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, March 27, 2011

March 31 -- Feast of St. Acacius Agathangelos

Here's a new twist on the martyrdom scenario. Before the story unfolds, I want to stress that Acacius is listed as a martyr.

Like many, many other martyrs, he was busted for his Christianity during the reign of Decius. Being a fair-minded people, the Romans threw the poor bishop in jail and tortured him brutally in hopes of saving his wretched life.

Acacius had been a good choice for bishop of Melitene -- he stuck by his faith through all the tribulations in prison. Then, when called to trial, he gave such a compelling account of Christianity that he was released. Mind you, he didn't win converts in prison, but they respected his eloquence and let him walk.

Moreover, he was judged a martyr, even though he walked out with his life. Now that's a consummation devoutly to be wished.

March 30 -- Feast of Blessed Maria Restituta Kafka

Sister Maria Restituta was born Helen Kafka, the sixth daughter of a shoemaker. She grew up in a working class, immigrant neighborhood of Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Empire was a tossed salad of ethnicities, but eventually they'd all be sorted back into their own nations following the catastrophe that was World War I.

Helen became a nun, renaming herself after a fourth century martyr. I'd like to think if she'd picked another name, she'd have lived longer, but the truth is that Nazi-occupied Austria was no safe haven for nuns (among other undesirables).

She was working as a surgical nurse at the Modling Hospital when they came for her. She had written a couple of articles criticizing the Anschluss, the German annexation of Austria. She also refused to take down the crucifixes she had hung in every room of a new wing in the hospital. Some rat-bastard Nazi doctor reported her, and she was arrested on Ash Wednesday, 1942, just as she was coming out of the operating room.

She was sentenced to death by the guillotine for "favoring the enemy and conspiracy to commit high treason." None other than Martin Borman upheld the sentence, contending that it would prove effective deterrence for other would-be critics. She lost her head on March 30, 1943 after declining an offer of freedom if she would ditch the Church.

The sculpture depicted in the photo above is somewhat controversial. It is described at this site.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

March 29 -- Feast of St. Gwynllyn

I can hardly ignore Gwyllyn even if I don't know how to pronounce his name.

He was a cattle-rustling king in fifth century South Wales. When King Brychan, a neighboring chieftain, refused to allow him to marry his daughter, Gwaldys, Gwyllyn raided the kingdom and kidnapped the girl. Brychan went to war, of course, but King Arthur (yeah, that King Arthur) backed Gwyllyn up, aided by Cai and Bedwyr. In the old Welsh tales, Arthur was always helping young bachelors win their true loves over the objections of the girls' grumpy old fathers.

Gwyllyn and Gwaldys were married and lived a happy life of crime, but their children were all strangely religious. The oldest, St. Cadoc, was sent by his father to be a student of the hermit St. Tatheus who courageously demanded that the bandit king return his stolen cow. The younger children, Cynidr, Bugi, and Egwine, was all saints also. Cadoc successfully persuaded his dad to give up theft and murder. The parents settled into a hermitage they built themselves, though Gwaldys eventually broke away and founded her own hermitage.

There are some cool miracles -- healing fountains and protection from floods and invasions and such -- attributed to him, but had I seen this one before I had written all this, I might not have given him any ink. According to the wikipedia, "the defeat of King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings was attributed to the vengeance of Saint Gwynllyw because he and his troops had plundered Gwynllyw's church recently while attacking the nearby kingdom of Gwent." For a cattle-rustler and kidnapper, he sure was touchy about thievery, especially when the national interest was at stake. Oh well, all Wales paid for his vengeance once the Normans were established on the island. Nice move, Gwyllyn.

March 28 -- Feast of St. Guntramnus

I had not known, nor even suspected, that murderers and divorced people would have their own patron saint, let alone that it would be the same guy. Still after reading about him, I cannot question the Holy Father's judgment. Okay, I shouldn't question the Holy Father's infallible judgment anyway, but in this case I'll confirm his wisdom. [I am sure that all over the Vatican there are sighs of relief.]

Guntramnus came from a successful if not overly religious family. Dad must not have been a Christian, because Gunny was raised without The Faith and yet his mom Clothildis was a saint. His brothers were King Charibert and King Sigebert, meaning that everyone in the family had the title King or Saint. He of course had both, having been the monarch of Burgundy and Orleans.

Heaven's to Mercatrude, even!
So here's where the patronage comes in. He divorced his wife, Mercatrude, probably because every time someone said her name, he thought about Snagglepuss and laughed. It would have caused domestic discord, for sure. But later on she fell ill, and when her doctor could not cure her, he had the poor man murdered. Not many ex-husbands would be that thoughtful, you must admit.

Following his conversion to Christianity, he repented all his brutal acts and devoted himself to building up the Church. He was generous to the unfortunate, but strict with lawbreakers, except those who transgressed against him personally -- including two would-be assassins.

His skull is now kept in a silver case in the Church of St. Marcellus.

March 27 -- Feast of St. Gelasius of Armagh

I was all set to write about St. John Damascene today, but it turns out I wrote about him on December 4, which is when the Eastern Church celebrates him. Since he is from Damascus, I suppose it is appropriate to use the Greek calendar.

Fortunately, March 27 also celebrates St. Gelasius of Armagh, the first Irish archbishop (I'd say primate, but I always think of the monkey house in the zoo) to receive a pallium. [The pallium is a sort of woolen yoke that popes give to archbishops as tokens of their office.] I didn't put up a picture of Gelasius because most of them I found were of Pope St. Gelasius, whose feast is November 21.

