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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

March 1 -- Feast of St. David of Wales

Called Aquaticus because he preferred drinking water from the Hothny River to drinking beer or wine, David was the patron saint of Wales. He was born on a cliff in a crossfire hurricane, or at least a violent storm; the Chapel of St. Non (his mom) marks the spot. Monks following him lived by his monastic rule, one apparently "more austere than Christian," according to one writer. They were vegetarians as well as teetotalers, and they pulled the plow themselves rather than using oxen. Oddly enough, his monastery thrived.

Welsh folks wear a leek to honor St. David on March 1. I'm not really sure what the correct way to wear a leek is, but they do it. If you're in Wales, check this out and let the rest of us know.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

February 28 -- Feast of St. Hedwig of Poland

Jadwiga, as the Poles called her, was officially the King of Poland, rather than the Queen, since she was the ruler in her own right and not merely the wife of the King. Her great-grandfather was King Wladislaw the Elbow-High, the great unifier of Poland, who is included here only because his epithet is fun; her claim to the throne was never in question.

She had intended to marry William, Duke of Austria, but broke off the engagement at age thirteen to marry Jagiello of Lithuania. I tend to think that she was not the one to break it off, unless she was extraordinarily wise and not a little cynical at age thirteen. Nonetheless, her non-Christian husband converted for her, becoming King Landislaus II, and the union of their two kingdoms lasted more than four centuries.

Although things were pretty good between Jagiello and Hedwig -- well, good enough that she sold her jewels to raise enough money for the Krakow Academy to get it renamed Jagiellonian University -- at least one story suggests a little domestic friction.

Hedwig used to smuggle food from their home to give to the poor. These nocturnal missions were presented to King Jagiello as evidence that his wife was passing secrets to enemies. He busted her outside the palace one night with an apron full of food. Now it would seem to me that the food would be evidence of no greater crime than pilfering, and since she was also the King of Poland, she should have had much to fear. Times and genders being what they were, however, she was in mortal peril. But when she unfolded her apron, a bunch of roses fell out. Feather-headed women will take all kinds of risks for pretty posies, right? Get back inside, you silly girl.

A couple other miracles associated with her charity and piety were reported. The cross before which she used to pray is still hanging in Wawel Cathedral, and her sarcophagus rests beneath it. Look her up if you're ever in the neighborhood.

February 27 -- Feast of St. Ann Line

This is another story about the Anglican priest-catchers rounding up Catholic clergy to be racked, hanged, drawn, and quartered. I've had several of these so far, so the stories of Blessed Roger Filcock (imagine a priest with a name like that today) and Blessed Mark Barkworth (I'm not making it up) didn't do a lot for me. But Anne's story is just different enough to warrant telling, even at the risk of overstating the horrors of Anglican persecution of Catholics by never mentioning that brief round of reversal under Queen Mary.

Ann was the daughter of a wealthy Calvinist -- hard workers, those Calvinists. But Ann and her brother were disowned when they converted to Catholicism. Hard-hearted parents, those Calvinists. Ann married another convert, Roger Line, but he was was busted for attending Mass and exiled to Belgium. He died in Flanders.

Under the direction of Father Gerard (note that this is not the Feast of Gerard), Ann opened a house for priests. Father Gerard was then busted and sent to the Tower, so Ann moved her refuge. Father Gerard escaped, but drops out of the story.

Father Francis Page, however, was preaching at the house on Candlemas when the priest-catchers raided. He ditched the uniform and blended into the crowd -- obviously a valuable skill for a man in his position and era. You'll also note that this is not the feast of St. Francis Page.

The only one to bust, as always, was the owner of the house. Ann was sent to the Tower on February 2 and then to her Creator twenty-five days later. She was one of only three women among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Friday, February 25, 2011

February 26 -- Feast of St. Porphyrios

Today's saint was a good opportunity to learn something new. I had vaguely heard of the pagan god Dagon, but had not heard of Marnas at all. Like many of the polytheistic gods, these got vaguely conflated as the cultures spread and blended. He was variously a fish god, a grain god, and a protector / warrior god. He was also variously identified with Cronus, Enlil, Zeus (especially the Cretan Zeus), and Marnas. And that last identity brings us to St. Porphyrios.

A monk from Thessalonica, Porphyrios made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land but was stricken with a liver disease while there. Being a holy man in a holy land, he holed up in a cave in Jordan for five years. He must have recovered somewhat because he moved to Jerusalem, where he was appointed Keeper of the Cross. Three years later, he became bishop of Gaza, and here's where his story intersects with Marnas/Dagon.

The monotheists had been battling against the adherents to Dagon since the reign of King Saul. Even though Christianity had become the lawful religion throughout the whole Roman Empire, the Temple of Marnas (the Marneion) in Gaza was the last great pagan cult center. I tend to think that Porphyrios' fame rests largely on his ability to muster the imperial will to destroy this building, right down to removing the sacred floorstones on which no one was permitted to step and recycle them as paving stones for a road.

