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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

July 31 -- Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola

AMDG. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam -- to the greater glory of God.

This is the motto of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534 and approved by Pope Paul III in 1540.

Ignatius had been born to a noble Spanish family and had served as a page in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. He went into the army, served in several campaigns, but took a cannonball to the leg at the Siege of Pampeluna, a fight between Spanish and French troops for control of Navarre.

During his long recovery, he read The Golden Legend and Ludolph the Carthusian's Life of Christ. In The Golden Legend, he read about all those crazy hermetic saints, so upon recovery, he spent a year living in a cave. Then he went on a pilgrimage to Rome. From there he traveled to the Holy Land, trying his hand at converting Muslims. When that was played out, he went back to school, earning his doctoral degree and taking holy orders. It was a tumultuous time for the Church, what with the whole Reformation thing, and his response was a new religious order -- highly educated, organized, disciplined, and willing to go anywhere for the greater glory of God. He gathered a few friends -- James Lainez, Alonso Salmerón, Nicholas Bobadilla, Simón Rodriguez, Peter Faber, and Francis Xavier -- and formed the Society of Jesus.

The Jesuits (originally a term of derision for the Society but now used with pride) have over 500 universities and colleges worldwide, at least three of which in the USA are named for Ignatius of Loyola himself.

BONUS:  Here's a link for a video biography of Ignatius performed in Lego.  

Saturday, July 30, 2011

July 30 -- Saint Leopold Bogdan Mandic

This poor little Croat stood four-foot-five when he could stand upright, which wasn't for very much of his life since he had a curvature of the spine. He had bad eyesight, poor digestion, and jittery nerves. After becoming a Capuchin monk, he wanted to preach in his homeland (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) but because he stuttered, his superiors assigned him to other tasks, like hearing confessions. After all, you don't need eyesight, height, or oratorical skills to sit in a box and listen. This was a big disappointment to him, as he was sure his calling was to facilitate the reunification of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. However, he accepted his lot in life, serving as a confessor for decades. It is boring work, of course, so he drank copious amounts of coffee, suspected as cause of the esophageal cancer that killed him. [I say this with a venti Guatemalan in my gut. Hmmm.]

He had studied in Italy, and was still serving there (despite requests to return to Dalmatia) when World War One broke out. Since he had never renounced his Austro-Hungarian citizenship, he was exiled to southern Italy where he would be unable to help his countrymen.

The other friars complained that he was wide-sleeved (i.e. too lenient) with his penitents. In fact, they complained so much that the bishop called him on the carpet about it. He told the bishop, "If the Crucified should reprove me of being 'wide-sleeved', I will respond to him saying 'Paròn Benedeto('Blessed Boss'), what a bad example of this You Yourself have shown me. But as for me, I haven't yet reached the point of folly of dying for souls!" Told him!

The quote comes from a Capuchin site that's not otherwise credited, but the page for him is well worth the click.

Friday, July 29, 2011

July 29 -- Feast of Saint Kallinikos of Gangra

I'm no runner. I hate running. But if I do have to run anytime soon, I hope I remember Saint Kallinikos, whose last race was certainly extreme.

Kallinikos (Callinicus) was a wandering evangelist in Cilicia (Turkey). The governor, one Sacerdonus (Sack o' Doughnuts? How about deez nuts!), busted him and put him through the usual rigors in an attempt to force apostasy. Kallinikos wasn't having it, no matter how much they beat him with ox-thongs and tore his flesh with iron hooks. When Sacerdonus had finally resolved to make a martyr of him, he ordered the poor saint fitted with sandals that had nails driven up through the soles. Then he ordered his soldiers to run Kallinikos all the way to the city of Gangra, where he was to be roasted alive in a furnace.

Kallinikos ran along side the soldiers, though frankly I can't imagine what his motivation was. Kill me here or kill me there -- I think I'd pick here. But he ran in the hot sun until the soldiers were fainting from heat and thirst. They begged him to pray to his God for water, since they knew theirs would not deliver. Although he would not have asked for himself, he did pray on their behalf and a spring gushed forth from a rock.

They might have converted and let the poor man go except they were too afraid for their own lives. Too bad for them, since they could have traded life in the here-and-now for life in the hereafter. But they finished the run and delivered the saint to the furnace, where he went to his death though his body remained unburned.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 28 -- Feast of Saint Samson of Dol

As one of those wandering saints of the early Middle Ages, Samson could be said to be from a lot of places. However, he founded a monastery at Dol, where he held episcopal powers even though it wasn't really a bishop's diocese, so I suppose that's as good a place as any to associate him. It's sort of important to have an identifying location in his name so folks don't think he's the Old Testament strong man that the Grateful Dead sang about. [Great drum into in this version -- good energy in vocals too.]

Apparently Saint Samson abstained from alcohol, an unusual thing for a priest (or anyone else) in the sixth century. No doubt that enhanced his reputation, as others embarrassed themselves with excess consumption. Abbot Pyr, for example, got drunk and drowned in a well, creating a vacancy for Samson to serve as abbot of Caldey. Unfortunately, the discipline under Pyr had grown so lax that Samson found it ungovernable and resigned.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July 27 -- Feast of Saint Pantaleon

Got a headache? Troubled by witchcraft? Consumption? Locusts? Loneliness? Pantaleon, a patron of medical doctors, is invoked against all those things.

One of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (Western tradition) or Fourteen Unmercenary Healers (Eastern tradition), Pantaleon was a Bithynian physician during the reign of Diocletian. That there was such a martyr named Pantaleon seems certain. Everything else comes along later, and while it makes a good legend, it is "valueless" (according to the Catholic Encyclopedia). Actually, I find it instructive that the Orthodox tradition includes the earlier miracles, but not the protracted execution. The western legend is lily-gilding, I suppose.

Pantaleon had a Christian mom, but after her death, his rise to prominence in the medical field drew him away from the faith. After all, traveling in the best circles, it would be convenient to follow the state religion, especially since he was living during the dangerous reign of Diocletian. He became the physician to Augustus Maximian, one of the co-emperors (my least favorite of the four, in fact). But a Christian healer named Hermolaus called him back to the Faith, saying, "But, my friend, of what use are all thy acquirements in this art, since thou art ignorant of the science of salvation?"

Pantaleon converted his father to Christianity by curing a blind man with prayer. When Dad died, he left Pantaleon a fortune, but the good doctor freed all the slaves and gave all the money away to the poor. Local polytheists, especially fellow physicians, got freaked out by that generosity and had him investigated on suspicion of Christianity. Sure enough, they were right: he was a Christian. Busted!

