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, June 30, 2011

June 30 -- Feast of Blessed Raymond Lull

Also known as Doctor Illuminatus, Raymond was a troubadour from the court of King James of Aragon who became a Franciscan tertiary. An accomplished student in many disciplines, he distinguished himself in math, chemistry (alchemy, anyway), political science, botany, computation, and languages. He became an expert in Arabic culture and campaigned heavily throughout southern Europe for funds to send missionaries to North Africa. He himself was thrown out of Tunis three times for preaching Christianity. Given the fate of others, I'd say that his survival alone is miracle enough to get him fully canonized, but so far he's just beatified.

His family suffered neglect after a vision of Christ on the Cross converted him to religious zeal. Prior to that, he was seneschal to the Court of James II, which is a pretty good living, but following that, he split his time between study and prayer. The his writings were more intent on saving souls that entertaining crowds, so they probably didn't make the money his old stuff did. And since there were no royalties (when you're working for royalty -- HA!), his wife and kids petitioned for an estate administrator to make sure they had food and clothes.

He wrote Blanquerna, the first novel in Catalan, perhaps the first novel in all Europe. He also experimented with alchemy, hoping to turn lead to gold so that he could finance more missionary work. Some say he did so, but you can always find someone to say just about anything. His followers (Lullists) split after his death; some stayed with the Church, focusing on missionary work, while others focused on the lead-to-gold process.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 29 -- Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

If you were in Malta today, you'd enjoy a day off. L'Imnarja, the feast of Peter and Paul, is a national holiday there. Since you're here (wherever that is), you'll have to reflect on your own time.

I've heard it said that Peter and Paul, not Jesus, were the first Christians. Certainly Jesus' statement in Matthew 5:18, "For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished," seems to run counter to Acts 10:15, in which Peter receives a divine repeal of the dietary restrictions. [“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”] Paul similarly felt free to revise the Law -- so free, in fact, that no divine message or dream was offered as justification. [For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:6]

Peter baptized Cornelius the Centurion, thus making the first non-Jewish member of the Church. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, spread Christianity throughout the classical world. Both were eventually martyred, but by the time of their executions (c. AD 64 - 65), the Faith was firmly planted in cities throughout the Mediterranean.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 28 -- Feast of Saint Irenaeus of Lyon

Blessed are the peacemakers...

Irenaeus was an early(ish) Church father, having been taught by Polycarp, who had been taught by John the Evangelist, who of course hung out with Jesus. That was back in the day when pedagogical pedigree made a difference.

Irenaeus was the second bishop of Lugdonum (Lyon), the main trading port for western Gaul. He narrowly escaped being martyred by the polytheists who did not welcome Christian missionaries into their midst; the first bishop had sent him on a mission to Rome just before the slaughter. When he returned, he found himself elevated to the office of bishop by virtue of being the last man standing.

He apparently did well there, becoming an influential leader against the rising heterodoxy Gnosticism. Yet he was no blind dogmatist. When the Quartodecimans were threatening a schism because they did not calculate the date of Easter in the same way that the Pope did, Irenaeus served as a mediator. He advised the Pope that it really wasn't worth fighting over so the split was averted.

His shrine was kept at the church bearing his name in Lyon until the Calvinists destroyed it in 1562. Schismatic bastards.

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 27 -- Feast of the Martyrs of Eastern Europe

Living in the secular Northeastern USA, I hear much about the suffering and death that has been caused by religion. I suspect that most of this is actually caused by human avarice cloaked in religiosity. Cultures clash more often than faiths; religious identity is a convenient way to distinguish one culture from another; most faiths, in most eras, don't demand that non-believers be killed but cultural supremacists will deliberately misinterpret religious teachings in order to fuel genocide.

By coincidence, two feasts on this day acknowledge the victims of the anti-religious forces that had grown intolerant of Christians.

There were millions of folks killed under Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe, but twenty-five of them, listed here, are celebrated in the Canon June 27. The NKVD, predecessors of the KGB, were brutal in their methods. Zenon Kovalyk was chained upright against a wall until he died. Yakim Senkvisky was boiled to death. Andrii Ischak, a pastor in Ukraine, was simply shot by Soviet soldiers as they retreated from the advancing German army in 1941.

June 27 also honors Blessed Madeleine Fontaine and her companions. The four women were Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, one of the organizations that sprang up to relieve the suffering of the urban poor. These were not the fat prelates who had been abusing their offices for personal gain, but rather self-sacrificing nuns who ministered to the least of God's children. Arrested by the French government in 1794 for not swearing the Oath of the Constitution, they were tried and convicted of counter-revolutionary activity, and guillotined.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26 -- Feast of Saint Anthelm

You might think I have reverted to the lisp of my early childhood, but no, I do not mean Saint Anselm. Anthelm was a twelfth century French Carthusian. Born to the nobility and possessing a knack for administration, he rose quickly in the Church. After an avalanche killed seven monks at Grande Chartreuse, he was sent there are quickly appointed Procurator. Sometime later, the brothers elected him to fill a vacancy in the office of Prior. He was diligent about tending to the needs of the individual brothers while also thinking about the broader needs of the organization. For example, he ordered that a new motherhouse be built in a place less likely to be crushed under avalanches.

He served as Prior for twelve years, requesting several times to be relieved of his leadership role. At length, his request was granted, but his successor (Basil) ordered him to accept the job of Prior at Portes. The brothers there had requested him specifically because their region was suffering a food shortage and their needed to manage the distribution of relief from their own supplies. Having taken an oath of obedience, he could not refuse.

While he was serving as Prior of Portes, the bishopric of Belley became vacant. He also tried to decline that, but Pope Alexander III ordered him to take it. Again, that damned vow of obedience!