Gelasius of Armagh should get far more attention in world history than he does. Really. He called the synod of Armagh in 1170 to try to figure out how to thwart the pending Anglo-Norman invasion. But since all the Irish leaders were there in one place, he made his pitch against the practice of slavery. They approved a resolution stating, "Freedom was God's best gift to man, and no one had a right to hold his fellow man in bondage." According to, "Ireland was the first country in the civilised world to set the example, and from the year 1170, no slave was kept in Ireland." This was six and a half centuries before England abolish slavery, and almost seven centuries before the USA did.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

March 26 -- Feast of St. Ludger of Munster

We're having a two for the price of one special today. Ludger gets the nod because he is legit, and William of Norwich gets the nod because... well, he was of course legit, but his martyrdom was overstated and exploited.

First Ludger. He was a Frisian (Frisia is northwest Germany and some Netherlands now). The Christian communities in York and Frisia had sort of a sister-city thing going, so Ludger and another guy got traded to York for a bishop. Pretty good deal for Frisia, especially since York invested heavily in Ludger's education, getting him all trained up as a deacon, and then he went back to Frisia anyway. But Munster (in Frisia) was an outpost of Christianity, bordering on wild German polytheist country, so I don't think their trades were comparable to, say, Yankees - Dodgers swaps.

Ludger did some rebuilding of Christian churches and some sacking of pagan temples. The sacking proved very lucrative, and he turned over the wealth to Charlemagne, which no doubt helped his career a little. I don't think he engaged in more destruction once he was ordained a full priest, but the Saxons were still busily retaliating against Christian churches. He took a pilgrimage to the relative safety of Rome and Monte Cassino while Charlemagne brought the Saxons under the yoke. The Emperor then called Ludger in to make the forced baptisms genuine with gentle preaching and persuasion. He was good at this and eventually made bishop.

As bishop, he took the care of his flock seriously. Charlemagne having once praised the revenue stream Ludger generated, called him on the carpet for giving away so much of the Church's wealth in alms for the poor. Ludger kept the Emperor waiting while he finished his prayers, and then stated that service to God must come before service to the Emperor. It was the sort of dis that later kings would punish, but Charlemagne knew that good people doing tough jobs were good for the Empire, even if they were a pain for the Emperor.

Now on to William. He was only twelve years old in 1144, an apprentice to a skinner. He was found murdered in the woods and his uncle blamed Jews. His body was translated (normal corpses are carried or brought, but saints' relics are translated) to a local monastery, and Thomas of Monmouth popularized the local cult of William by rounding out the story. It went like this:

Poor William was approached by a man who promised to help him become a kitchen-boy for the arch-deacon. William went off with the man, who led him to a group of Jews. The ritual killing of a Christian youth was supposed to have been an annual event for Jews, according to Thomas' story. The town from which the boy would be killed rotated, and 1144 was Norwich's year. Of course, this was the first such report in all England, but they had a corpse, didn't they? And the boy's uncle said it was Jews who had killed him, right? So it only stood to reason that the Jews had gagged and shaved him, stuck a crown of thorns on his head, and then crucified him.

In 1247, Pope Innocent IV wrote a letter to the congregation at Norwich, explaining that Jews did not engage in ritual killings of Christians, suggesting that the cult of Saint William might be somewhat ill-founded. In 1272, Pope Gregory X followed up with a similar letter. The combined effect dimmed the popularity of the cult somewhat. By the fourteenth century, cash contributions to the shrine of William had diminished to a few pennies.

At least the cult of William did not lead to any executions. The suggestions that Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln (August 27), a nine year old murder victim, have been ritually killed by Jews led to the executions of nineteen people and the imprisonment and fining of others. Hugh was murdered in 1255, between the two papal letters to Norwich.

March 25 -- Feast of St. Dismas

Oh, where to start with this one! How about this? At the moment of Jesus' death on the cross, his body (according to the Russian Orthodox tradition) writhes in agony. He pulls the crossbar crooked -- the left points down and the right points up. This signals the salvation of the thief on his right and the condemnation of the thief on his left.

Let's go back to the Gospel of Luke. To quote chapter 23, verses 39 to 43:

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."

Next, we must consider the Gospel of Nicodemus, which names the two thieves Dysmas and Gestas. Dysmas is apparently derived from the Greek dysme, meaning dying -- a funny name for the one who went to live in paradise that very day. I'm not sure what Gestas means.

Now on to the Arabic Infancy Gospel, which identifies the thieves as Titus and Dumachus. Titus is the good one on the right side, and is identified with the thief who resisted robbing Joseph and Mary on their flight to Egypt. Full circle for him.

Finally, let's consider all the crucifixes that don't have a Living Jesus on them. He hangs his head to the right as a convention, giving the nod to Saint Dismas the faithful sinner who is saved by his faith alone.

Bonus Fact: The painting of Jesus and Dismas shown in the thumbnail was done by Nikolai Ge, a nineteenth century Russian artist.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 24 -- Feast of Saint Tikhon of Moscow

I should probably look east more often. Vasily Ivanovich Bellavin had the (mis)fortune of having risen from being Bishop of Alaska to being the Patriarch of Moscow. It was the biggest gig of the Russian Orthodox Church, and one of the biggest in the whole Orthodox world. The misfortune about it was that he got the top job in 1917, the same year that the Bolsheviks took over Russia. As you know, the Reds subscribed to the error that religion is the opiate of the masses. I subscribe to the truth that Bolshevism is the opiate of the asses.

For protesting the execution of the Tsar and his family, as well as protesting the seizure of Church property, he was jailed as an enemy of the state. I'm a big fan of Calvin Coolidge, but since Tikhon had become an American citizen while serving as the Bishop of Alaska and North America, I would have expected our State Department to do more to free him. He was eventually freed, but only after writing a letter to the Orthodox congregation declaring that he was "no longer an enemy to the Soviet power." I think he confirmed that he had stopped beating his wife, children, and dog in the same letter.

He had already been deposed by Soviet authorities, who had a puppet patriarch as head of something they called the "Living Church." It can boil the blood to think about all the bullshit folks have forgotten about now that the Cold War's been over for a generation. But that's not what I'm writing about. The point is, the Orthodox faithful knew who the Patriarch was no matter what the Reds said.