I can't claim that I approve of this or any act of iconoclasm. But I guess the pagans of Gaza had given the Bishop a tough time, and tough times call for tough men and tough action.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 25 -- Feast of St. Walpurgis

I expect that you, like I, are somewhat surprised to see a saint named for a pagan holiday. I'm sure that you (like I) quake with fear at the thought of Walpurgisnacht, when the witches gather in the Harz Mountains of Germany. But that's the night of April 30, so why would February 25 be the feast of someone named for this hellish night? Glad you asked.

Walpurgis, aka Walpurga, aka Bugga (really, she was apparently called that, but probably by her younger brothers when they were too young to say her whole name) was the daughter of St. King Richard of Wessex. She accompanied her brothers (Willibald and Winibald) and her uncle, St. Boniface, on a evangelical mission into the heart of pagan Germany. Prior to this, her book describing her brother Willi's pilgrimage made her the first female author in both Germany and England.

She has lots of miracles to her credit, calmed storms and holy lights and that sort of thing. A stone where her relics rested oozes out a healing oil. She was canonized on May 1; typically "translation days" are secondary feasts. May 1 is coincidentally Beltane, a pagan fertility feast. The night before, a witches' festival, is known as commonly called Walpurgisnacht in an oddly syncretic but decidedly female holy day.

If the blend of pagan and Christian holy days around May Day are uncomfortable for you, feel free to celebrate the purely Christian feast of St. Bugga on February 25.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

February 24 -- Feast of St. Praetextus

I was afraid I would have to pun my way through this post with some variations on the word pretext, but fortunately, a little extra reading made that unnecessary. St. Praetextus offers us an interesting pair of choices.

First, your godson, the crown prince of Neustria, is having a scandalous affair with the widow of King Sigebert of Austasia. Do you tell your friend King Childeric that his son Merovech is shacking up with a foreign monarch? Do you rush a marriage to prevent a scandal? Do you stick your head in the baptismal font and wish it would all go away?

If you married them to prevent scandal, you're halfway to the scaffold. It seems good Queen Brunhilda persuaded the foolish Merovech to rebel against his father and your (okay, Praetextus') decision enmeshed him in the rebellion. It was a lending aid and comfort to the enemy charge. That brings us to decision number two.

Once you're in the dock and the executioner is sharpening his axe, do you stand firm and deny your guilt? Cop a plea and take a post in exile? Bribe the guards and hide out in Rome? Drop to your knees and beg for mercy from the King?

Yeah, I would have gone to Rome too, but wise old Praetextus took the spot in Jersey (Old, not New). He hung out there until Childeric's death, upon which the King of Burgundy (and regent for young Clotaire II) invited him to return.

Once back in your old job, do you pour a glass of burgundy and drink to the kindness of your new patron, promising to make no more trouble? Make a pilgrimage to Rome in gratitude for your restoration? Denounce the ex-Queen Fredegund for having murdered Childeric, the King who exiled you?

Maybe the last one is a little deceptive, since Praetextus also thought the Queen had murdered Sigebert (her brother-in-law), Clovis (her stepson), and Merovech (her other stepson).

Still, snitches get stitches. Pratextus was assassinated on the Queen's orders. And little Clotaire? He grew up to be a cruel little king, racking the old Queen Brunhilda (Remember her? The Merry Widow of Austrasia who married Clotaire's half-brother Merovech?) for three days before ordering her torn asunder by four goaded horses.

February 23 -- Blessed Daniel Brottier

It's tough to think about celebrating the feast of St. Serenus the Gardener when there are three-foot snowbanks along the road, so Daniel gets the nod.

Daniel Brottier was a French priest who served as a missionary to Senegal from 1903 to 1911. He returned to France to recover his failing health, but then launched a fundraising drive to build a cathedral in Dakar, Senegal. He wanted the new church to be a memorial to the Africans who died for France and the French who died for Africa. While it may be easy for us to be cynical about imperialism and attribute all Euro-American motives as greed, I think the histories of men like Daniel Brottier were genuinely motivated by the most altruistic impulses.

When World War I broke out, Daniel Brottier served as a chaplain in the French Army. He was cited six times for bravery, receiving both the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor. I haven't seen many beatified war veterans -- Daniel doesn't seem to have an official patronage assigned, so let's add him to the patrons of veterans.

Monday, February 21, 2011

February 22 -- Feast of St. Peter

Sure, I'd prefer to be writing about Stefan Wincenty Frelichowski, a priest who died of typhus in Dachau, or Pope Telesphorus, who may or may not have instituted Lent, but surely did begin Christmas Midnight Mass. There's the outrageously named Émilie d’Oultremont van der Linden d’Hooghvorst and the outrageously unnamed Martyrs of Arabia. The choices for today are manifold, BUT...