While others were grasping for Church offices to enrich and aggrandize themselves, Anthelm was quietly serving God and his neighbors. Perhaps the only indulgence he permitted himself was the annual time off from his bishop's gig, spent back at the monastery Grande Chartreuse, living as a common brother.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

June 25 -- Feast of Saint Eurosia

One account of Eurosia's reports that she was a Christian living in Spain after the conquest by the Moors. Having been betrothed against her will to a Moor, she fled and hid in a cave. A search party discovered her by following the smell of woodsmoke. They then dragged her out of the cave by her hair and beheaded her.

Another account says that she was a Bohemian aristocrat, pagan in her early years, but orphaned, adopted, and converted by Ludmila, wife of Duke Borivoj. Saint Methodius, who had been instrumental in keeping Borijov on his throne, needed to find a royal wife for a Spanish prince -- the Pope himself had assigned this matchmaking mission to Methodius. Eurosia was selected, and at age sixteen, packed off to Pamplona.

To get to Pamplona, they had to cross through a war zone. The Moorish captain, Aben Lupo, attacked the party, took her prisoner, and intended to wed her himself. She escaped, but was tracked down. Eurosia sought support from heaven, and lightning struck nearby, but the Moors were not dissuaded. They beheaded and dismembered her. After this, foul weather and lightning plagued the Moors all the way back to their camp.

June 25, the feast of a patron invoked against foul weather, is also my wedding anniversary. I'm pleased to recall that Jen did not have to be dragged from a cave by her hair, nor was anyone beheaded or dismembered. However, we took a ship across the Gulf of Maine to Nova Scotia, suffering some of the worst weather I have been in. Lightning -- enough lightning to destroy a flotilla of Moors! Last night, around 2:00 AM, there was lightning again, and it continues to rain today, as it seems to rain every June 25.

NB. Check out the hands -- or lack thereof -- in this painting of Saint Eurosia.

Friday, June 24, 2011

June 24 -- Feast of Saint John the Baptist

Vox clamantis in deserto -- the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. My friend and teacher Morton G. Soule pointed out that some translate that as "a voice crying out in the wilderness," but clamantis is a gerund, used here substantively to refer to a person; it is not an adjective modifying vox. John described himself this way when clarifying that he himself was not the Messiah, but a forerunner preparing the way for the Messiah.

John baptized his cousin Jesus, but didn't have a very long career as a preacher after that. He had been denouncing the royal family, something that didn't go down very well with the palace crowd. Busted, beheaded, and served up on a platter, John (or at least his skull) hung around the palace for a while. Eventually the Christians recovered it.

Today, you can see the face of in Amiens, France. The crown of it is in Istanbul with his left arm and hand, and the back of it is in Rome.

Vox clamantis in deserto was recently said by Conan O'Brien to be among the very worst college mottoes in America. If you have not checked out his 2011 commencement address on the You-tubes, consider it. It is hilarious.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 23 -- Feast of Saint Audrey (Etheldreda)

Okay, that's a different Audrey. She's the one who starred in The Nun's Story in 1959. But a picture of Saint Audrey might not be nearly so aesthetically appealing, since she had a large, unsightly tumor bulging from her neck. It is said that she was grateful for this tumor, as she understood it to be divine retribution the necklaces she wore in her youth.

We get the word tawdry (gaudy, showy, cheap) as a shortening of Saint Audrey, though it's not her fault. It related to the lace that was sold at the fair at Ely, England.

Audrey had sworn virginity, even though she was twice married. The first husband apparently accepted her vow, but inconsiderately died after only three years of marriage. As she was related to the King of East Anglia, that put her back on the nuptial market, if only for political alliance. He next husband had a tougher time with this celibacy thing, so she fled to a coastal bluff called Colbert's Head. The incoming tide separated the Head from the mainland -- no surprise, I am sure she was counting on that. The surprise was that the tide stayed in for seven days. It must have been a local phenomenon because I can't find any other record of tidal arrest in the seventh century, but it did the trick. Husband Number Two asked for an annulment, allowing Audrey to found a convent.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 22 -- Feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More

I wager that most of us have some passing familiarity with the story of Thomas More. He was the brilliant humanist who wrote Utopia and served Henry VIII as Chancellor. If you have seen Paul Scofield's Oscar-winning portrayal of him in A Man for All Seasons, you probably recall that he attempted to protect his life on a legal scruple -- if he said nothing about the King's marriage to Anne Boleyn, he could not be convicted of treason. Crime must be a definite act, and as silence is legally construed to imply consent, there could be no legal grounds for conviction. It was a clever argument, but it did not satisfy King Henry VIII, who demanded definite acts of assent about the marriage (and everything else he undertook).

John Fisher, who served Henry's mother as chaplain and also was chancellor of both Oxford and Cambridge before becoming bishop of Rochester, landed in the same stew. He, however, did not pin his safety to silence, but rather argued forcefully against the marriage. He had been offered more prestigious bishoprics during his career, but was contented with the diocese of Rochester. Similarly, when deciding between the correct path (morally, legally, and probably in the interests of peace and national security) and the expedient path, he chose the correct one. For his troubles, he was thrown into the Tower, where he weakened gradually. The Pope appointed him cardinal while he was in prison, but the King declared there would be no head to put the red cap on by the time it arrived in London. That head, severed after he was carried to the scaffold (though he walked up under his own steam), was placed on a spike at Traitors' Gate for two weeks. The occasion of its removal was the arrival of the freshly severed head of Thomas More, which stayed a month. The man who was instructed to throw it in the Thames preferred to accept a bribe from More's daughter Margaret Roper.

Both saints, celebrated on the same day, are depicted in The Tudors, though I have not seen it all through. They are also depicted in Anne of a Thousand Days, though I haven't seen that either.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 21 -- Feast of Aloysius Gonzaga

We have the stories of rich kids who get inspired to be holy early. Their parents usually work on them to snap out of it, take over the family affairs, get married, and settle down. They resist. Sometimes the kids win. Sometimes the parents win... for a while, anyway. But if they made saint, then we can be sure that the kids prevailed in the long run.