Tikhon had one famous shot at the Bolshis before he joined the Church Triumphant in 1925. Lenin's Mausoleum was hastily built, and the sewer underneath it broke open. Quipped the True Patriarch: "The balm accords with the relics."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March 23 -- Feast of St. Turibius

The guy on the right is not Turibius. He's Blessed Metodi Domenico Trcka. He got included for two reasons. First, The Beard. Since I started including pictures (even if I can't make thumbnails stick), I've become mindful of the most striking images of the saints. That's one fine beard, for sure.

Second, The Name. Trcka. It has a vowel, but it doesn't really help, does it?

But now to Turibius. He is known as Turbius of Mogrovejo to distinguish him from... no one. There are no other saints named Turibius. There aren't even any other people named Turibius. Not now, not ever.

Turibius was a brilliant Spanish law prof who, for a time, worked as a counselor in the Inquisition. I don't know how many Inquisitors have been canonized -- perhaps more than I'd like to believe. But I imagine that it must have been a little hard to make full saint while racking, branding, and executing fellow humans.

He was brilliant enough that he was appointed Archbishop of Lima, the capital of New Spain. At the time, he wasn't even a priest, so they had to expedite the whole ordination / consecration thing. Maybe that's why he was King Phillip II's second choice. As second choice for the job I hold, I have some small kinship there.

The cool thing about Turibius is that he took his mission to the natives seriously. He learned Quechua and crisscrossed South America four times, through desert, jungle, and mountains, staying with the natives where he had not established missions. He was an advocate for them (often against the interests of the Viceroy and civil colonial administrators) in his relations with Old Spain.

He died of natural causes on one of his journeys around South America after having wrested control of the seminary from the Viceroy (and banned weapons therein), founded a home for women, a convent for nuns, and a hospital for sick priests. His body was buried locally, but then re-interred in Lima, where it reposes today. He is the patron of Peru.

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 22 -- Feast of St. Nicholas Owen

There were two promising names in the saints' list for today: Hugolinus Zefferini and Benevento Scotivoli of Osimo. I was hoping for some equally colorful stories, but the best info available was that Benny Scots had gone to school with a guy named Saint Sylvester Gozzolini, aka Sly Gonzo. Great names, but without equally good stories to back them up, I have to fall back on Merry Old England.

Way back in the sixteenth century, a carpenter in Oxford had four sons. One printed Catholic books, two were priests, and the fourth -- Nicholas -- was a carpenter. You'd think he'd have been the safe one, but his specialty became building hiding holes for Catholic priests during the Tudor - Stuart persecutions. [I am trying to kick the habit, but these British persecutions are so addictive.]

Anyway, Nick did time in the slammer for having defended the notorious papist Edmund Campion at his trial. They worked him over in prison, but he didn't crack, and once he was on the street again, he went back to his old Romish ways. He was apparently very ingenious in designing these holes, and he worked in great secrecy. But when he was busted in London in 1594, the Tower staff went to great lengths to make him uncomfortable. The plan was to crack him so he'd spill about the holes, and then they'd round up every priest on the island. He was hung for hours by the wrists, but he wouldn't sing. Eventually, friends bribed the guards to spring him.

When Guy Fawkes' Gunpowder Plot was revealed in 1605, Nick went to ground in Hindlip Hall. The Heat knew where he was, but they held their fire until all the regular conspirators were rounded up. Then they showed up at Hindlip with a hundred men to search the place. There were two hiding holes, each with two men. The search lasted a week, and as the food was running out, Nick gave himself up in hopes of the others getting away. No such luck -- the guys in the other hole were caught, hanged, drawn, and quartered right there in Worcestershire. Nick and the priest he was hiding with were taken to the Tower.

The interrogators went back to hanging Nick from iron rings, hoping to persuade him to talk about all the hiding holes he had built. Then they noticed an old hernia starting to give way. They put an iron ring around his middle to support the old injury so they could keep up the torture -- didn't work. He died of the internal hemorrhage.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 21 -- Feast of Blessed Benedicta Frassinello

Benedicta was a strange woman. Hers was a poor peasant family which moved to the university town of Pavia (near Milan) after Napoleon took over the region. She read about the lives of the saints, got inspired, and ran away to live in a cave. She ate nuts and berries for a whole week before her family found her and brought her home.

Concerned, her parents fixed her up with a kind, intelligent, but illiterate man named Giovanni. He should probably be a beatus too, but I don't think he made the cut. I guess he was just drafting in her holiness.

First, she moved her terminally ill sister in with them. Poor Maria lingered with a slow-growing cancer for nine years. Second, after two years of marriage, Benedicta told Giovanni that they should live in celibacy. Third, she then decided that they should devote their lives and resources to rescuing young girls who were prostituting at the university.

A word on that mission: both the Bishop and Benedicta's own confessor told her that those girls were a lost cause. Things didn't work out so after Maria died, Benedicta joined a convent and Giovanni joined a monastery.

A few years, an illness, an a couple of dream-wrapped portents later, Benedicta had a run-down house with seven former prostitutes working to make good. Benedicta's parents were scandalized, so they went to the Bishop who turned to Giovanni to talk her back into her convent. He left his monastery and had a little talk with her, the result of which was that he joined her in her work. Pretty soon they had a hundred girls and a much larger house, donated by a wealthy benefactor.

But gossip beat good work, and the rumors of what went on in houses full of young whores prompted the Bishop to bounce her from the region. Giovanni led Benedicta and five co-workers to Ronco Scrivia, his hometown. There they flourished, opening a school and orphanage, focusing especially though not exclusively on girls at risk of being forced into prostitution.

After Bishop Tosi died, she asked for permission to go back to Pavia. She opened an orphanage and school for girls in a former Benedictine monastery, but the gossip won again and she was rebooted out. She had a heart attack on her way to Ronco Scrivia and died there.

Her remains were destroyed by the Allied bombing of WWII.