One cannot ignore that biggest of dogs, rivaled only by Paul and maybe John, Simon Peter. He was the Rock (Kephas, Petrus, Rocky) on which the Church was built. He's the Keeper of the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. He's half of the first link in the chain of apostolic succession, on which (as Williams might say) so much depends. But what's to be said about him that hasn't already been minced to a powder?

Well, let's consider the resurrection of Dorcas. You remember Dorcas, right? She lived and died in Joppa. You thought her name was Tabitha? Correct, that was her alias. And after she died, Peter raised her from the dead. Why? To inspire faith? To challenge faith? To allow her to continue her good works? I don't know, but I will say my confidence in the Book of Acts was shaken when I read that. Jesus resurrecting Lazarus was okay because he was, after all, Jesus. But what are the implications of resurrections by apostles? I find it troubling.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 21 -- Feast of St. Peter Damian

His name was just Peter when he was orphaned as a wee lad. An older brother took him in, mostly for the labors he could be forced to perform. It was not a very happy life for little Peter the Swineherd, but fortunately an even older brother named Damian, a priest in Ravenna, took him in. Peter was so grateful that he took the name Damian as his surname.

He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1828, which is a long time from his death of fever in 1072. It seems an especially long time given how quickly his cult was established. In fact, his Benedictine brothers buried his body quickly to prevent rival religious orders or leaders from claiming his relics (or body parts, as they are known to the rest of us).

Peter Damian was a scholar and a reformer as well as an ascetic monk. He wrote lots of sermons and letters, as well as seven biographies. Of most interest to me is his Liber Gomorrhianus, The Book of Gomorrah, in which he condemned the corruptions that were plaguing the Church in the eleventh century. In this, he supported Anselmo Baggio (also known as Antsy Baggins) as Pope; Antsy became Alexander II, a strong opponent of simony and other priestly wickedness.

In the zeal of his early career, Peter Damian discovered that you'll diminish your health if you try to replace sleep with prayer. The way I see it, sleep is a gift from God that must be respected and treasured.

February 20 -- Feast of St. Eucherius of Orleans

Eucherius resisted his appointment as the bishop of Orleans following the death of his uncle, Bishop Suaveric. His instincts were correct, and it is a pity that others did not listen to him.

The King of the Franks, recognizing that Arab invaders who had conquered North Africa and Spain were invading France, commenced preparations for a massive war. He imposed levies on churches and cathedrals as well as the aristocracy. Eucherius, being a loyal son of the Church, resisted the seizure of Church property.

I often come down on the side of the Church in tax disputes. I'm all for tax exemptions for religious institutions, at least as long as we use taxes to engineer social policy rather than merely to raise revenue. But the national and religious identity of the Franks hung in the balance. Eucherius would have stood on a principle until the day a Saracen threw him out of his cathedral, smashed the religious icons, and rededicated it as a mosque. I'm not faith-baiting here -- read the history of the time. Nor am I suggesting that the Christians were all love, luck, and lollipops while the Muslims butchered them. The war for hegemony was quite symmetrical.

Eucherius was exiled by Charles "the Hammer" Martel. He went to Cologne (Germany) and retired to a monastery. Monastic life probably suited him; he did not seem to be able to straddle the line between the secular and the spiritual worlds as well as a bishop must.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 19 -- Feast of St. Boniface of Lausanne

I was prepared to write about the early Renaissance painter Fra Angelico, also known as Giovanni of Fiesole, also known as Guido di Piero. He was beatified in 1982 and named patron of Catholic artists in 1984. However, nearly all sources agree that his feast is on February 18, not February 19, as Bangley's edition of Butler's Lives of the Saints has it. I was tempted to write about him anyway, but then I decided that it would be mere and sheer obstinacy; he can wait until next February. After all, he waited five hundred twenty-seven years for beatification.

So instead, let's turn our attention to someone who would rather be right than employed: St. Boniface of Lausanne. He started out his career teaching at the University of Paris, but left after a dispute involving profs and students resulted in boycotts of his classes. He must have been God-smart if not people-smart, because he was appointed Bishop of Lausanne two years later. He first got into it with the clergy working under him -- that always spills over into their congregants, who more often than not will back the local priests they know against the bishop they don't know.

Then he got into it with Emperor Frederick II, whose goons did not like their boss being criticized. Our Bonny Bishop was ambushed and beaten up; he asked the Pope for permission to resign and the Pope did not say no. Boniface ended his days as the chaplain to the same convent of nuns who had taught him before he went to Paris, reminding us all to be nice to people on your way to the top since you meet the same people on your way back down.