Naturally, his connection in the household of Emperor Maximian got him some deference, so he was offered the chance to apostatize. He preferred to demonstrate the power of his God by healing a paralytic. The Emperor wasn't going to put up with that sorcery so he ordered him killed.

At this point, the Greeks say that he was beheaded, and the execution of Hermolaus followed shortly after. The Romans prefer to say that attempts to kill him were unsuccessful until he himself was ready to die.

First, his flesh was burned with torches, but Christ appeared in the form of Hermolaus and healed him. Then they tossed him into a cauldron of molten lead, but again Jesus was beside him to cool the lead and protect Pantaleon. They threw him into the sea, but the stones to which he was tied floated. They sicced the wild beasts on him, but the animals all huddled around him and would not leave until he blessed them. They were going to break him on the Wheel, but the wheel broke instead. They tried to behead him, but the sword bent against his neck. At last, Pantaleon prayed for the souls of his killers and allowed the sword to cut his head off; milk flowed with his blood from his body.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 26 -- Feast of Saint Shorty

Okay, his real name was Titus Brandsma, and he's a beatus, not a saint. Actually, his name was Anno, but he took the name Titus when he received holy orders. However, Shorty was his nickname.

In spite of the heavy Calvinism in his homeland (Friesland, in the Netherlands), his family were devout Catholics. All three of his sisters became nuns and his brother became a Franciscan priest. He too was on track to be a Franciscan but intestinal difficulties made that impossible, so he became a Carmelite instead. [I have no good idea what the dietary differences in the two orders are, but I guess one must have more fiber in the diet.]

In addition to being a priest and a translator, he was a newspaper editor, a university president, and a popular lecturer. I like the image of a cigar-smoking (a frequent habit of his, though the only tobacco-related photo I can find shows a pipe) news editor who speaks five languages and wear's a priest's cassock. This guy could be the heart of a really cool TV series.

He wrote very critically about the Nazis from 1935 on. As the official ecclesiastical adviser to journalists, he declared that no Catholic publication could print Nazi propaganda and still call itself Catholic. He wrote against the anti-Jewish marriage laws.

The denouement is predictable. The Nazis invaded the Netherlands and he was arrested by the Gestapo. After a few weeks of abuse in a local prison, he was deported to Dachau for the heavy abuse and exploitation. He urged his fellow prisoners to pray for the souls of the guards, which frankly, is asking a hell of a lot. If that alone doesn't get him sainthood, there's not much justice in the canon. Eventually he was transferred to the medical unit for experiments; when his experiment was complete, he was executed and cremated.

Monday, July 25, 2011

July 25 -- Feast of Saint James the Greater

I'm not sure there's any way to read the Gospels and not think that Jesus was a tough guy to be around. He was short-tempered and demanding, but they loved and followed him anyway. James, son of Zebedee and brother of John, was one of the three top apostles (along with his brother and Simon Peter) but he is depicted more for his short-comings and lack of understanding than his virtue.

In Luke 9:51-56, James and John offer to call down lightning on a Samaritan town that refused to welcome Jesus, but rebukes them for the suggestion. True, he nicknames them Boanerges (sons of thunder) in Mark 3, but a cool nickname doesn't really make up for coming down hard on them when they're trying to help.

In Mark 10, James and John ask to sit on his right and left side when he comes in glory, but he tells them they don't know what they're asking. [Matthew 20 has their mom ask this, though Jesus questions them anyway rather than their mother.] He then asks, "Can you drink from the cup that I'm about to drink from?" They tell him that they can, of course, so he assures them that they will, even though the spots at his left and right hand are not his to award.

The common interpretation is that the cup is his martyrdom; James is the first of the apostles to be martyred. According to Acts 12, he was beheaded on the orders of Herod Agrippa around AD 44 during a crackdown on Christianity.

The big one for me is Matthew 26 / Mark 14, the vigil in the garden. Jesus takes his top three with him while he prays, just before being busted. They fall asleep, so he scolds them and then goes to pray again. They fall asleep again, and again he checks on them. Then he prays again, they sleep again, and again he scolds them just as Judas arrives with a couple of legionaries to haul him away.

Here's one of the many things I don't get: Jesus has already predicted Judas' betrayal and Peter's triple denial, so surely he knew that the apostles couldn't stay awake all night while he prayed, especially since he wasn't praying beside them. Why scold them for what he knows they won't be able to do?

James was one of the big three, and perhaps he will be seated at the left hand, but if so, he earned it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 24 -- Feast of Saints Christina

There are several saints named Christina who are celebrated on July 24. Two of them seem to be Christian daughters of pagan parents who suffered ghastly, prolonged executions. Let's get graphic, shall we?

When they tried to kill Christina of Tyre, they lit a large fire and tossed her in. She of course was unharmed, but the fire got out of control and killed a couple hundred pagans. They figured they could get her attention by slicing her breasts off. The severed breasts instead got their attention by producing streams of milk on their own. She kept preaching through these punishments, so they cut out her tongue. Her preaching continued loudly and clearly; she also flung the tongue at the judge, blinding him in one eye with it. They thought maybe dumping her in the ocean would settle her hash, but she met Jesus at sea, who baptized her and then asked Michael the Archangel to send her back for more trials. (Thanks, guys!) At last, they shot her in the heart with an arrow.

Christina of Bolsena was not just a Christian. She took her father's collection of gold and silver idols and smashed them. Then she gave the pieces to poor folks. Dad was enraged, of course, and like any good father, ordered her to be thrown into the lake with a mill stone tied around her neck. (Why did they waste so many good millstones when any old rock and net would do?) She came back to chastise them, so they cut out her tongue. That didn't stop her, so they tried the fiery furnace. Again, that wouldn't do it, so they shot her full of arrows, and by the grace of God, she reposed at last.

Christina the Astonishing, patron of psychiatrists and those suffering mental illness, did not suffer a brutal death, but life itself was no great treat. At age twenty-one, she had a severe fit, going so cataleptic (are there degrees of catalepsy?) that they declared her dead. Then in the middle of her funeral, she levitated to the rafters of the church. The priest ordered her down, so she lighted in the altar and told of visiting hell, purgatory, and heaven. Although she prayed all her life for the salvation of others, she could not stand being around other people because she could smell their sins. If people came near her, she'd hide in cupboards or ovens, or just levitate away from them. She wore only rags, slept on rocks, stood for hours in freezing water, rolled in fire, kept vigil in tombs, and even allowed herself to be dragged under the water wheels of mills. During ecstatic fits, she guided the recently dead to purgatory and sometimes guided those sprung from purgatory to heaven.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

July 23 -- Feast of Saint Phocas the Gardener

A few saints named Phocas seem to have gotten wrapped up together as stories were repeated, but the untangling hagiographers seem most sure of this tale.