Aloysius Gonzaga was one such kid. The eldest son in a very powerful aristocratic family in Mantua, he determined at age seven that he would not follow the nobleman's path in life. He lost interest in guns and troop parades. The family opposed him and there was much strife over the next five years. It was said that he could not identify his female relatives because he refused to let his eyes fall on any woman. His health declined, perhaps because he quarreled so. Nonetheless, he resigned his inheritance and declared his intention to become a Jesuit. His dad mustered all the forces he could, including clergy, to oppose this effort, but to no avail.

There are two funny aspects to his having become a Jesuit. The first is that he was not really inclined to the Jesuit life at all. They are, above all very well educated. They were the debaters among the Catholic clergy, the priests who used knowledge and reason to defend the Church against the Reformation Movement. Young Aloysius pursued his course of study, but felt that knowledge itself was of this world and a Christian's responsibility was to keep his focus on the other world. He set himself apart from the other Jesuit novices -- well, to call him a sanctimonious prig would be going too far, since he made saint, but his spiritual director did feel compelled to advise him to be more social, to pray a little less, and to eat a little more.

The plague was a big career break for him. It allowed him to break from the intellectual traps (worldly pleasures, I guess) that were demanded of him and get down to serving the least of Jesus' brothers. He opened a hospital and begged in the street for food to sustain the plague victims. Soon enough, he himself had contracted the plague. He then realized that rushing toward death was also sinful, perhaps because it presumed to impose on the will of God. He prayed that he might be useful to God, seemed to recover, but relapsed and died at age twenty-three.

Go Zags!

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20 -- Feast of the Martyrs of the Titus Oates Plot

Of Titus Oates, one professor said, “He was a great dunce, ran into debt, and, being sent away for want of money, never took a degree.”

Nonetheless, Catholic-hunters in England took as gold Oates' evidence about a plot to kill Charles II and put his brother James II on the throne. He had been kicked out of the Navy, and twice thrown out of Catholic seminaries, and yet still the English took his word about the plot.

The accidents of history play a part, of course. Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, a fair man and friend to Catholics, died mysteriously, so Lord Shaftesbury exploited the death by accusing the Catholics of murdering a good Protestant. Lowlife perjurers were recruited from taverns and brothels to swear to the plot; sixteen people were directly (and falsely convicted). Eight more were convicted of being priests during this spasm of persecution. All twenty-four were executed before he was exposed as a liar.

Eventually, Oates was convicted for perjury and sentenced "to be whipped, degraded, pilloried, and imprisoned for life." The judge in the case declared, "He has deserved more punishment than the laws of the land can inflict.” However, during the reign of William and Mary, he was released and given a pension, the payment of which was later revoked.

One might be tempted to use a word like scoundrel or rogue to describe him, especially since he again tried his hand at ministry, and upon finding himself defrocked (this time by the Baptists), he dreamed up another fraudulent plot. Fortunately, this time no one bought it, so another twenty-four people didn't have to die.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

June 19 -- Feast of Saints Gervase and Protase

I enjoyed a conversation about saints with my sister (-in-law) Irena and her boyfriend Tim Friday night. She raised several interesting objections to the veneration of and attempted communion with the saints. I think it helped me clarify my thoughts about how saints help some folks identify spiritually. Today's saints, Gervase and Protase, are a helpful example.

But first, let's cover what little is known about them.  They were twin sons of martyrs, perhaps the first martyrs of Milan. Their bodies were revealed to St. Ambrose of Milan by a vision -- they were dug up and translated to the cathedral, where they remain preserved in the crypt with Ambrose (at his request). The photo shows them.

Now to consider how saints are helpful. First, I think that some folks find an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal God too remote. How can an infinite being with a universal plan be interested in my particular concerns? Why would a God that allows tsunamis and plagues and genocide care if I had a rash or a fever or a stutter? However, someone whose experience was human may well care. He could relate, and if he has already secured his spot in the House of the Lord forever, he might put in a good word for me. In this way, designating these saints as helping with the discovery of thieves provides a religious venue for a concern somewhat below God's cares. I suspect this stems from the inability to fathom the fully divine and the need for intercession. Not all folks feel this, but this is a comfort for those who do.

Second, in a very practical way, the saints provided a bridge to help polytheists embrace Christianity. The Ice Saints (Mamertus, Pancras, and Servatius, maybe with Boniface and Sophia) are a good example, all standing in for German deities. Protase and Gervase became identified with the Greek polytheist myth of Castor and Pollux.

A related third use is that invented saints can become palimpsests for the classic stories of polytheistic traditions. Just as Beowulf had a layer of Christianity laid over it to improve its acceptability to the monastic copyists and later to the Church censors, so too did other stories survive through Christianized retellings. I don't mean to imply that the early monasteries needed something Christianized in order to preserve it -- in truth, they copied just about everything they could from Greek and Roman civilizations, which is much to their credit. But their desire to make all things for Christ led to saintly versions of pre-Christian myths.

A fourth use of saints, perhaps the earliest and closest to the Jewish side of the Christian practice, is the role model. For some Christians, especially those of the blended Protestant traditions, saints are just exemplars of religious virtue. The Puritans desired all covenanted Church members to live as saints, and they referred to the best among them as Visible Saints.

There is not a single, doctrinal demand for the use of the saints. There is doctrine, of course, among the churches that have doctrine. But no Christian is obligated to venerate saints, to bow before icons, or to wear iconic images. As with Hinduism and Shinto, some find it useful to connect with particular aspects or avatars of the universal Oversoul while others prefer to connect directly.