March 20 -- Feast of St. Cuthbert

St. Cuthbert was a seventh century monk born. Inspired by a vision of St. Aidan of Lindisfarne entering heaven, Cuthbert entered monastic life at age seventeen. He was above all dutiful, but the times were tumultuous and his inclination was solitary. That's a poor mix for getting what you want out of life, and that's where the dutiful comes in. I'd mention that the career of his corpse makes a better story than his biography, but I'd be getting ahead of myself.

He chose to enter the monastery at Melrose instead of Lindisfarne because he knew and admired the prior, Boisil. Boisil put in a good word with Abbot Eata, and things worked well. Cuthbert was such a good monk that he was part of a team establishing a new monastery at Ripon, where he served as guestmaster. That's a pretty gregarious job for a monk, if you think about it, but he apparently did well.

I've mentioned the Synod of Whitby in other posts. This is where they debated the Celtic Rite traditions (tonsure, calculating Easter) versus the Roman Rite traditions. Rome prevailed at the synod, so Eata withdrew all his monks to Melrose where they could continue to cut their hair the right way and celebrate Easter on the right day.

Boisil and Cuthbert both caught the Plague. Probably a lot of other monks did too, but they aren't as significant in this story. When Cuthbert recovered, he was appointed Prior; the job was vacant because Boisil didn't recover. Then Eata became Abbot of Lindisfarne, the big monastery in the area, and induced Cuthbert to become prior there.

Monks and ambition don't mix well. For most of us, the idea of advancing one's career seems attractive. As prior, he'd have more opportunity to see that things were done according to his directions and preferences. He'd have more opportunity to meet people and even travel freely. He'd have privileges denied to monks without special duties and titles. But none of this interests men who have deliberately withdrawn from the world in order to improve their spiritual health. Work, study, prayer -- that's their choice. So for Cuthbert, rising to Prior of Lindisfarne was a sacrifice.

After twelve years, he was allowed to withdraw to a small island where he could live and pray in isolation. He even built a cell with the window so high that he could not be distracted by a view of the sea. He was nine years there, visited only by monks inspired by the rigor of his devotion. His reputation as a holy man spread, so of course he was drafted back into Church management, and having taken a vow of obedience, he could ought refuse. He was appointed the Bishop of Hexham, a new diocese in Northumbria. And this is the part of his life I find most intriguing: Eata, who was by this time Bishop of Lindisfarne, offered to swap dioceses. The negotiations and motives have not been recorded, and thus remain open to speculation.

Anyway, Cuthbert was an active and effective bishop of Lindisfarne for two years. He retired three months before his death in 687, and pilgrims reported many miracles at his grave site. Of course it might be hard to attribute all those miracles to him because the head of St. Oswald was buried in his casket in order to prevent it from being swiped. Competition for relics was already leading to some less than holy acts. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's saint-bones wasn't explicit in the Torah, but it apparently should have been.

With all the visitors, the monks of Lindisfarne figured the casket should probably be more accessible. They dug him up and found the body to be incorrupt -- no word about Oswald's head. They put some new clothes on him and put his casket above ground in the sanctuary, which certainly seems unwise in light of the previous paragraph, but they did. In 875, the Vikings drove the monks from Lindisfarne, and they naturally took Cuthbert with them. They carried him with them as they wandered for seven years. They settled in Ripon, then Durham Cathedral, then back to the monastery at Lindisfarne, then back to Durham, all the while worrying that either the Vikings or the Normans would jack the casket. In 1539, the casket was reopened and the body was still incorrupt. In 1827, the casket was again reopened and a single skeleton was discovered. They took the precious items buried with it and reburied it. Again in 1899, they opened the casket to examine the bones. They found a man about fifty years old, from before the eleventh century, with clothes from approximately the seventh century.

Locals swore that the bones weren't Cuthbert. Loyal Catholics had taken the body during the worst days of the religious wars in order to prevent it's seizure by Protestants. Maybe, but they couldn't explain where the sixteenth century loyalists got seventh century clothes and pre-eleventh century bones to substitute. Maybe it's Eata, dragged up from a grave in Hexham?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

March 19 - Feast of St. Joseph

The Gospels don't say a lot about Joseph, the husband of Mary and (step-)father of Jesus. Only two mention him and he doesn't get much ink in either. A genealogy traces his family back to the House of David. There is the famous quandary about what to do with his pregnant fiancee. The most obvious choices were to quietly send her back or to publicly send her back; the latter would have resulted in her being stoned to death on her dad's doorstep.

A dream tips him off to the divine inception (not the same as the Immaculate Conception) so he settles down with Mary until the census that lands them in a Bethlehem stable for the birth. He has a couple more prognostications through dreams -- one to go to Egypt to escape Herod's slaughter of innocents, and another to head back to Nazareth when it is safe.

There's a reference to Jesus' brothers, but since Mary was later determined to be Ever Virgin, they figure Joseph must be much older, with children from the first marriage. I prefer the stories that Judas Thomas Didymus is Jesus' twin brother, son of Joseph, but I know they are non-canonical so I won't endorse them. I just think they're fun.

Joseph is obviously a paternal role model, even if it did take a day before he and Mary noticed that Jesus had hung back when the caravan left so he could question the rabbis and scholars at the Temple. Still, by all accounts, he was a pious guy who did the right thing.

Some random things about St. Joseph.

I teach a course at St. Joseph's College of Maine in Standish. They are the Monks. I think that's strange because they are run by the Sisters of Mercy and the student body is more than 50% female. I can see that they wouldn't be the nuns, but monks? How about Carpenters? It's too late to do anything about it now, but they might have thought that one through a little better back in the day.

I was going to put in an NCAA basketball bracket that advanced Catholic schools. I looked it over and didn't see St. Joseph's so I took a pass. I think I had been planning for St. John's to go all the way. That's five bucks saved.