Friday, February 18, 2011

February 18 -- St. Colman of Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne was the ecclesiastical seat of Northumbria, a northern English kingdom. Northumbria was where the Celtic Rite Christians from Ireland met the Roman Rite Christians sent by Pope Saint Gregory the Great. The two had significant theological differences which threatened to rip the Church in Britain asunder. The two most pressing of these were the calculation of Easter and the tonsure.

I won't pretend I understand the complexities of the calculation of Easter. You are probably aware that it is among the things dividing the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Churches. Colman of Lindisfarne, who presented the Ionian side at Whitby, was emphatic about adhering to a calculation table that Rome had dismissed as erroneous.

Even worse were the anti-fashion police. As you probably know, monks get goofy haircuts to demonstrate their submission to God. [Swimmers get goofy haircuts, often monks' tonsures, because it is fun. Then they shave their heads to swim faster. But the monks stick with their goofy haircuts their whole lives.] The standard monastic tonsure is to shave the dome, leaving a ring of hair around the side of the head. We're not really sure what the Celtic tonsure looked like; either they shaved the front of the head (everything forward of the ears) or they shaved and arc from ear to ear. That's my personal favorite, but I wasn't really fast enough to bother shaving when I was a swimmer.

The King of Northumbria judged the Synod of Whitby and wisely threw in with the Roman rite. Colman withdrew all the Celtic clergy to the island of Iona, taking some of Aidan's holy relics with him. No need for hangings and burnings -- demography settled the rest of the question in favor of Rome.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

February 17 -- Feast of Saint Walter of Pontnoise

This was one of those days when I really wasn't sure which saint to go with. There were the Seven Founders of the Servants of Mary, some Italian clerics who established a mendicant confraternity and took Augustine's rule. No doubt good work, and probably with some drama, but I had no details.

There were some early Irish saints, reputedly relatives of St. Patrick. Listed with them are the oddly-named counties that they evangelized. Good work, boys, but again, no interesting details.

Walter of Pontnoise's story is brief, but sort of cool. He was a professor of rhetoric and philosophy, but joined the Benedictines to escape the temptations of the world. Then King Phillip I appointed him abbot of his monastery. He resisted with more than the customary false modesty; the King invoked the divine right argument, contending that the appointment was the will of God, not the will of a man. Poor Walter's rhetorical skills failed him and he took up the role of the abbot.

In that job, he fought against the many corruptions that would plague the Church for centuries. The corrupt fellows fought back, and poor Walter ran from his abbey. In an earlier age, he might have established himself in the wilderness and become a holy hermit, in the eleventh century, he was simply returned to the abbey with orders to man up and do his job. He was beaten and imprisoned by his enemies. He fled to Rome, but the Pope himself said, "Grow a pair and do your job." He went back and kept shoveling; but as we know, the tide was still washing it back in for centuries after Walter's death.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 16 -- Feast of Saint Onesimus

The story of St. Onesimus is inextricable with the stories of Sts. Apphia and Philemon, and found in the Epistle to Philemon, which was written by Paul. I've heard the lists of the epistles that scholars are sure Paul wrote, those they aren't sure about, and those they are convinced he didn't write. The lists don't stick in my head, but this one seems like it must come from Paul. And since it is only twenty-five verses of one chapter, it's a good read for today if you have three to five minutes.

Find the BibleGateway link here.

In short, Onesimus was a runaway slave, the property of a Christian named Philemon. Having run from Colossus, Onesimus hid in Rome and eventually wound up finding shelter from Paul. Paul converted him to Christianity. The letter, carried by Onesimus to Philemon and his wife, Apphia, recommends welcoming the runaway slave home as a brother in Christ. Paul argues for Onesimus' freedom, and urges that he be admitted to the Church that meets in Philemon's house.

While it falls well short of an argument for universal emancipation, it must surely have been useful to abolitionists in the USA and elsewhere. Paul may not have been a radical, but the letter helps me think well of him. [Yes, I am sure he is relieved to have my good report this morning.]

Monday, February 14, 2011

February 15 -- Feast of St. Sigfrid

This is a good day for capital punishment anecdotes. Of course, most any day would work, given the number of martyrs over the years. If the pagans were not killing Christians for their faith, the Christians were killing each other over their heterodoxies (heresies).

But it's not the martyrs I want to focus on, but rather the attitudes of a couple of saints toward capital punishment. First up, St. Sigfrid.

Sigfrid was a priest from England who went to evangelize in Sweden. He successfully converted King Olaf, but while he was out preaching, his three nephews were beheaded by pagan raiders. The nephews, Winaman,Unaman, and Sunaman, all became saints in their own rights, not only because they were martyred but because their heads kept talking. Or at least that's the word that Sigfrid put about, which scared the piss out of the pagans. King Olaf decided that the raiders should be put to death, but Sigfrid asked that their lives be spared. Olaf then ordered that they pay a huge weregild, but Sigfrid declined the blood money, arguing instead that they be forgiven. His stock, and that of Christianity generally, went way, way up.

