The importance of the annunciation to medieval and Renaissance Florentines is best reflected in the fact that until 1750 the beginning of the new year corresponded directly to the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25. Leonardo’s Annunciation, probably commissioned for the monastery of Monte Oliveto outside Florence, depicts the initial moment of encounter between Gabriel and Mary, when Gabriel announces to Mary: “The Lord is with you!” (in the Vulgate: Dominus tecum). Mary is seated behind a lectern, which is best understood as an altar, underscoring her priestly role. On the lectern rests a book whose fluttering pages (presumably stirred by the rush of Gabriel’s arrival) are stilled by Mary’s fingers. The 13th-century Meditations on the Life of Christ (written by a Franciscan monk in Tuscany) suggests that at the moment Gabriel appeared, Mary may have been reading Isaiah 7:14, a passage traditionally understood as a prophecy of the virginal birth. The lily that Gabriel holds is a symbol of Mary’s purity.
You probably won’t hear Greg Laswell's songs in church. You’re more likely to catch them on the radio or in the background of a particularly intense moment of shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Glee, or The Carrie Diaries. Yet his songs animate the highs and lows of my spiritual journeys. I’ve also started using them in my U.S. religious history courses.
I have met them in the Uffizi the angel hunched on bended knee— his thigh thick beneath his satin robe— the virgin’s urgent contrapposto her sudden arm extended long beyond the border of her cape halting his rehearsed song as if his theme weren’t love but rape.
Her face impossibly serene does not betray her body’s fear. His deathless eyes have never seen a mortal woman quite so near. The space between their outstretched hands salvation in a single glance.
At least half of churchgoers in the United Kingdom claim they’ve heard their church organist occasionally slip in unexpected tunes, from popular songs to advertising jingles and theme songs from TV programs or movies. Sometimes organists are motivated by playfulness, other times revenge. One organist played “Money, Money, Money” by Abba while the offering was taken. Another played “Roll Out the Barrel” at a funeral for a man known for his drinking. (The organist got sacked for this transgression.) An organist in Scotland at odds with the elders played a thinly disguised version of “Send in the Clowns” during the procession in a worship service (Telegraph, May 3, 2013).