St. John is shown pointing to Him. Portraits show St. John the Baptist clad in Camel’s skin as described in the Scriptures. An important attribute that distinguishes St. John the Baptist is the Lamb (referring to his words about Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God”), often lying or standing on a book. Another common attribute is a Cross, sometimes with a banner attached to it. The story of his death is also a popular subject in art.

This illustration of Mary visiting Elizabeth, is taken from one of the two volumes of the Bible from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa. Both the volumes of the Bible are leather bound with brass clasps while the text is printed on paper. They belong to the 18th century and were donated by Canon Caetano da Cruz Fernandes from Benaulim, Goa. The text in both the Volumes is in Latin while the illustrations of Biblical scenes are described in six different languages (Greek, English, German, Latin, French and Dutch).