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 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.


  1. Never heard quite the way you describe the narration. Where did you get your info ???????

    1. As you can see, I wrote this a couple of years ago, so it is hard to be precise about which sources I drew upon. The aim of the blog is contemplation and entertainment (my own, anyway) more than serious scholastic contribution. The sources I draw on most heavily are on the menu to the right.