As a twenty-first century New Englander, I feel that toleration of the other person's path to the Divine is a more important indicator of spiritual enlightenment than either a scrupulous adherence to the Second Commandment or a slavish devotion to a pantheon of demi-gods.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

June 18 -- Feast of Saints Mark and Marcellian

I find it encouraging that a damnatio memoriae won't work. Well, it may work for some of us who live in enough obscurity that our vestiges are lost over a century or two, but the big, political excisions from history are doomed. Chiseling names from every stone marker, scrubbing their faces from every frescoe, striking them from all public records -- it still won't work. In fact, enemies are sometimes instrumental in keeping the record alive, as in the case of Maximian Hercules.

Maximian Hercules was co-emperor (Augustus) with Diocletian in the late third century. While the record shows that Maximian was a little more eager to hunt down Christians than Diocletian (and Galerius, a junior emperor or Caesar, was even more eager), Diocletian gets most of the rap as the lead emperor of the era. Today's saints, Mark and Marcellian, were twin Roman polytheists who converted to Christianity, most likely in the early adulthood. Both married men, they were arrested and condemned by Maximian, but got a 30-day stay while they contemplated apostasy. Their family was pretty unequivocal about the need o burn a little incense, eat a lamb chop, and save their skins. Saint Sebastian, still a military officer whose own martyrdom was but a few years away, was equally adamant about their need to give up their lives to save their souls. At the end of the month, they opted for salvation. They were nailed to a post and then pierced with a lance.

Maximian later found retirement a little dull. He raised not one but two rebellions in an attempt to cling to power. Having backed his own son Maximian and then quarreled with him, he turned to the co-emperor Constantine, (he who would legalize Christianity a few years later) for shelter. Once he was safe, he rebelled again, leading Constantine to recommend suicide as the honorable way out. Out of friends and options, Maximian hanged himself. Or maybe he had a little help. But either way, Constantine then imposed a damnatio memoriae on him. Did I mention, and does it matter, that Constantine was Maximian's son-in-law?

There were bound to be records that included Maximian, of course. There were even bound to be surviving statues, though some (like this one) would suffer the damnatio. But even if the whole official Roman world had agreed to remove references to him, his victims would still recount the evil that he had done. The Christian records were written in documents that were only circulated privately inscribed onto the walls of catacombs (literally an underground record); they too referred to Maximian, and they were beyond the reach of Constantine or any emperor.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 17 -- Feast of St. Hypatius

After the reign of Julian the Apostate, it was tough for a monk living in the heart of the Empire to get himself martyred. Christianity had been restored as the official religion and the worst of Christian theological fratricide had not yet begun. Sure, an industrious monk might have angled to be released from his monastery so he could go off to the wild hinterlands to die while trying to convert pagans, but those stuck in the monasteries were condemned to natural, obscure deaths.

St. Hypatius was once such fellow. He had a conversion experience at nineteen that led him to become a hermit. He must have joined a monastery at some point because he eventually became an abbot. He was a partisan in the fight against the Nestorians, a faction in the debate about reconciling the duality of Christ: God and man. In particular, the phrase Mary Mother of God disturbed them, though they were certain that Mary was the mother of Jesus the Man. And as satisfying as the fight must have been, it seems there was little danger that it would get him martyred. True, he did shelter some others who were being hounded by Nestorians, but living within an abbey has some defensive value.

Then he heard that a Christian prefect named Leontius was planning to revive the Olympic games in Constantinople. He denounced the games as a festival of Satan that would lead to a revival of pagan idolatry. He led his monks out of the monastery and into the office of the bishop, who was properly distressed at the riotous delegation.

The bishop sagely answered, "Why die, when no one is forcing you to sacrifice? Go back to your monastery and keep quiet and let me deal with this."

But not Hypatius. He declared his intention to assault Leontius at the games the following day and thus earn the a martyr's crown. Leontius, catching wind of the mad monk's plan, announced that he had fallen sick and canceled the games. They were not rescheduled, and though he died of natural causes years later, Hypatius was eventually recognized as a saint. Geek, sports-hating saint, perhaps, but saint nonetheless.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 16 -- Feast of Saint Cyricus

This is one of those saints who gets called by all sorts of variations on his name -- everything from St. Cyr to Quiricus. It makes him a little tougher to track down because he is Cyricus the Child Martyr, not Cyricus who was martyred with Smaragdus (what a great name!). I guess there are a couple dozen saints named Cyricus, but today's saint was a three-year-old with faith, guts, and a mean set of claws.

He and his mom, Julietta, were getting hassled for being Christians during the reign of Diocletian. They rolled out of Antioch, which was getting too hot for them, and sped on down to Tarsus. However, the governor there was also on guard against these strange trinitarian monotheists (yeah, try explaining that while you're on trial in a capital case). When Julietta and her son were denounced, busted, and brought before him, he picked up the three year old boy while he questioned the mother.

I like to imagine the menace of this scene. A beloved child whose life you have tried to save is being held, paternally, but the judge who is one word away from sentencing you to death. What will become of the kid? Execution? Slavery? Adoption, leading to a life of idolatry and an afterlife of damnation? I figure Julietta had to pause a moment, just to find the best path forward, not only for her soul, but for that of her son. Perhaps, she must have figured, if I burn some incense before the idol, maybe I can save my life and continue to raise my son in the Christian faith so that at least his soul will be saved...

Fortunately, the young lad had a mind and soul of his own, not to mention ten well-honed fingernails. He ripped at the governor's face and upon being dropped, testified to the power of the one true God. The Governor picked him up and threw him down a set of stairs to his death. He then had the flesh ripped from Julietta's sides with a pair of hooks, following which she was decapitated. Their corpses were flung on a garbage heap, but were recovered by the faithful who kept their relics.