Angelus Scarpetti, on the other hand, was less successful in argument; he needed to make his point by more dramatic means. He contended that the life of a condemned man be spared, but the local authorities put him to death anyway. Angelus, a thirteenth century Augustinian friar, proceeded to resurrect the man. Take that, you Capital Punishers.

February 14 -- Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius

Yes, it is also the feast of St. Valentine, though I can find no connection between the third century martyr and our current amorous practices. Valentine was a Christian who didn't survive a beatdown on the Milvan Bridge. It happened a lot. So often that nothing much more was said about it.

Then a thousand years later, the great fourteenth century ornithologist Geoffrey Chaucer observed that birds select their mates on the feast of St. Valentine. The Romans had known this as a courtship day centuries prior to Valentine's demise, which is why they held their feast of Lupercalia on or about mid-February. So the American Candy Council got together with the Greeting Card Publishers Association to bring us... a Happy Valentine's Day.

Of course, both the Eastern and Western calendars agree that it is the feast of St. Cyril. The East honors his brother on April 6, which is somewhat more respectful as they had divergent careers, but the West assigns a common day to acknowledge their shared ancestry and mission.

Cyril and Methodius were sent east to the Slavic countries to preach the Gospel. They invented a modified Greek alphabet (cyrillic) into which they could translate the Bible. They preached in the native Slavonic languages, to some distress of the Western missionaries working there. There was conflict, but each of the brothers was assigned a bishop's mitre. Cyril died before he received his, and Methodius was imprisoned by German missionaries on charges of heresy, but cleared and released. Apparently he ran afoul of them often, but was always cleared.

There is little doubt of their enormous contribution to the shape of our cultural landscape, having been so successful in bringing Russia and its fellow Slavic countries into the Eastern Orthodox faith. Our understanding of Europe itself is imprinted with their work. This seems far more worthy of acknowledgment that bleeding out on the Milvan Bridge (with all due respect to the Roman martyrs who did so).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

February 13 -- Feast of Blessed Jordan of Saxony

I just noticed that the beati (Blessed, not Saint) have memorials, not feasts. The egalitarian in me demands that I continue to call the dies beatorum feasts, no matter what the official line is. I am especially convinced of this when I read about Jordan of Saxony, locally hailed as a saint soon after his death, but not beatified for six centuries and never canonized, probably because of bias against the Dominican order. I think I can relate to the prejudice; they were a formidable force in the Church and might well have hijacked the whole thing if the other Orders hadn't eventually stepped up their games.

Jordan was the second master general of the Dominicans, following St. Dominic himself. Jordan had written brilliant treatises on mathematics on which Leonardo da Vinci drew a couple centuries later. Once he was in charge of the Order, he began a tireless, nonstop tour of Christendom, recruiting the best minds of Europe to the Dominicans. One of his better nicknames was the "Siren of the Schools" because he enlisted the best students from all the universities (Paris, Milan, Bologna, Zurich) and to place Dominican scholars at the new schools (Oxford, Toulouse) as they opened.

One of his less flattering nicknames was One-eye, which rivals and critics called him due to an accident that occurred somewhere during his ceaseless travels. He also contracted malaria at one point and was burdened with recurrence for the rest of his life.

The bishops at the time resented the Dominicans coming into their dioceses to preach. Prior to Pope Gregory X, bishops had the power to block itinerant preachers, though the Bishop of Chartes was instructed in a papal bull to allow the Order to allow a church, priory, and school there. Gregory, a friend of the late Dominic, allowed Jordan to send his brothers anywhere, irrespective of the objections of local bishops.

I might have overlooked this saint (so I consider him) in spite of all this except for his relationship with with Blessed Diana d'Andalo, the founder of the Second Order of Dominican nuns. Unfortunately, her letters to him are lost, but his to her are preserved and apparently quite touching. There's was a deeply personal, apparently spiritual affinity which lasted throughout his life. In his last letter to her, he wrote, "O Diana, how miserable is the present state which we must endure since we cannot love one another without sorrow or think of one another without anxiety." She died in the same year as he, probably before that letter was delivered.

It galls a little to think that the Feast of St. Valentine, about whom nothing even slightly romantic is recorded, becomes our big courtship holiday while the feast of this brilliant and passionate saint, who suffered a forbidden though mutual love in chastity for the love of his God, is nearly forgotten. It galls a little more than even the notion that he's not even recognized as a saint.

Happy Saint Jordan's Day.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

February 12 -- Feast of St. Julian the Hospitaler

I don't care if this one is true or not, or even if chunks of it were ripped from Greek mythology.

Julian was a well-connected nobleman who married a wealthy widow. Let's round the story out to say that she was young and beautiful as well. He was out hunting and, like many hunters in those days, received a prophecy from the stag he had run down. The bucks in North America don't predict anything to the hunters, but apparently they shared their auspicious gifts freely in medieval Europe. This particular stag warned that Julian would one day kill his parents; presumably Julian allowed his quarry to depart unscathed in exchange for this admonition.

