March 25 – the date of the annunciation, the crucifixion, and the origin of December 25 as the date of Christmas?

Today is March 25, Lady Day.  According to various online sources, it is celebrated as the the day that the angel Gabriel announced the incarnation to the virgin Mary, the Annunciation.  This is also the day of Jesus’ conception.  I have read that some ancient sources also considered it to be the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, in line with an ancient belief that a prophet came into the world and left it on the same date.  Finally there is the idea that the date of Christmas, 25 December, probably came about because it was 9 months after the conception of Jesus.

There’s a lot in that to verify.  But I thought that I would post the ancient testimonies that give 25 March as the day of the crucifixion.  For this sounds odd to us.  We know that Easter is the day of the resurrection, the third day after the crucifixion; but Easter moves on the lunar calendar.  So where does 25 March come from?

There is an obvious witness, which no doubt influenced all subsequent writers – St Augustine, De Trinitate book 4, chapter 5:

He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since.  But He was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.  (NPNF translation here.)

This was written early in the 5th century. He repeats this claim in the City of God, book 18, chapter 54 (here):

Now Christ died when the Gemini were consuls, on the eighth day before the kalends of April. He rose the third day, as the apostles have proved by the evidence of their own senses.

But where did he get this idea from, that the crucifixion was on the 8th day before the kalends of April, March 25?

There is a lunar calendar on the statue of Hippolytus in the Vatican Library.[1]  Apparently a note within this indicates the “Passion of Christ” was on Friday March 25.

Tertullian, Adversus Judaeos 8:18: (English)

[18] Quae passio Christi [huius exterminium] intra tempora LXX ebdomadarum perfecta est sub Tiberio Caesare, consulibus Rubellio Gemino et Rufio Gemino mense Martio temporibus paschae, die octavo Kalendarum Aprilium, die primo azymorum quo agnum occiderunt ad vesperam, sicut a Moyse fuerat praeceptum.

And the suffering of this “extermination” was perfected within the times of the lxx hebdomads, under Tiberius Caesar, in the consulate of Rubellius Geminus and Fufius Geminus, in the month of March, at the times of the passover, on the eighth day before the calends of April, on the first day of unleavened bread, on which they slew the lamb at even, just as had been enjoined by Moses.

The Liberian Catalogue of bishops of Rome of 354 AD, part 13 of the Chronography of 354 (here):

IMPERANTE TIBERIO CAESARE PASSVS EST DOMINVS NOSTER IESVS CHRISTVS DVOBVS GEMINIS CONS. VIII KAL. APR.

WHEN TIBERIUS CAESAR WAS REIGNING, OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST DIED, THE TWO GEMINI BEING CONSUL, ON THE 8TH DAY BEFORE THE KALENDS OF APRIL.

An obscure author, Q. Julius Hilarianus, ca. 397, in his Expositum de die Paschae et Mensis, c.15 (PL 13, 1105-14; 1114B):

Eo quippe anno, ut supputationis fides ostendit, et ratio ipsa persuadet, passus est idem Dominus Christus luna xiv, viii kal. April, feria sexta.

In the East there were various dates,[2].  The Acts of Pilate seem to contain the date in at least one version (here):

In the fifteenth year of the government of Tiberius Caesar, emperor of the Romans, and Herod being king of Galilee, in the nineteenth year of his rule, on the eighth day before the Kalends of April, which is the twenty-fifth of March, in the consulship of Rufus and Rubellio, in the fourth year of the two hundred and second Olympiad, Joseph Caiaphas being high priest of the Jews.

There are various versions of the Acts of Pilate, at least two in Greek, plus a Latin version, and it is probably fairly late, at least as we have it.  But Tertullian refers twice to apocryphal material by Pilate, in the Apologeticum, in c.5 and in cc. 21 and 24, which suggests that the Acts of Pilate, or some precursor to them, was already circulating in the second century.[3]

The evidence would suggest therefore that the Acts of Pilate are probably responsible for the Latin tradition that the crucifixion was on 25 March.  This was adopted by Tertullian, and read by Augustine, and then disseminated to the world.  From it, again in the west, the calculation of 25 December arises.

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  1. [1]Schmidt, T. C. (2015). “Calculating December 25 as the Birth of Jesus in Hippolytus’ Canon and Chronicon,” Vigiliae Christianae 69, p.542–563. doi:10.1163/15700720-12341243
  2. [2]See https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=POoWAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA395&dq=crucifixion+march+25&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiBz_zmz8vvAhUDSBUIHWFEDf4QuwUwAHoECAQQBg#v=onepage&q=crucifixion%20march%2025&f=false
  3. [3]A compilation of some information about this text may be found here.

3 thoughts on “March 25 – the date of the annunciation, the crucifixion, and the origin of December 25 as the date of Christmas?

  1. Hi Roger,

    Clement of Alexandria In his Stromata 1.21.145-146 also describes a tradition that put the conception of Jesus on the Vernal equinox, the 25th of Pharmuthi in the Egyptian calendar. The only difference between this and the Roman tradition is that, when converted to the Roman calendar, the Egyptian Vernal equinox was a few days earlier (March 20 or 21 or thereabouts) than the Roman one (March 25). In the same passage Clement also expresses the notion that Jesus was crucified on the Vernal Equinox as well.

  2. Thank you. I was aware of some eastern traditions placing the date a few days earlier, but left them aside. The Audian heretics described by Epiphanius in the Panarion also did so, citing a different version of the Acta Pilati.

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