By now, you're wondering what this has to do with Charlemagne, whose picture (more or less) appears above. That emperor was, after all, about five centuries after Diocletian. It seems that Charlemagne had a dream that he was boar hunting and came upon a naked child in the woods. A boar had turned on Charlemagne and would have killed him, but the child promised to save the Emperor if he covered his nakedness. The dream was interpreted to mean that Charlemagne should put a new roof on the Cathedral of St. Cyr, which he did. I understand that there is a stained glass window of a naked child riding on a boar, but I thought that I'd be running a risk of arrest on child porn charges if I google-imaged it, so instead we have Christopher Lee.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June 15 -- Feast of Saint Vitus

St. Vitus certainly collected an odd variety of patronages. Of course, if we take his legend as written, they are rightly assigned to him, more or less, but the sum of them is odd. He is the saint to protect against (among other things): animal attacks, stormy weather, chorea, epilepsy, and oversleeping. He is also the patron of dancers. He ought to be invoked against abusive parents, but he's not (though I suppose you'd be free to start that if your old man is trying to get you killed).

When Vitus was twelve, his tutor and nurse (Saints Modestus and Crescentia) led him to convert to Christianity. His dad, a Sicilian senator, ordered that they be scourged until they would sacrifice to the Emperor and gods. They refused to sacrifice, of course; instead, an angel freed them from prison so they could flee to Rome.

There, Vitus cured the son of Diocletian, but because he would not participate in the thanksgiving sacrifice, he was again imprisoned. Modestus and Crescentia were tagging along in all this, and are also celebrated today, but I won't mention them again. The Diocletian on legend was one mean son-of-a-bitch. I suspect the guy wasn't as bad in real life, but I have an irrational bias.

The first method of execution was to throw him to starving beasts to be devoured. They declined to dine. Thus, protection against animal attacks.

The second (and successful) method of execution was boiled in oil (deep-fried, really, but we never call it then when referring to people). It killed him, but at the moment of his death, violent storms destroyed several pagan temples in the region. Thus, protection against stormy weather.

Part of the boiling oil ritual was to include a rooster with the victim. In iconography, he is pictured with a rooster, which serves as a rustic alarm clock. Thus, protection against oversleeping.

German Christians had the belief that by dancing around a statue of St. Vitus (see above, looking more like he's meditating in a spa than being deep-fried), they could protect their health for the subsequent year. Apparently the Germans dance like Elaine from Seinfeld, so the saint eventually became associated with disorders that affect movement like chorea and epilepsy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 14 -- Feast of Saint Methodius of Constantinople

There have already been lots of discussions of iconoclasm, the strict enforcement of the second commandment which prohibits idolatry. The dispute centers on whether two- and three-dimensional representations are assisting worship by focusing the mind or they are being worshiped in lieu of God. You probably recall that a few Byzantine emperors took a hard line on this, exiling some very devout Christians for their attachment to the use of icons. I suppose the devotion showed by these iconodules makes a pretty good argument that they were worshiping rather than just imagining -- after all, the icons themselves were worth suffering prison, torture, exile, and even death. Nonetheless, I fall on the iconodule side of things -- at worst, those who worshiped were just misguided.

Methodius was one of those willing to suffer for his icons. Emperor Leo the Armenian threw him in a cave with two thieves. Not much food, not much air, not much space, no plumbing, no breaks. During the seven years he was in there, one of the thieves died, but the authorities left the body rotting away with the two remaining prisoners. There wasn't much left of Methodius when he was released by Leo's successor, Theophilus.

It didn't take long before Methodius was hassling the new guy about icons, too. "If an image is so worthless in your sight, why do you condemn the images of Christ but not the veneration given to representations of yourself?" Good point. No back in the box (cave, hole, whatever). Only flog him first, and break his jaw.

Friends busted the Method Man out of prison on his first night. Theophilus was dead soon after, and not long after that, Methodius was appointed patriarch of Constantinople, a gig he held for five years before dying.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 13 -- Feast of Saint Anthony of Padua

Saint Anthony is the patron of lost objects. The folk practice is to enlist his help in finding something; once it is found, one publishes a testament to the power of his patronage.

The patronage goes back to an event that happened after his death. His prayer book had been kept as a sacred relic, but then it disappeared. People prayed for its recovery, and sure enough, a novice found it. Miracle? Not really. Later, he admitted that he had borrowed the book, and that a vision of a very angry Saint Anthony had ordered him to return it.

Note that in the depiction above, he seems very fond of the prayer book.

Based on this one incident in which St. Anthony may have intervened to ensure the return of his own property to his own shrine -- property which wasn't really lost so much as heisted -- he has a globe full of Catholics enlisting his help with every misplaced wallet and pair of eye glasses. Sounds like a raw deal to me. So here's my testament: before pestering the poor friar with requests, ask yourself a couple of questions.
1. Where did I last see this thing?
2. Is this the sort of thing a saint would be glad to help with?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

June 12 -- Feast of Pope Saint Leo III

One of Pope Leo III's first acts were to send the King Charlemagne (not yet Emperor) the keys of St. Peter and the Standard of Rome. This conveyed the message that Charlie was the official defender of the City, which was a pretty big honor for any European king at the time. Charlemagne was grateful enough to send some boxes of money to Leo so he could build some more churches and hospitals and schools and stuff.

Some partisans of a different papal faction hired some tough guys to rough up the Pope a bit. Their aim was to maim him so badly that he couldn't continue as pope. Killing him, you see, would be a cardinal sin, but maiming him would only be a venal sin, one which could be absolved by his successor.

Leo toughed it out, scars and all. They had attempted to blind him and rip out his tongue, but his eyes and tongue recovered so he simply fled to Charlemagne's court for protection. Charlemagne held a trial at which each party could level its grievances against the other; not surprisingly, the maimers were imprisoned and Leo got plunked back on St. Peter's Chair.

Later that year, Leo crowned Charlie as Emperor of the Romans, creating the Holy Roman Empire and inadvertently insulting the Byzantine Emperor. The picture above shows that coronation. Not long after, Christendom would split between the Orthodox and the Roman churches, a schism that has yet to fully heal. Oops.

