by Samuel, Toulouse Office

On the fortieth day of Easter (always a Thursday), Christians celebrate the feast of the Ascension. It commemorates the ascension of Jesus into heaven after his resurrection and marks the end of his terrestrial life. It is a very important landmark of the Christian liturgical calendar, and a public holiday in Europe (except in Spain, Hungary, Italy, Greece and Portugal) and in several other countries around the world.

Ascension of Christ, Rembrandt, 1636

The 40-day period is a convention set by the Church in the 4th century, although the number does not appear in the Gospels. It is a symbolic number: in the Bible for instance, the Flood lasted 40 days and so did the mountain retreat of Moses. As early as the 4th century, there were processions in Jerusalem heading to the Mount of Olives to celebrate the Ascension.

The Ascension symbolizes the glorification of the Christ: it is considered as a sign that his terrestrial mission was accomplished.

It is a public holiday in France despite the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State; the Catholic Church managed to retain the holiday during its negotiations with the State. At the time, the French Third Republic was trying to win over public opinion and therefore declared several public holidays that corresponded to religious landmarks, so as to accommodate the predominantly Catholic rural population.

Traditionally, the Ascension is celebrated with festive processions.