This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

January 18 -- Feast of Blessed Beatrice d'Este II

Let's start with a couple of verses from the Bible.  First, Acts 19:11-12.
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
 Now let's look at 2 Kings 13:20-21.  
Elisha died and was buried.  Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.

 Where, you may rightly ask, is this going?  Among the Reformist criticisms of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is the complaint that veneration of holy relics is pagan idolatry of the coarsest kind.  If so, then apparently the first Christians practiced such.  Moreover, there's Old Testament evidence of belief in the wonder-working powers of relics.  

With that in mind, I want to praise the ingenuity of the Benedictine sisters who held the relics of Blessed Beatrice d"Este II.  Born of a noble family (and niece of a beata -- see below), Beatrice was pledged to marry into another noble family and bear many noble children, but her intended's untimely death in battle prevented that.  Although both nobility and nubility (see what I did there?) were on her side, she withdrew from the court to the island of San Lorenzo where she started a new convent.  There's not a lot to be said about her time there, except that she was a model abbess in every respect and was venerated upon her death.  In fact, the very water that was used to wash her corpse was saved as a miracle-working holy fluid.  Her bones also oozed miraculous, sweet-smelling liquid for many years.  When the relics were finally dry, the sisters would wash them periodically, saving the water from the cleansing to replenish their supply.  After 1512, when the monastery folded and Blessed Beatrice was interred, condensation from the walls of her tomb was collected.  The tomb is still a site for pilgrims, many of whom seek to collect the dew as a third class relic. 

Beatrice non beata, sed pulchra est.
Last summer, a friend taught me about the classification of relics.  A third class relic is something that has directly touched a first or second degree relic.  Thus, water used to wash the bones, or even water that formed on the tomb, can be a third class relic.  A second class relic is an object that a saint wore or used.  Shirts, caps, rings, croziers, cups, crucifixes, rosaries, breviaries, and perhaps even dentures would all be included.  A first class relic is either a body (or part thereof) of a saint, or an object of great significance in the central narrative of the Bible.  Thus, the manger in which the Holy Infant was lain, the nails used to hang him on the Cross, and even the Cross itself would be first class relics.  So too are the bodies, bones, and genuine teeth of the saints and beati. 

NB.  There are at least two other women named Beatrice d'Este, one of whom was also a beata.  The earlier Blessed Beatrice d'Este was a beautiful and fashionable (not to say vain) young girl who was the object of nine courtly love poems by a troubadour named Rambertino Buvalelli.  Since Beatrice entered a Benedictine monastery at age fourteen, we can assume that Rambertino was writing about her when she was younger than that.  Creep.  Anyway, the feast of that Beatrice is May 10 and she died in 1226.  

The other Beatrice married Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, in the fifteenth century.  She was reputed to be one of the most beautiful and fashionable (not to say vain) women of her age.  It ran in the family. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

October 19 -- Feast of Joel the Prophet

SQPN says that the Roman Catholic feast of Joel is July 13, but the Greek Orthodox celebrate him today.  It's nice to have choices; today, we're going eastern.

Most sources claim not to know anything about Joel except that his father's name was Pethuel and he wrote a brief book included in the Tanach (Old Testament).  It is a mere 73 verses, which allowed me to read it just before I wrote this.  Talk about some fear of God!  Joel basically gives the people of Judah (Judea, later) a couple of choices.  In the first, waves of insects will devour all plant life, then brooks will dry up and the livestock will suffer.  Then the army of The Lord will march in ranks across the land, burning everything and killing everyone.  This is what comes of failing to keep the Law.

Alternatively, the people will keep the Law, praise The Lord, and be faithful.  The crops will flourish.    Vats of wine and oil will be brimming and the threshing floors will be piled high with grain.  Eventually The Lord will bring his Kingdom to earth, summoning all the nations to the Valley of Jehoshaphat for judgment, and he will punish them for the wicked things they have done.  But for the faithful, the mountains will drop down sweet wine, the hills will flow with milk, and the brooks of Judah will flow with waters.

Joel doesn't address the bad things / good people problem.  It is a weakness in his text.  Faithful, devout people also have bad stuff happen.  It could be argued that no one is faithful and good enough, but then, one wonders why The Lord would set the bar so unattainably high?  One might argue that it is not individuals, but rather the nation that is judged by The Lord, but that too seems unjust to those who keep the Law but cannot inspire their neighbors.  Reading Joel, I can understand the market for the message offered by Jesus, Paul and the early Christians.  Living under Roman occupation (following Hellenistic occupation), they understood that those least faithful to The Lord would be most prosperous.  Conversely, those most faithful were distrusted, scorned, and abused.  Since God was not delivering the nation from its powerful neighbors, a new covenant of individual salvation would be necessary.  Believe in God, suffer on earth, and there will be a place for you in the Kingdom of God (details about where and when are debatable).

I am not giving much credit to Joel, but most of his book leaves me flat.  In an attempt to be balanced (if not fair), let me note two memorable phrases associated with him.  First, he picks up on Isaiah's "swords into plowshares" phrase, but instead imagines that The Lord will come to lead his people in triumph, saying,

Beat your plowshares into swords,
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’ (Chapter 3, Verse 10)

He also describes The Lord inspiring the people directly, every man and woman becoming his or her own prophet.  Saint Peter picks up on this passage when explaining the Pentecost. 

It will happen afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;and your sons and your daughters will prophesy.
Your old men will dream dreams.
Your young men will see visions.
And also on the servants and on the handmaids in those days,
I will pour out my Spirit.  Chapter 2, (Verses 28-29)

The editors of the Tanach might have ditched Joel, especially after he inverted Isaiah's promise of a peacetime economy (spears into pruning hooks).  They, however, held true to their job and didn't boot him out, which is much to their credit.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

September 24 -- Feast of Saint Tekla

Near her tomb in Syria
In Spanish, tecla means key.  [Or so I am told; I don't speak Spanish.]  Saint Tekla (which is spelled Tecla in the west) is the patron of Tarragona, Spain, as well as towns or quarters in Portugal, Italy, and El Salvador named Santa Tecla.  Hispanophones (yeah, that's a real term) joke that she's also the patron saint of computers (see reference above to the meaning of her name).  The joke falls flat in Sainte-Thecle, Quebec, where the word for key is clef

Saint Paul himself gets the credit for Tekla's conversion to Christianity.  Tekla's mom had a fiance named Thamyris, and they agreed that Paul's chastity nonsense was injurious to the girl's future so they needed to put a stop to it.  Thwarted by the usual methods of persuasion, they settled on a course that was even more injurious to her future -- wed or die.  Apparently she and Paul were both going to be killed, but a sudden downpour prevented them from burning Thekla at the stake.

Her festival in Tarragona, Spain -- a bfd, for sure
She then followed Paul to Antioch in Pisidia, where she caught the eye of a nobleman named Alexander.  Big Al thought he could make free with young Tekla, but she fought him off bravely, only to be arrested for assaulting a patrician.  Big Al's reputation for masculinity must have suffered mightily after he lodged the complaint, but the authorities dutifully arrested Thekla, condemned her, and threw her to the beasts.  In an unusual twist, the female animals circled around Thekla and would not let the males attack her.

She wrapped up her days in Seleucia (the one in Syria) and is said to have been buried in Ma'loula, where her crypt-cave is still a shrine.  The Eastern Orthodox Church has given her the title Equal-to-the-Apostles, which is flattering if cumbersome. The Western Church celebrates her on September 23, but if she hung with Paul, she's more properly celebrated on the Eastern calendar's date.