June 11 -- Feast of Ignazio Maloyan

For the most part, the Armenians are members of the Orthodox faith. That the Catholics among them were treated no better than the Orthodox by the Turks probably shouldn't be surprising. The genocide in the early part of the twentieth century was more about discriminating against than discriminating between...

Choukrallah Maloyan had been ordained in Lebanon (then part of the Ottoman Empire) but served as a parish priest in Egypt. He took the name Ignazio in remembrance of the great saint from Antioch. He was sent to Mardin, Turkey in 1911 to be the archbishop to the Armenian Catholics there.

In 1915, claiming that the Catholic church was being used to hide weapons, the Turks arrested Ignazio and around 400 other Christians. The chief of the court police, Mamdooh Bek, ordered them to convert to Islam; they declined. They were chained together and marched into the desert. When they rested, Ignazio celebrated Mass with some bread scraps. That went over poorly with Mr. Bek, who ordered the group executed. Ignazio was the last to die, following one last opportunity from Mr. Bek for conversion.

His body was reported to have radiated light after he was shot, but since there were no Christian survivors, I'm not sure who reported that. It seems unlikely that the Turk would have said it, having just murdered him. I hate to be a skeptic, but I think that may be embellishment on an otherwise historical account.

Friday, June 10, 2011

June 10 -- Feast of the Tivoli Martyrs

The Emperor Hadrian was not as fond of urban life as some emperors. In truth, in spite of the Cloaca Maxima (the Big Sewer), the city was pretty foul by the time he inherited it. Rather than engineering a solution, Hadrian built himself a lovely little getaway up in the hills. He ordered up ponds and statues and gardens and all the pleasures of palace life. But of course he really couldn't escape his work.

Saints Getulius and Amantius were a couple of army officers who had gone Christian. Hadrian dispatched Caerealis and Primitivus, a couple more officers, to arrest them. They did so, but they were also converted to Christianity by their captives. The four presented themselves at Tivoli, whereupon they were judged, condemned, and clubbed to death.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 9 -- Feast of St. Ephrem of Syria

The son of a pagan priest, Ephrem was converted by St. James of Nisbis, a city in Mesopotamia (now part of Syria). Although his achievements were significant in their day, he makes the cut today ahead of Anne Marie Taigi, Columba of Iona, and a dozen other saints because he has this ultra-cool icon. He looks like he could be a character in a movie by Miyazaki Hayao.

As for the accomplishments, he definitely led his congregation to safety when the anti-Christian persecutions reached Nisbis.He brought them to Edessa, where he founded a theological school. A big-time writer of homilies, hymns, and poetry, he used his writings to defend the Orthodox views against Arianism and Gnosticism. In 1920, he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. He might have even attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325, but even if he didn't, it doesn't matter. He still looks sharp in that form-fitting gown with the three-fifths hood and sandals.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

June 8 -- Feast of Saint William of York

William of York was a very well-connected twelfth century priest -- his uncle, King Stephen of England, was appointed him Royal Chaplain and Treasurer to the Church of York. In 1140 he was appointed bishop of York, but the appointment was contested by his detractors.

The fight against him was led by Cistercians, early reformers of the Church who opposed simony and lay investiture. They accused William of buying the office and of being King Stephen's puppet. Of course, Stephen's own claim to his throne was bitterly contested by Empress Maud, so there were wheels within wheels on this one. Pope Innocent cleared William and confirmed his appointment, but the pallium he sent by legate was never delivered. When Innocent died, his legate turned around and headed home. The papal successor, Eugene III (a Cistercian) reopened the controversy. Bernard of Clairvaux (see June 7's entry), a heavy hitter in that century, sided against William. In 1147, William was deposed and a Cistercian from the monastery at Fountains was put in his place. William's supporters rioted and burned the monastery at Fountains, but William himself just retired to be come a monk at Winchester.

Seven years and one Pope later, Anastasius called William back to be re-ordained as the bishop of York. He returned to York in triumph, but was dead within a few months. Rumors of poison circulated, but it hardly mattered. Sainthood was assured whether he was martyred or simply called home. His mummified relics (I guess) are pictured here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

June 7 -- Feast of Saint Robert of Newminster

The lengths to which a biographer (hagiographer, to be precise) might go to aggrandize his subject can be pretty funny. Robert of Newminster's life seems to have been customarily impressive for a twelfth century saint. He was educated at the University of Paris, became a parish priest and then founded the Cistercian Monastery at Fountains. He then went on to found five abbeys in Britain: Newminster, Morweth, Pipewell, Roche, and Sawley. They say he had the gift of visions, and that he struggled with demons. As I say, pretty standard stuff for the twelfth century.

But here's the really cool part of the story. One of his hagiographers wanted to establish a link between Robert and Bernard, the great Bishop of Clairvaux. To do so, Robert had to have had a reason to travel to the continent since there was no record of Bernard traveling to Britain. The invention: a charge of sexual impropriety with a female parishioner. In the story, the charge was a scurrilous rumor started by resentful brothers; Bernard of course was said to have acquitted Robert of all charges. But really, wouldn't it have been better to have left his reputation unsullied than to besmirch it so it could be wiped clean by a greater, more famous saint?

Monday, June 6, 2011

June 6 -- Feast of Saint Philip the Deacon

The Acts of the Apostles is a frustrating book. It chronicles an awful lot in a short space, and in so doing, it leaves out much that I want to know. It could really have stood to have been a dozen or more books on its own. I might go so far as saying that I could do with fewer epistles and more Acts, but two things hold me back. First, my dad used to occasionally warn me against blasphemy and sacrilege. He died several years ago, but he's still warning me about that. The other thing is my own recognition that the early Church did not need history; it needed doctrine. There was no consensus on what it meant to be a Christian so the epistles outline the space within which Christianity can exist. Had Alexander not Hellenized Judea, this may not have been so important, but a culture infused with Plato and Aristotle could hardly be satisfied with John 3:17 as a core belief.

