Today we investigate an interesting celebration that is honoured every year on the 9th of March: The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste or the Holy Forty. We could only find traces of this celebration in two Eastern European countries, Romania and Moldavia, but if you know of other countries or regions having special festivities on this day, please drop us a comment or a mail; we’ll be very interested to find out more about it.
The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste were a group of 40 Roman soldiers who were killed in the year 320 A.D. near the city of Sebaste (present-day Sivas in Turkey) at the order of Agrocolae, the governor of Armenia, for refusing to let go of their strong christian beliefs. They were locked away and tortured for 8 days and then thrown in the frozen lake of Sebaste on the day of March 8. The legend says that many wonders happened that night: the water of the lake warmed up, the ice melted down and 40 crowns of light were shining in the sky; the next day, March 9, the martyrs were taken out of the lake alive and eventually killed. This act of martyrdom in name of the Christian faith and the legendary wonders which surrounded it, are recounted in traditional martyrologies.
In the Romanian and Moldavian folklore, it is believed that on this day, heaven gates open and the long gone ones come to see their relatives and successors. Having this celebration close to the equinox is not a coincidence as in the peasant belief in order to pass between the 2 worlds ( death vs alive) you need to follow the route of the sun.
The day of March 9th is also linked to a different celebration in these countries: it’s the day when the period of the “babe”(old women) finishes and the week of the “mosi” (old men) is starting. This is an older, pagan celebration which we’ll cover in a different post.
And since all good celebration have to have a culinary element 🙂 , Romanians and Moldavians prepare on this day a traditional dessert which is given away to relatives, neighbours and poor people as a way to remember the ones that have passed away, but also for as a symbol of a year with a rich harvest. The celebration of the martyrs is strongly connected with the preparation of the ground and tools for the new agriculture year
The Mucenici can be cooked in two ways, either like a sweet soup with cinnamon and walnuts or like a cake with honey and walnuts. Both versions are absolutely delicious. You can find the recipes for both options in the caption of the photos. (only available in Romanian; if you want a translation, drop us a line and we’ll arrange that 🙂 ).