Callas and the Dormition of the Theotokos

In the Orthodox Church, 15 August is a Great Feast: The Dormition of the Theotokos (Κοίμησις της Θεοτόκου) or “The Falling-asleep of the G-d-bearer.”

According to Orthodox teaching, three days following the death of Mary, the mother of Jesus, her body was taken up into heaven to join her soul. To quote from the Wikipedia entry on the Feast:
Orthodox theology teaches that the Theotokos has already undergone the bodily resurrection, which all will experience at the Second Coming, and stands in heaven in that glorified state that the other righteous ones will enjoy only after the Last Judgment.
Maria Callas celebrated her name day on 15 August and all her life was devoted to the Theotokos. She wrote to her Roman Catholic husband, Giovanni Battista Meneghini, from Buenos Aires in 1949:
The other evening I went with a Greek journalist and a lady to the Greek Orthodox church to light a candle for us and my Norma. You see, I feel our Church more than yours. It’s strange, but it’s so. Perhaps because I’m more accustomed to it, or perhaps because the Orthodox Church is warmer and more festive. It’s not that I don’t like yours, which is also mine now, but I have a strong partiality for the Orthodox Church.
(Okay, that quotation, transcribed when I was insufficiently caffeinated, does not in fact mention the Theotokos, though it shows that Callas was a believer and attached to her religion, albeit not a church goer.)

Early in their relationship, Meneghini made a gift to Callas of a Cignaroli miniature of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph that became a good-luck charm for her. (He refers to this painting as a “Madonnina.”) He reports that they hung a painting of the Madonna by Caroto in their bedroom, and that their favorite work of art was the painting you see above: Tiziano’s “Assunta” at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice (a basilica dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, as the Dormition of the Theotokos is known in the Roman church).

Meneghini also writes that he told Callas, after she took up with Aristotle Onassis:
Now go talk to all your patron saints and ask them for advice, ask them if you are in the right, but also pay a visit to your Madonna in the Cathedral in Milan, the Madonna you saw so very many times, before whom you genuflected and prayed.
The Madonnina (Madunina in the local dialect) who stands atop the Duomo is the symbol of Milan.

In 1960, Stelios Galatopoulos ran into Callas with Onassis making a visit to the island of Tinos, where there is a reportedly miraculous icon of the Thetokos. He wrote that
she appeared to be in the highest of spirits. Dressed simply in black and with a black chiffon scarf decorated with a few sequins over her head, Maria looked much younger than her years and the personification of Greek beauty.
Maria Callas reportedly died with a rosary (the gift of her sister-in-law Pia Meneghini) on her bedside table.

Since Maria Callas celebrated her name day on 15 August, I think that we should, too. I intend to post every day this week in her honor. The musical clip that follows is from Verdi’s I Lombardi alla prima crociata and was recorded in 1964-65, when Callas was in fragile voice, with her “big” career winding down.

Also: Please listen to Maria Callas in music from Verdi’s La forza del destino, including arias addressed to the Theotokos.


  1. The Spirit of La Divina lives on. . . through you, my dear!

    Ave Maria,


  2. Dear heart: Thank you. That compliment means so much coming from you, who are the spirit of kindness and grace incarnate! m