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Philip was a deacon, one of the first seven chosen to take care of the poor while the Twelve evangelized. It's a little perplexing that Philip becomes such an evangelist, but I guess that's covered by Saul's harassment of the Church in Jerusalem driving the leaders like Philip elsewhere.

Three notable things happen to Philip in Acts 8. First, he performs many healings and miracles in Samaria, which is nice because in the parable, the Samaritan was the good one. Of course it was notable because the Samaritans were traditional enemies of the Jews, but that might have made them good prospects for conversion. None of this is covered, but the conversion of Simon Magus is described. Simon had been impressing locals with his claim of supernatural powers, but when he saw Philip's miracles, he admitted that this was the real deal. He converted on the spot, accepted baptism, and then offered mad cash in exchange for some of those divine powers. Peter, who happened to be there (?), gave him hell for this (literally, explaining that Simon was bound for Hell). The Power of God is a gift -- it cannot be bought, sold, or exchanged for store credit. As Jonah found out, it cannot even be returned, no backsies. Simon wisely asked the apostles to pray for his salvation, and then he exited the text until he and Peter meet in Rome for a wizard vs. apostle duel.

Philip is credited with founding the Church of Ethiopia (Irie!) [Yeah, I know that's not Ethiopian, but Rastafarian is as close as I can get today, with apologies to Yared, Ray-J, Nazra, and all other Ethiopians.] He didn't actually go there, but he met the Eunuch of Queen Candace, who had gone to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray. Remember, the Ethiopians had been monotheists since Solomon's time. The Eunuch was sitting in his chariot, reading Isaiah. Philip jumped up and offered a Christian explanation of the text. The Eunuch accepted baptism and then returned to Ethiopia to spread the Word. Still no word about how the poor were faring, but the evangelism was going great guns.

Philip eventually wound up at home with his four virgin daughters, all with the gift of prophecy. This is perhaps the most frustrating part of all for me. First, where was Mrs. Philip? Did he abandon his family to be a deacon? Were there any little ben-Philips or just daughters? Did the first century Christian practice support nuclear families, or was the language that Jesus used when demanding the abandonment of parents for Him a guiding practice?

I like the book, but a few more details would offer a lot clearer picture.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

June 5 -- Feast of Saint Boniface

I'm not usually a fan of iconoclasm, but in this instance I will make an indefensible suggestion.

Boniface was an Englishman, author of the first Latin grammar in English, and a scholar of the first order. There were efforts to keep him in England by electing him to Church offices, but he had a calling to convert the Germans. He followed Willibrord and Winfrid to Frisia, but King Radbod chased them back to England, saying that he had no desire to "go to heaven with a handful of beggars." Willibrord went north to Utrecht, and Boniface followed after Radbod's death was announced.

Boniface split his time between big organizational work for the Church and evangelizing the people of Germany. He took time out to got to Rome and officially get his pallium, to crown Pepin king of the Franks, to reorganize the Frankish Church, which had become lax and ignorant, and to return to Rome to become a papal legate. Eventually, at 79 or 80 years old, some bandits overran his Church. He ordered everyone not to fight back, so there was of course a massacre. There were, however, survivors who described the bandits' disappointment when they discovered that the many chests that Boniface treasured did not contain gold and silver, but rather holy scriptures. They vented the anger, but some books survived too, including the Ragyndrudis Codex, shown in the photo. They say this was the book that Boniface was reading when the attack came - the bloodstains and sword cuts are still visible on it. It is kept in Fulda, along with Boniface's relics.

But about the legendary iconoclasm. When Boniface was working the crowd in Fritzlar, in the Hesse region of Germany, he found them very reluctant to give up veneration of the old Norse gods. He walked over to the Donar Oak (incorrectly named Jupiter's Oak in Willibald's account) and grabbed an axe. The assembled crowd waited for Thor to defend the sacred tree. Boniface said a prayer and started chopping. The tree fell over and the crowd was still waiting. After a few minutes, everyone could see which way the wind was blowing, even though it wasn't blowing through those branches anymore. They accepted baptism; Boniface had the tree split up and the lumber used in the construction of a chapel on the very spot the tree had grown.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

June 4 -- Feast of Saint Petroc

One of the most likable things about the early saints of western Britain is their special relationships with animals. Another very likable thing is the absence of focus on either hellfire sermons or doctrinal disputes.

Saint Petroc is a great example. Raised by a Welsh king but educated in Ireland, he returned to Britain to preach, settling in Cornwall. After predicting a quick end to a rain shower (it rained for three days), he went on a pilgrimage as penance for presuming to predict God's will. He traveled to Rome, the Holy Land, and India -- when he returned, he brought with him a wolf that he picked up somewhere along the way.

One day, while he was praying, an ill-tempered dragon showed up outside his cell. Petroc kept praying and the dragon kept pacing and snarling. Petroc prayed for three days, the dragon snorting all the while. Finally, Petroc went outside and noticed that the dragon had a splinter in his eye. Ignoring Matthew 7:3, he removed the splinter and healed the eye. Then he explained that the dragon shouldn't hang around anymore as the locals were afraid of him. The dragon obligingly departed.

One another occasion, the local king named Teudar filled a pit with serpents and worms. His plan was to throw capital convicts in there so they'd die terrifyingly painful deaths (see: deterrent justice). A good plan, if the hungry serpents and worms did not turn on each other for dinner while waiting for thieves and murderers. Eventually, they devoured themselves down to one huge serpent that promptly came out of the pit to find Cornish game farmers to eat. Again, Petroc explained to the serpent that it was no longer welcome in that region, and the serpent departed promptly.

Yet another incident reinforces the power of compassion for animals. A stag, closely pursued by a pack of huntsmen, ran to Petroc for shelter. Petroc hid the stag under his cloak. Picture it -- how hidden is a ten-point buck wearing a little Welsh priest's coat? The hunting party wasn't fooled. The leader, a local king named Constantine, raised his arm to hit Petroc, but instantly the arm dropped, numb and paralyzed. The arm was healed once the king and his men asked for forgiveness and accepted baptism.