Phocas was a Christian, living near the Turkish seaport of Sinope during the reign of Trajan. He was a famous gardener, and generously gave surplus produce to the needy in town. Since Trajan had ordered the death of Christians, some soldiers rolled into Sinope and soon learned of this gardener. They set out to find him, reaching his farm sometime around dusk.

Without identifying himself, Phocas promised to guide the soldiers to the gardening Christian in the morning. Then he invited them in, gave them supper, and let them sleep in his house. He slipped outside, dug his own grave, and spent the night praying. In the morning, he identified himself, led the soldiers to the grave he dug, and knelt for his beheading.

Friday, July 22, 2011

July 22 -- Feast of Saint Alberic Crescitelli

Alberic entered the seminary at age twelve. Just think about what for most of us might be seventh grade -- then imagine going to seminary and finishing the program on schedule. He was ordained twelve years later, which is a hell of a lot of school. Granted, those of you who went straight from undergraduate to grad school -- especially you docs (medical, juris, or otherwise) -- also put in a lot of years. But you had your nights, weekends, spring breaks, etc.

It was, of course, Alberic's choice. By the 1870s, he knew exactly what he was signing up for and staying around for. But I mention it in order to emphasize the opportunity costs, the forfeited fun, the irrecoverable moments of adolescence that slipped away.

All this seems worth considering in Alberic's case since he accepted a post at a mission in China, Shensi Province near the Han River. Twelve years later he was transferred to Ningkiang, where he was captured by the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, nicknamed Boxers in the western press.

The Boxer Rebellion was an understandably violent reaction to the ridiculous level of exploitation that China was suffering at the hands of the western powers. Spheres of influence (essentially hijacked seaports), unequal treaties, extraterritoriality, opium trade, political and economic manipulation, and not insignificantly, Christianization were all pissing many Chinese off. But the rebellion, arguably justified, was a brutal as the exploitation had been. Alberic, for example, was captured, tortured, beheaded, and then his body was hacked to pieces.

Collectively, China was severely punished for the Rebellion by the eight western nations involved, but I'd like to think that Alberic would have preferred a more clement and forgiving settlement. He is a saint, after all.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 21 -- Feast of Saint Lawrence of Brindisi

In "Particle Man" by They Might Be Giants, we learned that Triangle Man hates Particle Man, and when they have a fight, Triangle wins. Saint Lawrence of Brindisi was a triangle man; I don't know if he actually hated Turkish Man, but they had a fight and Lawrence won.

One side of this trilateral saint is military and diplomatic service. This is probably the most famous thing about him. He was tapped by the Holy Roman Emperor (HRE) to rally the German princes against The Turk, who was at that time (AD 1600) threatening to invade Hungary. Lawrence was chaplain to the army, and in 1601, he led troops into battle at Szekes-Fehervar. Although out-numbered, the Germans won. Lawrence bore no weapon, preferring instead to carry a cross into the battle. He continued to serve as a diplomatic leader on behalf of both the Pope and the HRE until his death in the Iberian summer heat, negotiating with the Spanish king about the future of Naples.

A second side of the man was the scholarship that got him proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. He was a skilled administrator of the Capuchin Friars, being elected (and re-elected) Definitor General, Commisary General, and Minister General. But we all know able administrators who are not exceptional scholars (and vice versa). Lawrence was the author of eight hundred four sermons (apparently of high quality), some replies to the Lutherans, a commentary on Genesis, numerous letters, an autobiographical account of his service in Austria and Germany, and most importantly, a treatise on the significance of Mary in Christian worship.

But Triangle Man has three sides, and it was the third side that actually got him popularly acclaimed a saint immediately after his death, one hundred fifty years (or so) before his canonization. He was so profoundly spiritual, so endowed with the "gift of tears," (it's funny -- I never really thought of my tears as a gift on the elementary school playground), that it used to take him three hours to celebrate Mass. The hanky he used at the altar was claimed as a holy relic because it was so imbued with the tears shed in contemplation of the suffering of Christ.

Triangle wins.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July 20 -- Feast of Saint Wilgefortis & Gregor Mendel

Why would Gregor Mendel, father of modern genetics, make the cut in hagiomajor when so many worthy saints have been deferred to subsequent years? Moreover, why include him while deferring Elijah the Prophet, the patron of the Romanian Air Force? Well, with enough respect to keep their IAR330SOCATs on their side of the Atlantic, they'll just have to wait. The pairing of a real person who wasn't a saint and a saint who wasn't a real person was just too tempting.

As you probably remember from your high school biology class, Gregor Mendel was a monk (Augustinian friar) who experimented with genetically modifying (the natural way, by cross-breeding) peas. I had this picture of a happy, simple, under-educated brother running from prayers, robes flying and sandals flapping, to check on his plants. Yeah, not really the case.

Mendel  had worked on the family farm, but attended the local university, studying theoretical and practical philosophy. He also became a priest at the time, and when assigned to a monastery, the abbot sponsored him to study at the University of Vienna. There he pursued physics under Christian Doppler (THE Doppler, of the effect). He returned to the abbey, teaching physics and experimenting until he was promoted to abbot. Then administrative duties, especially a tax dispute with the government, prevented him from playing science much more. In addition to peas, Mendel also conducted experiments with bees. His genetic theories were rejected in his lifetime, but rediscovered after Darwin's natural selection theory caught on.

Religion gets a bad name among many who value science, and the theory of evolution is one of the most fractious issues. While it's easy to laugh at William Jennings Bryan's faith-based prosecution of John T. Scopes, it is worth remembering that, even if we set aside Darwin's vocation as a Christian minister, that area of science was advanced by the experiments of a Catholic priest. Yes, many religious leaders need to be more open to scientific arguments, but secularists can also help by chilling out a little on the faith side. As saints go, we can do far worse than popularly acclaim Gregor Mendel the patron of the middle ground.

Thanks for hanging in. On to Saint Wilgefortis, pictured above. Art historians (unnamed, but wicked credible) have attempted to explain the origin of this fictitious saint. In southern Italy, the trend among artists was to depict Jesus on the cross wearing royal robes. Since the Gospels tell us that the soldiers gambled for Jesus' clothes, we know that depiction is counter-textual, but they have artistic licenses, and frankly it is at least more respectful than Andre Serrano's Piss Christ. But some of these depictions made their way to Northern Europe where women wear robes and men wear trousers. How to account for this cross-dressing Christ? Plainly, that's not the Lord up there in a stunning Versace, the crimson trim of which contrasts brilliantly with his sable beard. It must be --- a bearded lady.