Somebody wrote an interview with St. Joseph and posted it on the web. You can see it here. They identify him as Joseph Davidson, but of course the tradition was that he would be known by the name of his immediate father; the family name is a much more Roman thing. Matthew's Gospel opens with Jesus' genealogy, and notes that Joseph's father is Jacob. So Joseph Jacobson would have been more appropriate.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March 18 -- Feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem

I'm starting to think if you were a fourth century bishop and you didn't get exiled, you just weren't doing your job. Cyril "was a gentle man, conciliatory by nature..." (Burns, p. 125) yet he spent the majority of his thirty-five years as bishop in exile. He survived at least four emperors and was exiled and restored three times. That's not a career track; it's a carnival ride.

Arianism was the big heresy at the time, though of course not everyone saw it as heresy. Cyril kept looking for the middle ground between the belief that Jesus was purely human, or purely divine, or inexplicably both. The latter was the orthodox view, and as such his own, but he was still willing to compromise. Not so his rivals, especially Acacius, Bishop of Caesarea. Acacius got a local synod to boot him to Tarsus, probably because Jerusalem seemed to be gaining prominence over Caesarea as a diocese. An ecumenical council restored Cyril after a couple of years.

Acacius then made complaints to the Emperor Constans, who re-exiled Cyril. Emperor Julian came along and reinstated him. He only lasted two years and failed in his attempt to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, just as Cyril had warned him. Nonetheless, the Emperor Valens reversed all Julian's reinstatements, including Cyril. Fifteen years later he was reinstated by the Emperor Theodosius, but by then, Jersualem had gone berserk. Gregory of Nyssa showed up to help him restore order, but instead just wrote a sort of travel advisory for would-be pilgrims, cautioning them to find some other place to which to pilgrimate. [Yeah, I said pilgrimate.]

Revenge is a slow meal to prepare. The second ecumenical Council of the Church was held at Constantinople in 381. At it, Cyril participated in the revision of the Nicene Creed, adding phrases like "begotten from the Father before all ages," "he came down from the heavens," "was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary," and "one in being with the Father." This cinched up any Arian ambiguity, making sure that the Orthodox view of the dual nature of Christ would be official and officially enforced doctrine.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 17 -- Feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea

No, I am not unaware of the other saints celebrated on this day. More on that in a moment. But first, some things about Joseph.

He was a wealthy first century resident of Judea.

He owned tin mines in Britain.

He was referred to as the "noble counselor" in Mark's Gospel.

He provided the tomb in which Jesus was buried after the Crucifixion.

He is said to have brought the Holy Grail to Britain (Dan Brown to the contrary).

He is said to have stuck his staff in the ground at Glastonbury, which then sprouted leaves and grew into a tree that flowers on Christmas.

He is mentioned in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Of course, March 17 is more famous for another saint. I had thought to write a limerick about him (seemed like the right form of verse) but the first line seemed like a dead end:

There once was an Italian from Britain,
... ... kitten? bitten? mitten?

Of course the best rhymes for his name were hat trick and matchstick, neither of which made much sense in terms of driving snakes from the Island or teaching the Trinitarian concept with the shamrock, so I gave up.

Happy St. Joseph of Arimathea's Day. Especially to all you tinsmiths and undertakers -- he's your patron, after all.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 16 -- Feast of St. Abraham Kidunaia

Okay, first the stuff about St. Urho, a special request from VKI, from whom I inherited this saint of the day stuff.

There is a real patron saint of Finland, Bishop Henry, whose feast falls on January 19. However, in 1956, while working at Ketola's Department Store, Gene McCavic asked his coworker Richard Mattson why the Finns didn't have a patron saint like Patrick. The two men set about correcting this erroneously perceived inequity, telling how St. Urho drove the frogs from Finland with the power of his loud voice, which he got from drinking sour whole milk. The whole story is recounted here on wikipedia. [Gotta scroll down past the real Finnish mythology to find it.]

So here's my mini-sermon about spurious saints and hokum hagiography. I ought to be outraged that these guys felt they could just make a cheap knock off parody of Patrick, substituting frogs for snakes (later changing it to grasshoppers, thereby saving the grape harvest). But I'm not, because 1) the ancient hagiographers used to do the same thing, 2) the story is an invitation to learn, and that path will eventually lead back to the Bible, and 3) you gotta laugh. So I say, "Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!" ("Grasshopper, grasshopper, go from hence to Hell!")

All right, on to St. Abraham Kidunaia, a runaway groom, an anchorite, and an uncle. Gender-bending the old story, he didn't like the marriage arranged for him any better than most of our female saints do. But after running away, he walled himself up in a small building with only a little window so food could be passed in to him. There he prayed. And prayed. And when his family came to persuade him to come home, get married, and be normal, he declined. And then he prayed some more.

The Bishop came, forced open his hut, ordained him, and ordered him to convert the polytheists living in the village of Beth Kiduna. He walked into town, smashed the idols and scolded the people for not praying to the one true God. They beat the crap out of him.

But still he persisted, living among them and berating them for their idolatrous ways. And still they persisted, beating the crap out of him and urging him back to his little stone shack. Eventually, he wore them down, converted the town, and prayed for a better shepherd than he for them. The Bishop sent another parish priest and allowed Abraham to wall himself back up.

He had an orphaned niece who anchored herself not far from him. He built a little cell for her and together they prayed. And prayed. Then some thirteen years later, she was raped. Believing herself to have been stained with sin, she fled from her holy uncle and went to work in a brothel. He searched until he found where she was, then went in one day, pretending to be a customer. Through the night, he worked to convince her of God's grace, and in the morning, they walked out together and returned to his hermitage. He did not leave again until his death ten years later. I figure this one doesn't really need a mini-sermon; the best stories about saints don't.

March 15 -- Feast of Louise de Marillac Le Gras

Louise was the natural daughter of Louis de Marillac, her birth falling between his two marriages. However, he acknowledged her and paid for her education in a comfortable convent as she was growing up. After his death, the money stopped flowing and she was outplaced to more humble circumstances -- maybe her mom's cottage.