Without any explanation, Julian took his wife and moved far away. His parents, disconsolate at his precipitous flight, tracked him down for a surprise visit. He was out hunting again when they arrived, but his wife thoughtfully invited them to rest in the master bedroom. He came home, and finding two bodies in his bed, flew into a jealous rage. After killing the people he mistook for his wife and her lover, he pulled off the covers and discovered his parents.

He took his winsome, wealthy wife with him and went to Rome, seeking penance. He wasn't sure he had earned forgiveness just by sightseeing in the Holy See, so they built a riverside hospice on the way home. They also stayed their awhile so Julian could row folks across the river so they could stay at the hospice.

One visitor was so wretched, a half-frozen leper, that our saint invited him to sleep in Julian's own bed. No word about the saintly wife's reaction, but the leper was of course an angel in disguise who assured Julian that his forgiveness had been granted by the Lord.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

February 11 -- Feast of St. Caedmon

I can picture the Caedmon Record label, though I am not sure what I owned that had been recorded by them. It was originally a spoken word label -- literary stuff read by BBC actors and the writers themselves. I had a couple of Lord of the Rings albums; they might have been Caedmon. At some point, I listened to TS Eliot read "The Hollow Men;" that was definitely Caedmon.

The label was named for St. Caedmon, an illiterate cowherd who heard... Herd of cows? I don't care what the cows heard. Haha. No, he didn't hear lame jokes from "Veterinary Hospital" on The Muppet Show. Watch the clip here.

He walked out from a feast at the monastery one night because the brothers were singing and he was uncomfortable. Then he heard a voice commanding him to sing.

His reply was a little less than poetic: ''I do not know how to sing and for that reason I went out from this feast and went hither, because I did not know how to sing at all.''

The voice commanded him to sing about Creation, and lo! he was imbued with the Spirit to Sing. From that point on, he was inspired to songs of praise for God.

He told the monastic brothers whose animals he tended about the vision and they agreed to read him verses of the Bible. He composed his hymns based on those verses and dictated them to the brothers.

He was the first known poet of vernacular English. If you want to know more about the record label named for him,

February 10 -- St. Scholastica

The Venerable Bede gives us a very sweet story in his account of the life of St. Scholastica, the first Benedictine nun. She and her twin brother, Benedict grew up very close. Their mother had prayed devoutly for children, but died during childbirth, which is a careful-what-you-wish-for story, but not the story I want to focus on.

After they had made their holy vows, they were permitted to reunite once a year, at which point they would happily talk about pleasant things like the joys of heaven. It might not sound like much, but it is better than getting together to complain about how strict the abbot is, how much Brother Whatsisname farts during compline, the thinness of the gruel or the fatness of the cook.

One year, Scholastica asked her brother if he and his fellow monks could spend the night at her abbey so that she and Benedict might talk more. He insisted that they had to leave because the Rule of the Monastery demanded that they be in. She prayed, and a violent thunderstorm rose; so great was the tempest that the monks were forced to remain where they were.

Benny: Oh sister, may God forgive you. What have you done.
Scholy: I asked you a favor and you said no. I asked God a favor and he granted it.

They stayed up all night talking about the joys of heaven. Three days later, Scholastica went to find out if they had been right.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February 9 -- Saint Miguel Febres Cordero Muñoz

Saint Miguel Febres Cordero Munoz taught school for thirty-two years, well short of the forty-plus that some of my colleagues have hit, but far longer than my twenty-four (well, 23.5) so who am I to kick. Brother Miguel wrote his own textbooks, as well as hymns, odes, plays, and instructional manuals. I'm sure I could make much more of this if I could rip into his essays on instructional methods (he was probably right on more things than we are today) but my local bookstores don't offer much by way of nineteenth century Ecuadoran pedagogy.

He got to be a pretty big deal. He was elected to the Academies of Letters in Ecuador, Venezuela, France, and Spain. He went off to Europe to translate works from French to Spanish so they could be used in schools, but he got sick and, after a couple of years, died.

I haven't seen that he is the patron saint of anything in particular, but I think it is National Guidance Counselor Week, so any help he can give them would be appreciated.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

February 8 -- Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita

Kidnapped at nine years old and sold into slavery in her native Sudan, this saint was renamed Bakhita (Lucky) by her abductors. She was sold several times, eventually winding up in the household of Senor Calisto Legnani, the Italian consul in Khartoum.

Long story short, she wound up a nanny in Italy, but bailed to become a nun. Beloved by all, believed to be imbued with God's protecting grace.

February 7 -- Feast of St. Eugenie Smet

"This is how you will love me."