But Daddy, why does that lady have a beard? Well, I'll tell you son. Wilgefortis was a beautiful girl and a devout Christian. She had already sworn to remain a virgin when her father engaged her to be married to a pagan king, so she refused. He insisted, so she prayed that she would become so unattractive that the king would refuse to marry her. She prayed hard, and the Lord granted her prayers. She sprouted a thick beard and mustache. Her dad might have tried to trick the king by covering her face with a veil until after the wedding vows were exchanged, but he thought it would be better for everybody if he just had his daughter crucified.

Saint Wilgefortis, called Saint Uncumber in Britain, was very popular, especially among women who wanted to be rid of abusive men. However, her story was debunked in the sixteenth century and her cult was suppressed in the Roman Catholic Church in 1969.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July 19 -- Feast of Saint John Plessington

John Plessington's one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, killed during the anti-papist crackdown of the Tudor/Stuart era. Most of that's on the English, though of course the Catholics under Bloody Mary got their licks in. But setting all that aside, here's what I will lay at the feet of good Saint John, right beside his head after they hanged, drew (drawed?), and quartered him.

He was educated at a Jesuit school at Scarisbrick Hall. Now even in England, which is full of funny names like Little Whinging, the name Scarisbrick is memorable. So when John Plessington was a crypto-priest in England, secretly ministering to crypto-Catholics, assuming an alias was probably a good idea. Changing his name to Scarisbrick, however, was probably not the best cover. John Popesman might have even been better, as a sort of bluff. "Haha, yeah, it's a shitty name to have to carry around in these times, but hey, if it was good enough for my father, then Popesman is good enough for me." But Scarisbrick is just memorable enough to make people think "Huh, like the Jesuit school," planting the sort of seeds of suspicion that eventually grow up into a rack, a gallows, and a chopping block.

Hell, calling himself Ari Bernstein would probably have been safer. That one's on you, John.

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18 -- Feast of Saint Theneva

A few miles east of Haddington in East Lothian, Scotland stands a hill called Trapain Law. It looks like a lovely place to build a hill-fort, but not much of a place to raise your daughter. Speaking of daughters, don't name yours Dwynwen, which is another name for today's saint. There's another saint Dwynwen, the Welsh patron of lovers celebrated on January 25. She got to be the patron of lovers because her boyfriend raped her after her dad announced her betrothal to another man. She of course ran away and prayed that all vestiges of the incident be wiped from her body, mind, and soul.

This Dwynwen (also called Theneva, Thenog, Thaney, and Enoch, among other names) at least did not have the misery of rape. However, she did get knocked up before marriage, and Scottish princesses are not allowed to behave that way, even if their dads are only the kings of a few miles of barren wasteland. She was thrown into the sea from the bluffs of Trapain Law. Fortunately, she survived the fall and happened to see an empty boat bobbing around in the water. Deus ex naviga, I guess, or perhaps navis ex deo. Anyway, she couldn't go home again, so she sailed further on the Firth of Forth until she found a father. [I wanted to work feather in there somewhere, but I imagine her heart was somewhat heavier.] She landed at Culross and was taken in by Saint Serf who became the foster father of her son, Saint Kentigern.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17 -- Feast of Saint Kenelm

Kenelm was a ninth century Mercian prince who died in battle against the Welsh. There's no reliable record of why he was considered a holy martyr, but the following possibilities exist.
1. He was in tight with the Pope -- tight enough, anyway, that His Holiness had sanctioned Kenelm's ownership of Glastonbury, which is one of the more sacred sites on the island.

2. His dad, the King, was busted up about losing his son and wanted him hailed as much as possible.

3. He was buried in an abbey and over time his reputation among the monks grew.

However it may be that he got regarded as a saint, his reputation inflated a couple of centuries later when he became the child martyr of his sister, the evil witch Princess Quendreda. According to this very fictive account, he was only seven when he took his late father's place on the throne, but his sister enticed the boy's tutor to murder him so she could be king. The location of his body was disclosed by an Anglo-Saxon document delivered by a dove to the high altar of Saint Peter's in Rome. English pilgrims read it and brought the news back so that his relics could be translated to Winchcombe for proper veneration. His evil witch-princess-sister was reading a psalm backwards as is the wont of such people when working their foul magic -- I believe it was the translation and proper veneration of the martyr's body that caused her eyes to fall out.

The real Quendreda by the way was an abbess of Minster (in Kent).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

July 16 -- Feast of Saint Athenogenes

There actually seem to be two saints named Athenogenes, both celebrated today. The second one, mentioned by Saint Basil in "On the Holy Spirit," was martyred in a fire. He went to his death singing a hymn, which is nice, but since nothing else seems to be known about him, he often gets conflated with the other Athenogenes, which is not so nice.

The other Athenogenes had the misfortune to be a bishop during the reign of Diocletian. Philomachus, Governor of Cappadocia, threw a big old sacrifice to his idols. Not so many folks showed up, which tipped him off to the spread of Christianity in his district. He ordered the soldiers to bust some folks, but Athenogenes didn't happen to be in when they came calling. When he got back, he hurried to the prison to protest their innocence on the charge of spreading the Faith, explaining that he, the Bishop, was responsible. No one was released, but his surrender was accepted.

Toture and beheadings of the others followed while Athenogenes was forced to watch. When his turn came, he apparently asked to be killed at the monastery and surprisingly, they obliged.

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 15 -- Feast of Saint Bonaventure

Little Giovanni di Fidanza, only four years old, was deathly ill. His parents brought him to a famous holy man, Francis of Assisi. Francis prayed and the wee and recovered. The parents attributed the recovery to Francis' great powers, but the monk humbly said it was "Bona Ventura" -- Good Fortune. Thus, Little Giovanni got a nickname that stuck with him until he entered the Franciscan Order eighteen years later.

The Franciscans were a mess following the death of St. Francis. One group, the Conventuals, argued that traditional organizations (e.g. monasteries, rules, leaders, income streams and ledgers, etc) were required if Saint Francis' ideas were to be propagated on a large scale. They even wanted to have representation on university campuses, which meant living among and cooperating with brothers from other Orders (at this point, you GASP! in horror). The Spirituals, on the other hand, insisted that not only the individual friars had to live in absolute poverty, but that the Order could own absolutely nothing -- no land, no buildings, no books. It was probably not an idea to last the ages, but it had the advantage of being pure -- philosophically, theologically, spiritually pure. The debate itself became so bitter that it was damaging the Order.