Petroc's relics (bones) had fascinating adventures of their own. In fact, the stories of the bones are certainly more historically documented and credible than the stories of Petroc himself. But they are not as gentle and sweet as the story of this kindly little Welsh priest, accompanied by a wolf, keeping the peace between the wild animals and the Cornish people.

Friday, June 3, 2011

June 3 -- Feast of the Martyrs of Uganda

Just because Mwanga II was a murderous anti-Christian doesn't make him a pedophile. I know this is no place to be sticking up for kings like Mwanga II, the last Kabaka of Buganda. Lest you think I am making this up, you should know that Buganda was the largest kingdom within the British Protectorate of Uganda. But before I can stick up for Mwanga, I suppose I should level the charges against him.

Mwanga martyred twenty-two Christians during the mid-1880s, making a grisly spectacle of their deaths. He was fearful that Christian missionaries were undermining his rule. Given that the Scramble for Africa, a polite name for the Euro-frenzy to seize land from the indigenous people, was in full swing, he was probably right about that. The death of the Anglican Archbishop James Harrington was a catalyst for professions and persecution of Christianity, leading up to the purge of young pages in his court who had become Christians. Accounts of the story described these young men as having been saved from Mwanga's pedophilia, though since the young king was only seventeen himself, the term seems inappropriate.

In any event, twenty-two Bugandans were killed, most by being rolled in reed mats and burned alive. The list of those killed includes Charles Lwanga, Mugagga, and my personal favorite, Gonzaga Gonza. He had the fortune (good or bad?) to be decapitated rather than burned to death.

Funny thing about Mwanga. When the British were gathering up Buganda into their great big protective arms, he signed on but then had some colonized-regret. He declared war, lost fled the country, was imprisoned by the Germans (Tanzania), escaped, raised another army, was defeated, captured, and re-imprisoned by the British in the Seychelles. He comes the funny part. Before he died in prison, he became a Christian.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

June 2 -- Feast of Saint Elmo, aka Saint Erasmus

There's just no good way to identify this guy. Either I call him Saint Elmo, and you either picture that irritating red puppet whose grammar is so atrocious or you get that annoying pop song by John Parr stuck in your head. (Oops. Is that playing in your head now? Sorry.) But if I call him Saint Erasmus, folks will think about the Dutch humanist whose In Praise of Folly skirted the heretical line. Come to think of it, he should at least be a beatus if not a saint. He was a brilliant priest in the Renaissance and wrote a satirical attack on Church corruption, yet no one burned him at the stake. Sounds miraculous to me.

But Saint Elmo / Erasmus was neither a satirist nor a puppet. He had been the bishop of Formiae, and at the time of the persecutions of Diocletian, he scampered off to the peak of Mount Lebanon to live as a hermit. Not very saintly, but sensible.

It's tempting to make light of the Lord's mercy by suggesting that he gave Elmo a second chance at martyrdom, but I may well need that mercy some day, so let me tell the story the way it goes. A raven fed Elmo so he could stay in hiding, but the Romans busted him, rolled him in pitch, and lit him on fire. He survived, so they threw him in prison. An angel busted him out and flew him to Illyricum, but he was arrested and tortured again. In some versions, the angel rescued him once again, bringing him back to Formiae. Either way, they eventually got him with the torture.

The full description of his tortures runs a bit long, but it includes:
  • beaten about the head, spat upon, and besprinkled with foulness
  • beaten with leaden mauls
  • thrown into a pit with snakes and worms
  • covered with boiling oil and sulfur
  • thrown into a pan of molten resin, pitch, brimstone, lead, and oil
  • rolled down the hill in a barrel of spikes
  • teeth plucked out with pincers
  • tied to a column and flesh carded
  • roasted on a gridiron
  • iron nails driven through his fingers
  • pulled apart by horses
At one point, while the tortures were going on, lightning struck all the assembled polytheists dead, but Elmo survived, probably because he was down in a pit of vipers and they were all standing at ground level. The protection from lightning led to his identification as the patron of sailors, and the windlass as a symbol associated with him. Because he's pictured with a windlass, a story grew that he was mechanically disemboweled, as shown in these and numerous other pictures. However, that's not part of the original accounts of his life and death.

St. Elmo's fire, however, is the discharge of static electricity that occurs on the ends of ships' rigging, creating an eerie glow all over the ship.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June 1 - Feast of Bl. John Baptist Scalabrini

Last year, I made mention of this feast in connection with Brian Scalabrine. Of course, last year he played for the Celtics, so I was pandering to my homeboys. This year, Scal's with the Bulls, but even in that I can find a comparison. A tenuous one, I'll grant, but enough to amuse me. (Yeah, I amuse that easily.)

Blessed John was especially sympathetic to the migrants of Italy who had been dislocated by the market. He organized relief for the poor during a cholera outbreak; he even sold his horse, chalice, and the pectoral cross given to him by Pope Pius IX to buy food.

Scal is probably also sympathetic to migrants, having started with the New Jersey Nets, then gone to Boston, and now plays in Chicago. Although I don't know of any particularly charitable acts, he has had six games in which he hit his career-high five assists. Okay, so he's no Scott Skiles (30! and yes, I looked it up), but I had to come up with something.

Okay, now I'm going to stretch to a nearly blasphemous level. Blessed John's last words were: “Lord, I am ready, Let us go." Scal is many years from his last basketball words, let alone last words on earth, but here's a recent quote: "To give my coach and management full support, I can never question their individual motives towards me ... If Tom [Coach Thibodeau] wants to play me, I have to agree with him. If he doesn't play me, I have to agree he's doing the best thing for his team."

Which is closer to the spirit of "Thy will be done?"

Point: Scal.