She had hoped to become a nun, but poor health and poor purse made a poor candidate, she she married Antoine de Gras, a secretary in the household of the French Queen. A series of tough breaks followed, including a dim-witted son, her husband losing his job, then losing his health, then his money in a financial scheme, and finally his life. She figured all this bad fortune resulted from her failure to be a nun, so she sought spiritual advice from Francis de Sales and Pierre Camus. They handed her off to Vincent de Paul, who pondered her situation for a while.

His eventual solution was asking her to survey the Ladies of Charity and recommend improvements in their efforts. She dove into her work, eventually transforming the benevolent but disorganized benevolence of aristocratic women into the Sisters of Charity, an urban service order without a cloister, convent, or chapel.

March 14 -- Feast of St. Mathilda of Saxony

It seems like an odd thing for a saint to set her sons fighting against her, but that's one of the knocks on Mathilda. When her husband, King Henry the Fowler (great interest in falconry had he) died, she took off her jewels and started handing out royal treasures to the poor. Her son Otto became the next king, but she (apparently) egged Hank Jr.(actually known as Henry the Quarrelsome) into rebellion. She had a third son, St. Bruno the Great, and two daughters, Gerberga and Hedwig, but they apparently all stayed out of the fight.

Otto put little Hank down, but Mathilda somehow persuaded him to name him Duke of Bavaria rather than The Late Prince Henry. Much good it did her. Both her sons tried to shut off her almsgiving, and she quipped that it was nice to see them united, even if it was against her. She then hunkered in retirement until Otto apologized and invited her back. He even let her run the Kingdom while he went to Rome to get his Holy Roman Emperor Crown.

Hank remained quarrelsome, never apologizing, treating his subjects badly, and dying in what more figured was a state of mortal sin. Hopefully having the Archbishop of Cologne bought him a little grace, but probably not.

There's a creepy anecdote toward the end of her life. She was taking a pre-death journey to the place where she'd be buried beside her husband. As if that wasn't creepy enough, she stopped at Mainz to visit her grandson, Bishop William. He heard her confession; then she wanted to give him something but all she had was the winding sheet in which her corpse was supposed to be wrapped. Quoth she: "Give it to William. He will need it before I do." He was dead twelve days later. She continued on her journey, but dying on time and in place.

March 13 -- Feast of St. Euphrasia

She and her mom became wards of the Emperor Theodosius after the death of her father, Antigonus, a senator in Constantinople. Her dad left her quite well off, and Theodosius apparently took reasonable paternal care on her behalf, arranging marriage to a senator's son when she was five years old. Perhaps that sounds bad -- she wasn't expected to marry the boy then, but that's when the betrothal was inked.

She and her mom moved to the family estate in Alexandria, where her mom died. I'm not sure if Euphrasia moved into a convent before or after the death of her mother, but she spent the rest of her childhood in the convent.

When she turned twelve (childhood was over fast back then), the new Emperor, Aracdius, summoned her to enter her marriage. She asked his permission to remain at the convent, suggesting that he sell all her father's property and use the proceeds to aid the poor and purchase freedom for slaves.

Although she was in many ways a model nun, she was a foreigner and the Alexandrian women could be mean girls. She was subject to scurrilous gossip, but was eventually recognized for her exceptional holiness.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 12 -- St. Theophanes the Chronographer

Theophanes was the orphan son of a Byzantine provincial governor, so Emperor Constantine V Copronymus raised him at court. Theo got married at age twelve, but persuaded his wife to live in chastity. By fourteen he was probably bitterly regretting this, but he slept in the bed he had made (all alone) and when they came of age, they separated to live chastely. She entered a convent; he entered a monastery, and later founded two other monasteries.

He wrote the Chronograph, which one source dismisses as "a sort of abstract of history from 284 to 813." In spite of its inclination toward atheism, The Great Soviet Encyclopedia is able to muster a little more enthusiasm for Theophanes' Chronograph, noting that it is "the only continuous history of Byzantium and surrounding countries for the years 769 to 813." Many of the sources on which Theophanes drew are now lost, so his lengthy excerpts from these are also valuable.

Theophanes had attended the Second Great Council of Nicea in 787. While there, he signed a statement upholding the veneration of icons. Emperor Leo V (called the Armenian) came to the throne in Constantinople and summoned Theophanes to the capital to recant this doctrine. He refused, suffered two years of brutality in prison, and then was exiled to the island of Samothrace, where he lasted only seventeen days.

Friday, March 11, 2011

March 11 -- Feast of the Martyrs of Cordoba

Today, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) will continue to hold Congressional hearings on the radicalization of Islam in America. I have not heard that he will call a professor of ninth century Spanish history, but he should. The story of the Moorish occupation of Spain may will shed light on many facets of the current situation, though the limits of the parallel are obvious.

I don't pretend to be expertise in either the ninth century or Spain, but as Paul Burns tells it in Butler's Lives of the Saints, the Moors established a fairly moderate Muslim regime following the conquest of Spain. Christianity was tolerated, though Christians paid a surtax on their faith and were subject to restrictions. Two brothers were executed in 822 for insulting Islam, but no further religiously-driven executions followed until 850. During that time, some Christians paid their taxes to keep their faiths, but others converted or intermarried, resulting in their children being Muslim.

A priest named Eulogius began to foment more active resistance to Muslim domination of Spain. Two daughters of a mixed marriage were executed for apostasy; having some Muslim ancestry, they were considered by the court to be automatically Muslim. If they proclaimed themselves Christian, that was prima facie evidence of apostasy. A priest named Prefectus and a monk named Isaac were executed for defaming the Prophet Mohammad.