Bonaventure is known as the second founder of the Franciscans because he waded into the middle of that fight, took over the Order, and charted a middle path. He seems to have created the role of Specialist Friars who would have houses (mmm-hmmm) in university towns (ummm) where they could teach St. Francis' ideas. Distinguished Franciscans would be permitted to hold offices within the Church, working with clergy from other orders, even though that meant compromise with the corrupt, self-serving structures (and some individuals) that Francis had criticized. How else could they steer the decisions their way? However, mendicant friars were still free to be as poor and hungry as they wanted to be, saving their souls by denying their flesh and recruiting others to join them.

Bonaventure wrote a life of St. Francis, the Legenda Maior, which became the Order's official guide to all things Francis. He then ordered all other lives of Francis destroyed and every Franciscan to be given with a copy of the Legenda Maior. Not every monk agreed with Bonaventure's interpretation of Francis' work and ideas, and of course some of them had known him well and worked closely with him. However, although he was only five when the great saint had died, Bonaventure was the big-head monk in charge, so the Legenda Maior became the Little Gray Handbook.

Bonaventure was offered the archbishopic of York, but he was permitted to decline. He was ordered to take the cardinal's hat and bishop's staff of Albano -- no givesies backsies.

In 1588, one hundred six years after his canonization, he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church; in fact, he's the Seraphic Doctor, which is nice.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 14 -- Feast of Saint Camillus de Lellis

Camillus was six-foot-six, but since the NBA wasn't around in the sixteenth century, he wound up in the Venetian Army fighting the Turk. His mom must have been a little disappointed that he was a hard-drinking, heavy-gambling brawler since she had hauled herself out to the barn when she went into labor, wanting to give him as holy a start in life as Jesus himself. Of course, at a miraculous sixty herself at the time of delivery, she might have thought about Isaac or John the Baptist more than Jesus, since Mary Theotokos is mostly pictured on the young side. In any event, having a manger for his first crib didn't help in the short-run -- Camillus was a hard-driving, high-living son-of-a-gun-for-a-beer (wine).

He hit rock-bottom somewhere outside Vegas. Far outside Vegas, like a tavern in Venice. Busted flat and hung over, he went to work at a Capuchin friary and then applied to become a Franciscan brother. Nothing doing -- with persistent leg ulcers from his army days, he was deemed more liability than asset. But they had also put him in a hospital for the incurables for a while, and during his stay, it occurred to him that improvements in patient care were overdue. He and two like-minded fellows opened a small hospital for incurables in which everyone, no matter how hopeless, would be treated as if they could recover. Soon, more men joined the staff, which was good because more sick people joined the patients. Camillus' instructions were to feed them well, keep them comfortable, presume recovery, and see the face of Jesus in every patient. He was all about that "least of my brothers" thing.

He started his own religious order with its own rule. Members wore red crosses on their garments, a badge later adopted by other nurses. His order was variously known as the Agonizants, Camillians, Clerks Regular Ministers of the Infirm, Fathers of a Good Death, and Order of the Servants of the Sick. He died in the Order's Motherhouse in Rome in 1614, but the work continues worldwide -- in the 19th century women were welcomed into the ranks as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 13 -- Feast of Saint James of Voragine

James (Jacopo) was another one of those reluctant archbishops, and in his case, he had good cause. Genoa was divided between feuding families -- the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The thing that made this feud even more dangerous than, say, the Montagues and Capulets was that the Guelphs backed the papacy while the Ghibellines backed the Holy Roman Emperor. If you've read Machiavelli's The Prince, you have some sense of how dangerous it was to be backing the wrong side.

Like many of the candidates for archbishop, James got to decline the job once, but upon another vacancy, the Pope ordered him to take it. He couldn't heal the breach between the feuding clans, but he did extract many charitable donations from each of them. He channeled their rivalry into a contest of who can feed the most poor people, build the best hospitals, and restore the most monasteries and churches, which is far preferable to competition to assassinate the most officials and burn the most houses.

I probably would have overlooked the Saint James -- and I am calling him saint even though he is officially a beatus -- because he is the author of the Golden Legend. This book, said to be the first printed bestseller, went through more than 100 editions. It tells the edifying stories of the lives of the saints -- not the historical, not the verifiable, but the edifying. It is full of miraculous rewards and heroic sacrifices. Priests loved to draw lessons from it. The best of hagiomajor probably comes from it too, though it comes by way of other sources. So if James was declared a saint immediately by those who knew him best but only declared blessed by the folks in charge, I figure there's no harm in promoting him one level here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 12 -- Feast of Saint Veronica

If you've been in a Catholic Church, you probably noticed the fourteen images showing the sequence of the Crucifixion hung around the sanctuary. Perhaps you've seen them in Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches as well. They are the Stations of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow) -- visual prompts for the instruction and reflection on the Passion of Jesus.

The traditional sequence, which features Saint Veronica in the sixth image, was questioned for its departure from the Gospel. Veronica's just one example of the expansion of the Crucifixion story -- she doesn't appear in the Gospels at all. But her story's a good one, and it shows up later in a book that known as the Acts of Pontius Pilate / Gospel of Nicodemus, so let's run with it.

Jesus is hauling the cross on which he will eventually be killed. He's been interrogated, mocked, whipped, beaten, and spit on. And he's been up all night. Since there was no Red Bull to give him wings, he stumbled on the way. The guards pick some poor hapless bastard named Simon, a Libyan (Cyrene) Jew and probably a Christian, and make him haul the cross so they can get up to Golgotha (the Place of the Skull, the crucifixion zone) before sundown. Probably the centurion yelled at the legionnaires for overdoing it on the whipping and beating and crown of thorns (though not the spitting and mocking), but I'm just guessing because that isn't in the Gospel either. Simon the Cyrene is, though.

Anyway, the sixth station in the tradition cross shows a woman, let's call her Berenice (Verenice, Veronika), wiping the dusty, sweaty, bloody face of Jesus. It would have been a small, perhaps dangerous, act of kindness. She may or may not have even been a Christian, but she was moved by compassion for this poor suffering convict on the last day of his life. Or, according to one version, she is the unnamed woman in Luke 8 whose hemorrhaging is cured by touching Jesus' hem. The story of kindness repaid is nice, but I prefer to think this was just a local who was moved by compassion.

According to the story, which surfaced first in the fourth or fifth century, this woman's veil bore the print of Jesus face [Artist: Veronica, AD 33, blood and grime on linen.] The veil has a long history of its own -- being hidden from ransacking iconoclastic Lutheran soldiers who claim to auction it off in a tavern, being rediscovered in a secret compartment in the Vatican (calling Dan Brown: your sequel is here). There were so many copies of it floating around Europe, however, that the Pope eventually outlawed possession of something purporting to be the Veil or a copy of it on penalty of excommunication.