That's the answer that Eugenie Smet received when she posed the question about how to help the souls in Purgatory. She was a French woman, daughter of a prosperous couple whose reversal of fortune recalled Eugenie from a boarding school to her family's home outside industrialized Lille. Upon discovering the plight of the poor, Eugenie dedicated herself to alleviating it. She took apples from her father's orchard to give the needy. She collected money for the missions in China. Eventually, she dedicated her virginity (didn't they all!) to God. And when she heard about the souls in Prugatory, she wanted to help them too.

Frustrated by the priest under whose care she was initially placed, but encouraged by the archbishop of Paris, she opened a house for women who shared her aspirations. Though deeply in debt, they began to make a go of it in Paris, but still did not know how best to help the souls in Purgatory. Then a woman knocked on her door, asking if she and her sisters could help a sick woman who refused to admit a nun or priest. The answer came to her through an inner voice: This is how you will love me.

From then on, the women working with Eugenie, who had taken the name Mary of Providence, dedicated themselves to comforting the urban poor of Paris. They struggled against alcoholism and prostitution, providing what help they could to the needy and the sick, all the while preaching the Gospel in gentle and inviting fashion. They dedicated their work to the souls in Purgatory in hopes that the dead might benefit from the good works of the living.

I don't know about the efficacy of dedicating their work to others, but I do believe that the Creator speaks to individuals through an inner voice, and that those blessed individuals who hear the Creator will understand what is required for their salvation.

February 6 -- Feast of the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki

The second of the great unifying daimyos of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, ordered the abuse and crucifixion of twenty-six Christians -- Franciscans, Jesuits, & lay people, a Mexican, five Europeans, and the others Japanese -- for preaching an outlawed religion or abetting those who preached it. They had been soldiers, sword-makers, physicians, and of course missionary priests. The youngest, Anthony Denian, was a thirteen-year-old altar boy. Poor Philip of Jesus, the Mexican priest, had been shipwrecked on the coast of Japan while on a merchant ship bound for his homeland, where he was to be ordained a bishop.

To be fair to the Daimyo Toyotomi, each Christian was given the opportunity to save his life by recanting. This was after being arrested, mutilated (the left ear of each was cut off to mark them as Christians in case they got away), and then paraded from city to city for a couple of weeks while their guard encouraged the citizens to abuse them. In the end, they were marched up the Hill of Wheat in Nagasaki, hung on crosses, and then pierced with spears.

Toyotomi himself had a frustrating career. He and his predecessor and patron Oda Nobunaga were working to bring all the rival clans and warlords of Japan under a single government. Neither of those men attained the rank of shogun, but their conquests laid the groundwork for the future shogunate. Toyotomi's grand plan to invade and conquer China failed twice as his troops bogged down en route in Korea. Upon the birth of a son, Toyotomi had ordered his nephew and heir to commit suicide in order to prevent a challenge to the succession. When the nephew's family did not follow suit, he had thirty-one of them killed, including the women and children. But his son was not old enough to capitalize on the position he inherited, a weakened position anyway since the Korea plan had wasted lives and treasure. Toyotomi's one-time rival and then ally, Tokugawa Ieyasu, rose up to seize the leadership role, becoming the first shogun of Japan.

Although Christianity had been permitted in some parts of Japan in 1549, some daimyos had become increasingly fearful of European imperialism. Hideyoshi banned Christianity in his provinces in 1587, but did not fully enforce it since he still enjoyed lucrative trade with Europeans. The executions ten years later may have been a response to the openness with which the Christians were flouting his order, or it may have been to excite nationalistic spirits in advance of his second invasion of Korea. Fear of imperialism eventually overpowered the impulse to trade and Japan banned all contact with foreigners (except for four outlets, including one Dutch trade mission on an island in Nagasaki Harbor). Under this sakoku law, no Japanese could leave Japan under penalty of death and no foreigner could set foot on Japanese soil. Foreign ideas (including Christianity) were systematically rooted out of the country, to the extent that ideas can be destroyed (See Orwell, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot). Japanese ships were restricted in size so that sailing within the archipelago was possible but sailing to other lands was not. This policy lasted two hundred and twenty years until an American fleet led by Commodore Matthew Perry famously "invited" the Japanese to open their nation or it would be opened for them.

This was a bit off course, but I used to read Japanese history and I always thought the pre-shogunate era is pretty fascinating. Fun stuff on a Sunday.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

February 5 -- St. Agatha of Sicily

This is one of those happy feasts that's celebrated on the same day in both the Eastern and Western calendars. Hooray for Agatha.

She's apparently one of the top few virgin martyrs celebrated in the west; the basic plotline is familiar. A girl of exceptional beauty, she was sought by a Roman governor named Quintian. She explained her vow of chastity, and in exchange he explained his understanding of Roman justice.

First, he tried to blackmail her by promising not to charge her with Christianity. Failure to communicate: he didn't understand that Christianity was not a crime to the Christians, and that in the third century, suffering and martyrdom were like beer and pizza (something devoutly to be wished).

