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.

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.

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