A few originals were left in the hands of the most prestigious or best connected churches. In the picture above, Pope Benedict XVI is contemplating one of them in 2006.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11 -- Feast of St. Benedict

You won't get many bigger dogs than the founder of the Benedictine Order. This is the guy who founded the monastery -- correction: THE MONASTERY at Monte Cassino and subsequently created the Rule under which Benedictine monks would live. Although other orders would be created and would have modified rules, Benedict's Rule served (and continues to serve) as the foundation of Western, communal monasticism. Given the quality and quantity of beer alone coming from the abbeys of Europe (not to mention wine, honey, jelly, and jam), this is no small accomplishment.

As there was no real tradition of communal monasticism, monasteries tended to evolve on their own. An especially devout monk would set up somewhere on his on. Aspiring holy men would hang around, asking to become his disciples. He'd outline some expectations and they could meet those expectations or leave. Benedict's followers didn't like the harsh Rule (actually a lengthy list of onerous rules) he laid down, but neither did they think leaving was their best option. They poisoned his drink instead, but before drinking, he prayed. The cup smashed into pieces. Then they tried to poison his bread. While he was praying over his meal, a raven flew away with the bread. At this point they gave up and submitted.

Among the things they probably didn't like was the motto Laborare est Orare, to work is to pray. Benedict's monks were expected to work hard and produce enough to not only sustain themselves (which didn't take much since they owned nothing, slept in caves or stone cells, and at gruel) but also to provide for the needy. And there's always a lot of needy to keep providing for.

Benedict's monastery was founded in the ruins of a temple to Apollo built on the peak of Monte Cassino. I'd be a hypocrite if I gave Benedict a pass for having smashed the altar and statue of Apollo before rededicating the building to St. Martin. After all, iconoclasm is iconoclasm, whether you're busting up pagan statues or ripping down pictures of Jesus. It's a lowdown shame in an otherwise impressive career.

Benedict's mom died giving birth to him and his twin sister, Saint Scholastica. She too lived a life dedicated to God, remaining celibate and cloistered in a nearby convent. Click on her name above for a sweet story about her and Benedict. Her feast is on February 10.

Monte Cassino, by the way, was heavily bombed by Allied airplanes in 1944 on the erroneous assumption that German troops had occupied the spot. In fact, it was filled with refugees from the German occupation, but once the Allied bombing had begun, the Germans considered its strategic value and set up there. It was the scene of a brutal battle from May 11 to May 17, 1944.

As for THREE! pictures, I just couldn't choose. The beard is winning, but there is perfection in the roundness of the dome before the roundness of the halo, and then again the flat-out hello-kittyness of the mousepad were all too appealing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July 10 -- Feast of the (other) Seven Brothers

August 1 will be the feast of the Maccabean Martyrs, whose brutal torture and death were described in 2 Maccabees 7. Seven brothers and their mother were executed by Antiochus, the Hellenistic ruler of Judea, because they would not violate the commandments of Judaism by participating in polytheistic sacrifice.

You may well be wondering why an August 1 feast is mentioned on July 10. It is because some early Christians (fourth or fifth century) were not content with that story. It was, after all, a tale of Jewish martyrdom, which is pretty good, but how much better would it be if it had happened to Christians?

Thus, seven male names were selected from the many cemeteries of Rome to be linked as brothers, sons of Felicity, near whose grave one of them had been buried. These seven "brothers" were then said to have been cruelly tortured and murdered, one at a time while the others looked on, in an effort to coerce them into polytheistic sacrifice. Felicity, like the mother in Maccabees, was not only tough enough to endure the sequential murder of her sons, but to encourage them to keep the faith unto death.

Yet the deaths were no where near as grisly as what was described in Maccabees, which is a little disappointing, since they could have made anything up. According to one source, Januarius, Felix, and Philip were scourged to death; Silvanus was thrown over a precipice; Alexander, Vitalis, and Martialis were beheaded. Felicity, whose feast is held in November, was also beheaded.

A wise man once suggested that I learn to take pleasure in shameless ripoffs. I think I can do that today. As for The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula, I'm guessing that they're different from the others, unless their black belts were in Krav Maga.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

July 9 -- Feast of the Martyrs of Gorkum

The focus of zealots on the things which divide the faithful rather than the things which unite them never fails to stun me. The quest for orthodoxy (small o) in Western Europe during the Reformation must look ridiculous at first glance.  For most, it probably never ceases looking ridiculous.

Once the Calvinists and Lutherans had wrested control of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg from the Spanish Catholics (a war that had as much to do with national identity, politics, and economics as it did religion), they of course turned their attention on each other. The big ProtesTent was too wide for them -- they wanted only the purest of the faithful worshiping under their canopy.

Once the Calvinists had taken control, they established an Inquisition to hunt down and execute those who would not abandon the tenets of their faith. The Gueux de Mer (seabeggars, i.e. anti-Spanish rebels) conquered Gorkum, Netherlands and rounded up fifteen offenders: priests, lay brothers, and Catholic students. Over the following days in the early summer of 1572, as these men were being threatened tortured, and coerced into abandoning their faith, four more prisoners were added. The most pressing points of disagreement were the Transubstantiation Question (whether the Communion bread actually becomes the presence of God) and the Apostolic Succession Question (whether the Pope is really God's Vicar).

On the urgency of these two points, Christian men tortured and murdered other Christian men.

On the urgency of these two points, men chose to die rather than to acquiesce to the ideas of others.

Through the night of July 8 into the morning of July 9, they were beaten, burned, and hanged; their bodies were mutilated after they died. You can find the individual names and more details here.

Friday, July 8, 2011

July 8 -- Saint Edgar the Peaceful

That Edgar is canonized at all is perhaps his greatest miracle, given his domestic relations. Granted, his reunification of the English throne was achieved without conquest, earning him the cognomen Peaceful or Peaceable, but his domestic relations were less pleasant.

You could say that Edgar loved the ladies, except that if he really loved them, he wouldn't have used his power to coerce sex from them. While other leaders like the petty kings who rowed his boat up the River Dee to his coronation might feel grateful that he left them in place to govern locally, and certainly Saint Dunstan was grateful to be recalled from exile and eventually tapped to lead the whole English church, a lot of parents and daughters throughout the countryside felt differently about his reign.

One country squire with a comely daughter was ordered to surrender her to the King's bed as he made his royal progress through the area. Night already having fallen, the squire figures he can pull a Laban, so he sends one of the serving girls instead. She served the King all night but got up early the next morning. Edgar inquired where she was going, so she explained that he had to get about her chores. Furious at the deception, the King dispossessed the tricky nobleman and gave his lands to his young bedmate.