Second, he committed her to a brothel, hoping to cure her persistent and pernicious virginity. At this point, I begin to question Quintian's intelligence. If she wasn't willing to sleep with a wealthy patrician who probably took regular baths, why would she sleep with the sort of men who need to pay women to have sex with them? You may well answer fear, to which I refer you to his first attempt.

Here's the part of the story that never failed to captivate the readers: the tortures. I must believe that polytheists and Christians alike enjoyed these stories because they are always recounted in such detail. The Greek Orthodox Online Chapel tells us that she was subjected "many harsh torments" but tells us that she was "beaten, imprisoned, tortured, [and] her breasts were crushed and cut off. In that version, which identifies her persecutor as Quinctianus, she says, “Cruel man, have you forgotten your mother and the breast that nourished you, that you dare to mutilate me this way?” Whether she was healed by St. Peter (as one version claims) or not, she was re-imprisoned and then rolled on hot coals. An earthquake interrupted all this, killing a friend of QuinctiANUS and causing him to flee for his life. Then she settled back, thanked God for the relief of her pains, and died.

There were a few post-mortem miracles worth reporting. An angel placed a headstone on her grave. When Mount Etna was erupting, the faithful carried her veil in a procession, saving Catania. When the Turks were massing to invade Malta, she intervened again to save it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

February 4 -- Feast of St. Theophilus

St. Theophilus was a priest in Cilicia (modern Turkey) in the sixth century. He was offered the bishop's post in Adana, but declined humbly. Naturally another guy was picked, and sensing that Theophilus might be a rival, Bishop New Guy busted Theo from the post of archdeacon.

Theo took umbrage, of course, and signed a deal with a demon to get revenge. Sounding Faustian? Theo's legend is the source of Goethe's story. Theo signed in his own blood and got the mitre in exchange.

Years later, buyer's regret. He begged Mary Theotokos to intervene for him with God. He fasted thirty days after which Mary assured him of absolution, but the Devil still held the contract. Three days more of prayer and he woke to find the contract on his chest. He took it to New Guy the Ex-Bishop and confessed, but New Guy burned the contract. What's done is done, right? Of course Theophilus, in absolute relief and a state of relative sinlessness, died on the spot.

The sources I checked don't indicate whether New Guy got the mitre and staff back or not. I'd like to think so.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

February 3 -- Feast of St. Blaise

Blaise was a fourth century bishop in Sebastea, Armenia. He was a healer of some repute, having famously once used prayer to get a fish bone from a choking child's throat. The persecution of Diocletian got him, as they got so many people. In his case, I guess he was raked with steel combs as a torture before he was beheaded.

Blaise's is one of the first feasts (outside the calendar holidays) that I remember. We used to get out throats blessed for it. The ritual seemed absurd and I remember snickering my way through the blessing, prompting Father Carlson to whap me upside the head when he was done praying. He was right to do so, of course, and did me know harm.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February 2 -- Feast of the Ebstorf Martyrs...

and St. Columbanus of Ghen.

The first thing I want to say is that the Vikings were real bastards. They have a couple of things to their credit, like not wiping out the Indians when they invaded North America, and founding Dublin. Of course, I have no doubt they would have wiped out the Indians if they had sufficient numbers, and they probably dropped off some fairly nasty viruses and bacteria that inadvertently depleted the native population (read: killed hundreds, maybe thousands, of people).

So on to the saints. The Vikings were raiding Ireland, doing all those Viking things like killing, pillaging, raping, burning, and praying to the gods named after the days of the week. They'd have been silly if they had not been so lethal. St. Columbanus, an Irish abbot, packed up his community and moved to Ghen, Belgium. After retiring as an abbot, Columbanus became a hermit in a cemetery. I suppose I might go a little nuts if I chose to live in Belgium for the rest of my life because giant, flea-infested, illiterate, blood-crusted, fish-stinkers were swarming over my country too. But his reputation was one of great holiness, and that's probably another year in purgatory I'll get for defaming him. He is one of the patron saints of Belgium.

The marytrs of Ebstorf, however, were not cut-and-runners. Stand-and-diers, maybe, but not cut-and-runners. In 880, the Vikings were raiding Saxony, doing all those rotten things that Vikings do (see above). Duke Bruno gathered up an army and marched out to kick their tick-scabbed butts back to Scandinavia. A snow storm caught them in the field, and then a Viking ambush caught them in the field. Tough luck for Bruno, Bishops Markward and Theodoric, and all the other Saxons slaughtered that day.

I know you're probably confused. When Christians won a battle back in the day, it showed that God was on their side. But just because they lost, and that as a result of a snow storm, we cannot conclude that God was against them, or that Wednes and Thur and the other Norse gods had a hand in it. It doesn't work that way, all right?