A new Moorish king, eager to lay down the smack, came to power in Spain. Lots of executions followed. Many Christians rushed to embrace martyrdom -- a longstanding phenomenon in minority faiths. Eulogius was persuaded to try to put the Christian resistance back in its bottle, but then he was busted for harboring an apostate. Both he and the apostate, Lucretia, were executed.

The reversal of fortunes for Moors in Spain was not immediate, but it was brutal. Spain developed into one of the most infamously religiously intolerant regimes in Europe.

The implications for a religiously tolerant, pluralistic country in the twenty-first century? I'm not sure. One could look at the Moorish regime's sensitivity about insults to religion. One could look at the government's inability to suppress the desires of the people, whether the apostasy law or the unequal treatment of religions. One could look at the inherent characteristics of Christianity and Islam, questioning whether what was true in ninth century Spain is true in another time and place. I don't know nearly enough to draw conclusions, but I think Representative King might do well to consult someone about it for an hour or so.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

March 10 -- Feast of the Forty Armenian Martyrs

Forty winks. The back forty. Forty acres and a mule. Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. It is just one of those numbers. It isn't quite as good as three, seven, or twelve, but forty still seems to be a magic number. So powerful in fact that a last minute substitution was all that prevented this whole martyrdom from being consigned to the dustbin. Truth: Thirty-nine Steps was spooky, but 39 martyrs just wouldn't work.

The reign of Licinius was a good time to persecute Christians. Okay, it was the Roman Empire, so every day was a good day to persecute Christians, even after Christianity became the official religion, except that the Christians persecuted then were heterodox, or as they're more commonly called, heretics. But that's another day. March 10 is for victims of the polytheists who demanded incense offered to Jupiter and the numen of the Emperor.

There was a military unit in Armenia called the Fulminata Legion, translated variously as the Thunderstruck Legion or the Legion Armed with Lightning. The latter name means something cooler, but the former name has better flow. Either way, there were forty Christians within this legion who would not give up their faith.

The plan for their execution was simple. Strip them naked and leave them exposed on a frozen lake. Set up hot baths on the shore for any who will sacrifice to the gods. These Fulminati (-ae? -a?) decided not to abandon each other and their faith, so they huddled the whole night, slowly losing body heat. At some point, one of them caved and ran to the baths. A guard, noting the epiphanos around the martyrs, stripped naked, declared himself a Christian, and joined them, thus preserving the round, magic total of forty.

In the morning, their stiffened (though not quite dead) bodies were heaped in a pyre and reduced to ashed.

At first, the thing that attracted me to this was the low cast, simple means of execution. However, as I began writing it, the importance of forty became clearer to me.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March 9 -- St. Gregory of Nyssa

This St. Gregory was the younger brother of St. Basil the Great and the good friend of St. Gregory of Nanzienzen. He was a disillusioned professor of rhetoric who may or may not have stayed with his wife, Theosebeia, after he became a monk, hermit, and then the Bishop of Nyssa (Lower Armenia). Although the second ecumenical council at Constantinople called him Father of the Fathers for his standing among the defenders of orthodoxy (against heresies like Arianism and Meletianism), he had been deposed for a couple years because of his inefficient administration of his diocese.

"Easy-going, tactless, and inefficient..." is how one source describes him. I can relate.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

March 8 -- Feast of St. Senan

They say this is the guy for whom the River Shannon in Ireland is named, but that's not the cool part of his story. Nor is his refusal to allow any woman to set foot on Scattery Island, where he established the last monastery at which he lived. He established several, and lived at even more, but none of those are the points I want to talk about either.

The cool thing is that when he first moved to Scattery Island, he found the residents living in terror of the Cathach, a horrible sea serpent. It was also called a peist, a type of gold-guarding monster found in the lakes of Ireland. Senan climbed on top of the highest hill on the island and spotted the monster. He marched straight to it and ordered it in the name of the Trinity to depart and not return. It did, of course, diving to the bottom of Doolough Lake at the foot of Mount Callan.

March 7 -- Feast of Blessed Leonid Feodorov

This is one of those stories where you can admire someone's faith in the face of adversity, or you can marvel at his unwillingness to get a clue and protect himself. In either case, it is easy to condemn the governments involved for their persecution of minority faiths. Hey, Russia! If the Orthodox faith is so strong, why you gotta lock up the Catholics? Whatcha 'fraid of?

Hey, USSR, if Communism's so great, why you gotta lock people up for believing in God? Whatcha 'fraid of? And by what standard are you better than the Tsar's government?

Leonid was raised in the Orthodox faith, but as he studied, he chose to convert to Catholicism. He was ordained in the Greek Catholic Church, taking the name Father Leontios in 1913. He was arrested for his faith immediately upon returning to Russia and sent to Siberia. In 1917 the Kerensky government released him in the general amnesty, but the Bolshevik government re-busted him in 1923. I'll say this for the Reds: Vladka can't be as bad as Siberia as a place to be exiled. Still, I'm sure the Bolshi guards found ways to make Father Leontios uncomfortable.

He was released in 1926, which shows some clemency, since it was only three years from a ten year sentence. Nonetheless, he was re-busted and resentenced. He was transferred from prison to prison, and his health worsened with each transfer. He was released in 1933 in recognition of his poor health, but he was barred from living in many of the Soviet cities. He died in 1935 at age fifty-six.

March 6 -- Feast of St. Rose of Viterbo

They don't make them like St. Rose anymore. A precocious child, especially for the thirteenth century, Rose raised her mother's sister from the dead at age three. Yeah, that's how Rose rolls.

By age seven, she was a penitent recluse, penancing (not a real verb) herself into near death over and over, only to be resuscitated by the intervention of the Virgin Mary. Some might call that pushing one's luck or testing the patience of the Holy Mother, but Rose knew she was doing God's will. That's how Rose rolls.

At age thirteen, she was already out, preaching in the streets. This was politically a problem because there was some sort of theological dispute involving Viterbo's occupation by the Holy Roman Emperor, who was almost always neither holy nor Roman. After she raised a ruckus, the Emperor's minions ordered Rose and her family to leave the city. Rose then foretold the imminent death of the Emperor, a prophecy that promptly came true. Again, that's how Rose rolls.