While he was married to Aethelfaed Enida, the mother of his son Saint Edward the Martyr (a hapless boy murdered by his step-mother to clear the path of her own son Aethelred the Unready). But even during this marriage, he was out of line. He seduced a nun, Wulfthrith, from Wilton Abbey and carried her off to Kent, where she gave birth to a daughter.

Around the same time, his wife died. He offered to make his captive nun the queen, but she fled back to her abbey. He didn't pursue her, instead enlisting his foster-brother to recruit another bride for him. One account says the poor fellow was supposed to marry her as the King's proxy and send her forward. Well, the dumb bastard fell in love with a girl named Aelfthryth, married the girl himself, and then told Edgar that she wasn't good enough for a king. Too plain. Edgar invited the happy couple to dinner, met the charming young bride, and then took his brother out to the woods for a quick hunt. Sweet young Aelfthryth went from newly-wed to widow in minutes, but she didn't have to wait long before she was regaining newlywed status, this time as a queen. She outlived both the husband and stepson, helping her ten-year-old son Aethelred earn the nickname Unready.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

July 7 -- Feast of Saint Willibald

In the long list of firsts, I don't suppose the first piece of Anglo-Saxon travel writing would deserve bold print. After all, the Anglo-Saxons did not distinguish themselves as travel writers. And while Beowulf made the literary canon, Saint Willibald's Hodoeporicon is somewhat less famous. Still, let's give the saint his due.

Willibald was a West Saxon monk from a notably pious family. His dad, who has come to be known as Richard the King even though he was not a king and was not named Richard, took him and his brother on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which was then under the control of the Saracens. Not Really King Richard (NRKR) died in Tuscany, where his grave is venerated as if he were a saint, but of course he was never really canonized. His brother Winnebald got sick on the way and stayed in Rome. Willibald found some other traveling companions and carried on, getting busted as a spy in Syria at one point. Eventually he made his way from Damascus to Jerusalem, hitting all the New Testament Kodak Photo Spots (e.g. Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Jordan River, Cana). Then he lit out for the desert to visit the monks and hermits, following which he went to Constantinople to see how the Eastern half lived. Actually, they weren't quite the Eastern half yet, but the split was coming soon.

Sometime after he returned, his famous uncle, Saint Boniface, recruited him to evangelize the polytheists of the upper Rhine, around Franconia. He had enough success to establish a congregation so he got a bishop's hat and an order to stay put for the remaining forty-four years of his life. However, in his old age, he dictated the memories of his travels to a nun named Huneberc of Heidenheim. More than a stenographer, we might think of her as the Alex Haley to Willibald's Malcolm X. If you will. With all respect to all parties.

The picture, by the way, is said to be of NRKR. I figure he ought to get some cred here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July 6 -- Feast of Isaiah the Prophet

Good time for an Old Testament saint again, though there's no OT saint who's more important to the NT than Isaiah. A second stringer by Jewish standards, he jumps out to Christians as the harbinger of the Messiah. If there were any tradition of reincarnation among Christians, he'd have been the first life of John the Baptist. [NB. Reincarnation is not a Christian doctrine. Don't spread the word that hagiomajor reported that Isaiah and John were the same soul. It is not true. YOU DID NOT READ THAT HERE.]

The saint site that reported that July 6 is the feast of Isaiah did not have much to say about him except that King Manassas of Juda had him sawn in half. First, I love the participle. Second, I pictured the cut along the midriff, like GOB Bluth would do, but when I searched GoogleImages, I found him being cut bilaterally. Damn, son, that's an ugly cut, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

July 5 -- Feast of Saint Athanasius the Athonite

Sometimes the tough decision is about the picture instead of the story. The central story of Athanasius' story is pretty clear: he was willing to take extreme measures to avoid taking leading positions in the Church. But representing someone who wanted to be out of the picture is a little tougher.

Athansius was educated in Constantinople in the tenth century. He served at Saint Michael's monastery in Bithynia (Turkey), but fled when he feared he might be elected abbot. It's a little alien to us that someone couldn't just say NO if they really wanted to avoid a job, but remember that monks take vows of obedience. If your boss (the bishop, the archbishop, the Patriarch, or the Pope if you're in the West) says you must take the abbot gig, you take the job.

I'm not sure that running away is a legitimate route around the vow of obedience, but it's probably better than avoiding the vow of poverty by saying that all your wealth is for the glory of God. But I'm not an ecclesiastical lawyer so I'll give Athanasius a pass for his attempt to dodge the vanity of office. He sure wasn't going to be comfortable pretending to be an illiterate monk at his next monastery, since he was bound to draw the worst of the job assignments. Then he lived a few years as a hermit before resurfacing.

His old school chum Nicephorus Phocas was leading an expedition against the Saracens and tracked him down to be an almoner. The deal surprises me as surprisingly modern: Athanasius could get a cut of the money he raised for the expedition, his portion to be used for a new monastery, one at which one could live more like a hermit than a member of a community (an idiorhythmic monastery). Phocas led 308 ships with 77,000 soldiers, sailors and marines in a successful reconquest of Crete. He went on to lead a partially successful invasion of Syria -- he plundered tremendous wealth but the Empire did not hold his territorial gains. Eventually, Phocas rose to be the Byzantine Emperor, right around the same time that Athanasius' idiorhythmic monastery was being dedicated.

Fearing that his old friend would demand that he move to Constantinople to serve the administration, Athanasius did another runner. Phocas tracked him down on Cyprus and reassured him that he didn't have to join the cabinet or anything so he went back to the monastery to finish his work. He planted trees and added to the library and generally worked to improve the place until an arch collapsed, crushing the life out of him in AD 1003.

So about the picture: Athanasius is on the far right in the top row. There are other representations of him, images that feature him more prominently, even him alone. But for a monk who avoided leadership so assiduously, I figure that showing him among others is probably better. By the way, the people in the top row are (left to right) St. Peter of Athos, Mary Theotokos, Jesus, St. Pantaleon, and St. Athanasius. The larger images at the bottom are (left to right) Elder Daniel of Katounakia, St. Nectarius of Aegina, and St. Arsenius of Paros.

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4 -- Feast of Blessed Joseph Kowalski

The Fourth of July is a good day to enjoy grilled salmon, right? Fortunately, the English authorities did not grill Patrick Salmon on July 4, 1594. Unfortunately, they executed him by hanging, drawing, and quartering. Crime: harboring priests. But Blessed Patrick doesn't have the feast day to himself.

Independence Day, right? As we celebrate American independence and the values we seek to enjoy and promote, it is fitting to remember Blessed Joseph Kowalski (pictured at right). He was educated at a Salesian school in Auschwitz before anyone had THAT association with that place. He then went off to become a priest, distinguishing himself for work with youth. He was arrested in Krakow by Nazi troops for providing non-approved youth programs (e.g. church choir). The freedom of worship, assembly, speech, association, and press, as well as the rights of the accused and convicted, the right to bear arms, the right to vote, and equal protection under the law were all denied to Poland. Hell, Polish independence was being denied, not only by Nazis on one side but by Russians on the other.