She went to the town of Vitorchiano, which was suffering under the curse of a sorceress. She told them they all needed to repent and rededicate themselves to God. She got some traction, but fear and resistance were strong. The sorceress was apparently a pretty powerful chick too. So Rose had a pyre built in the town square and ordered it lit. Then she herself (thought it was a witch-burning story, right?) stood in the fire for three hours, preaching the Word of God. Even the sorceress was born again after that demonstration, recognizing the power of how Rose rolls.

Okay, here's the part of the story I don't get. She wanted to join the monastery of St. Mary of the Roses, a Poor Clare monastery. The Poor Clares were a Franciscan order of nuns, and we all know how St. Francis was all about the poverty. One source tells that Rose was repeatedly refused admittance to the Poor Clares, but it doesn't say why. Another source says that she was denied admittance to the monastery because of her poverty. The latter seems wrong to me, especially since these visions and trouble-making preachings and miracles would have been far more disruptive to the quiet life of the convent than just another mouth to feed. But Rose didn't mind too much because she prophesied her admittance to the monastery after her death, and even in that, she was right. Pope Alexander IV ordered the monastery to lay her body to rest among the other deceased sisters of the convent. Yeah, Rose rolls like that.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

May 5 -- Feast of St. Drausinus

Here's a saint you can use. This bishop of Soissons became the patron of champions, invoked against enemy attacks. It was said that if one spent a night in his tomb, one became invincible.
Entire platoons would camp out there overnight before battles.

Of course, Thomas a Becket also visited the tomb before he returned to England, where he was murdered at the altar of Canterbury Cathedral, so you can't put all your faith in a saint's legend.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March 4 -- Feast of St. Casimir

I'm trying to figure out whether this is a gratuitous Monty Python reference or not. As I describe St. Casimir, Prince of Poland, picture Herbert, the prince in Swamp Castle; judge whether the comparison is apt. Don't remember the scene? Watch it here.

Casimir was the son of Casimir IV, King of Poland. He was sent at age thirteen at the head of an army to the Hungarian border, which he was supposed to cross in triumph, Hungary from an unpopular monarch and claiming the throne for himself. The Hungarian King, Matthias Corvinus, raised an army to defend his throne against the Poles. The Polish army had not been paid, so they took off and left the boy prince to his own devices. Upon returning to his dad, he was locked in the castle of Dobzki until some use could be found for him.

King Casimir negotiated a marriage to the daughter of Frederick III, the Holy Roman Emperor, but young Casimir thought not. By this point, he had settled on a life of celibacy. [No word on whether King Fred's daughter had "huge tracts of land."]

Singing? Yeah, he's got that too. "Omni die dic Mariae" is a hymn written by Bernard of Cluny in the 12th century; he sang it so much it is often identified as his own work. He even asked that a copy of it be included in his coffin. It was placed under his head following his death from tuberculosis at age twenty-six.

March 3 -- St. Catherine Drexel

If you were running a charity, St. Catherine was the kind of woman you want supporting you. Heir to the Drexel railroad / banking fortune, she was greatly distressed by the miserable conditions in which Native Americans and African Americans were living. She even brought it up during a sit-down with Pope Leo XIII, asking that he send more missionaries to Bishop James O'Connor in Wyoming. His reply: Why don't you become a missionary yourself?

I give them both a lot of credit. Here was someone wealthy and well-connected enough to get an audience with the Holy Father and he called her out on what she was doing. Maybe it was different in 1887 (it was) and maybe I'm cynical (ya think so?) and maybe even his response was a little gendered (but probably not, since he was the Pope), but I am not inclined to believe that many folks would sass heavy-hitting benefactors that way.

Of course, Leo scored (in a pastoral sense). Catherine went back to the states, rained millions on the Dakotas, joined the Sisters of Mercy, and founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Coloreds. When approval of the new order of nuns was held in the Vatican bureaucracy, she made a special trip to Rome to see it would be expedited. It was, of course.

She founded fifty missions for Indians and thirteen schools for coloreds (as the term was back then). The most famous is probably Xavier University in New Orleans, the first American university for blacks.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March 2 -- Feast of St. Chad

Sometimes, the Church was no better than any other business when it came to getting a promotion; if you weren't bribing your way into the office, it came down to credentials and connections.

When the bishopric in Northumbria opened up, King Oswy appointed Chad to the spot, sending him to Canterbury to get ordained. [Bishops' appointments are confirmed by a sacramental ritual that can only be performed by other bishops, thus maintaining the unbroken chain of command known as apostolic succession.] Upon arriving at Canterbury, Chad found that the archbishop had died, so he headed west in search of another bishop. Eventually he found one, Bishop Wini, who was joined by a couple of Welsh bishops in consecrating our saint. Sadly, none of these homegrown bishops was recognized by the Church in Rome, and there was some whiff of scandal around Wini about the sale of church offices (simony).

Prior to Chad's appointment by Oswy, another future saint named Wilfrid had been appointed to the same bishopric by an underking named Alfrid. He had gone off to France to be consecrated, but everyone got tired of waiting for him to come home so they accepted Chad as bishop. Until Wilfrid showed up, that is, like the scene in Tommy where Captain Walker comes back from the war, except that Ann Margaret didn't whack St. Chad over the head with a lamp and then strangle him with the cord. Did I remember that scene correctly? It's been a long time since I saw that movie. (Sorry. I digress.)

Long story short, Chad tried to hang on to the seat, but Wilfrid appealed and Rome tossed our saint on the strength that Chad's papers were somewhat dubious while Wilfrid's were unimpeachable. Chad eventually got another bishopric, and then even more eventually he got the plague, but the point here is that even among holy men, the signature at the bottom of your certificate can influence your future.