Father Joseph was sent Auschwitz, and no matter what you have heard about Catholic schools, it had gotten worse under German control. (Yeah, that's a pretty weak attempt at humor, but I'm not cutting it.) Renamed 17.350, he was scheduled for shipment to Dachau, but an officer took a momentary dislike to him and started beating him. Then he ordered Joseph to stomp on his rosary. Joseph declined, for which he lost his all-expenses-paid trip to Dachau and was instead assigned to a hard-labor gang. He continued to minister to other prisoners at night, as well as he could, but suffered continuous beatings and abuse. Eventually, on a whim, guards drowned him in a cesspool. He was thirty-one years old.

Lot of saints are celebrated on July 4. Elizabeth of Portugal is a very big deal. Haggai and Hosea, prophets from the Old Testament, are celebrated today. And all of them tend to be obscured in the USA by the nation's birthday. And at least some of us would remember the twin union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in 1863. [True, Gettysburg was really over on the third, but skirmishes plagued the Confederate retreat. If you were being shot at, it would surely feel like a battle to you.] But beyond Saint Elizabeth is the virtue of peace. Beyond Blessed Patrick and Joseph is the freedom of worship. Beyond Gettysburg and Vicksburg are the fundamental human rights of every person; there was no consensus on that at the beginning of the war, but by 1863 every member of the Lincoln administration was in agreement. And beyond the nation's anniversary are the virtues for which it was formed and to which it must remain dedicated:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

I might have seemed to digress into mere patriotism on a blog that ought to stick to religious history (and yes, mythology). I did not. National self-determination and freedom of religion were issues for ancient Israel, just as they were for Englishmen at home and in the colonies. And they continue to be for men and women around the world. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, equal protection under the law, and the rights of the accused and convicted are not values exclusive to the Americans (and they damn sure are not anti-American ideals!); they are human rights and must be promoted by people of conscience -- by God's people -- always.

Wow. My high horse sure is tired today. Off to the pasture with him. Happy independence day.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 3 -- Feast of Saint Thomas

I don't make as big a deal of the namesake saint day as I might. There are, after all, several Saints Thomas I can celebrate: More, Becket, and Aquinas for starters. But Thomas Judas Didymus is a Big Dog, and the legends that grew up about him are fun.

For starters, how about this icon. Some brave painter chose to depict the whole family -- Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and Thomas. Both Thomas and Didymus mean twin, and the assertion in a few ancient sources is that he is Jesus' own twin, the brother Judas identified in Matthew 13:55. The Catholic doctrine is that Mary is Ever-Virgin, so the brothers must be sons of Joseph by a previous marriage. Maybe, but there's not a lot of text to support that.

Here's an entertaining alternative (yeah, I know that religion's about faith and not entertainment, but often, hagiomajor is about the mythos and not the doctrine). Taking a leaf from the Hercules (Herakles) story and the Castor & Pollux story, Mary conceives two sons -- one by God the Father and one by her husband. Queen Leda of Sparta conceived Castor by her husband King Tyndareus and Pollux by Zeus. Alcmene conceived Hercules by Zeus and Iphicles by her husband Amphitryon. In each case, one is a demi-god and the other mortal. Thomas the Apostle is the Doubting Thomas, the guy who has to put his fingers into the wounds of the Resurrected Jesus before he believes. While Jesus is an incarnation of the one true God rather than a demi-god, Thomas' disbelief stands in contrast to Jesus' miraculous achievement as a mortal's failing. (Painting on the right -- Carravaggio's The Incredulity of Saint Thomas)

By tradition, Thomas the Apostle evangelized the east, winding up planting Christianity in India. Christian communities there still celebrate his mission. Collectively, the branches and sects of Christianity in India are known as Saint Thomas Christians.  The apocryphal works describing this mission contain some humorous scenes of substitution between Thomas (threatened with persecution) and Jesus (invulnerable, indistinguishable from his twin).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

July 2 -- Feast of Saint Otto of Bamberg

 I must confess that I was more drawn to Saint Otto by this photo (lower right) of him than his life. The blackened nose tip made him look more than a little clownish. I searched images of Burger King's icon, thinking that Otto could pass for the archbishop of BK's kingdom, but then I found the other picture (right) here and had to post it. By the way, if you enjoy advertising analysis, the link is worth checking out.
Otto's life would actually make a nearly interesting movie. He caught in the middle of the investiture controversy, the dispute about who had the authority to appoint bishops and archbishops. Medieval kings claimed they were the final authority; the popes claim they were the Deciders. Otto was the Chancellor to Emperor Henry IV of Germany (well, the Holy Roman Empire). Henry tried to appoint him bishop of Bamberg, but Otto told his Emperor that only the Pope can appoint a bishop.

I was expecting one of those ugly moments like in Britain when a guy named Thomas (Becket, More) tells a king named Henry (II, VIII) what he can't do and is subsequently chopped. But oddly enough, the German Henry was much more chill. He and Otto took a trip to Rome. Otto's souvenirs included that spiffy hat and fancy stick you see in the photo.

Otto was apparently a better than average Bishop of Bamberg, working hard to keep the peace between the Pope and his Emperor. In his spare time, he converted more than 20,000 pagan Poles to Christianity

Friday, July 1, 2011

July 1 -- Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian

Cosmas and Damian were physicians practicing in Cilicia (Turkey) during the third century AD. Sources disagree about the year of their martyrdom. If they died in 284, as the Greek Orthodox on-line chapel suggests, then they were killed during the reign of Numerian and Carinus. If they were killed in 287 (per Wikipedia), then they are at the vanguard of the myriad victims of Diocletian's persecutions. Not that it much matters -- dead is dead.

As physicians, they healed both humans and animals, asking no more payment than faith in Jesus. Because of this, they were called "Silverless" and "Unmercenaries." One of the coolest, most miraculous healings attributed to them was a leg transplant. Since they had the leg of a recently deceased Ethiopian, they were able to replace the ulcerated leg of their patient. (See picture.) Among their patronages are physicians, dentists, barbers, pharmacists, veterinarians, day-care centers, and confectioners. Their surgical instruments, considered holy relics, are kept at the church of their name in Rome.

The local governor, Lysias, was eager to break their faith, so he hung them on crosses, had them stoned, then shot with arrows. Having failed to force them to recant, he ordered them beheaded. Their younger brothers, Anthimus, Leontius and Euprepius, were executed with them.