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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August 31 -- Feast of Saint Gennadius Scholarius

Gennadius was an Orthodox monk living in Constantinople when it fell (1453). He wasn't just an average monk, though. He was a leader in the Aristotelian school of theology and had successfully led the opposition against Gemistus Pletho's proposed hybrid between Christianity and Zoroastrianism. At one point, Gennadius had argued forcefully in favor of reunification with the Church in Rome but later he was persuaded that unity would be bad and argued against unity with equal force.

Back to the conquest. Mehmed II (he's the one with the turban) arrested and imprisoned Gennadius along with all the other Christian clergy. Then he got thinking about the wisdom of such a repressive policy -- another Crusade, anyone? Mehmed figured the best way to prevent such a thing would be to identify an anti-Roman priest to be the Patriarch of Constantinople. He might not be pro-Turkish, but at least being anti-Western might prevent invasion.

Only three days after the fall of the city, Mehmed publicly greeted Gennadius and invested him with the bishop's crozier and mantle. This became a pattern for all subsequent patriarchs (in Constantinople) and sultans.

Gennadius didn't like the job very much. He resigned in protest over the treatment of Christians by the new government (which frankly was not as harsh as might have been expected). But folks leaned on him to take the job again. Then he quit again, and again they persuaded him to come back. The third time he quit stuck. He retired to a monastery where he continued to write books. He was considered the greatest of the old school Eastern polemicists, learned, brilliant, and prolific.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August 30 -- Feast of Saint Margaret Ward

It is the feast of Saint Margaret Ward. She shares it with several beati: Richard Leigh, Richard Martin, Richard Lloyd, Edward Shelley, and John Roche. They were all executed on this day in 1588, twenty-two days after the battle that destroyed the Spanish Armada. Spain had attempted to invade England with plans to force it back into the Catholic sphere. Queen Elizabeth and her government were in no mood to put up with Catholic rebels and traitors (and all Catholics were rebels and traitors, of course) so after they had tortured the prisoners in an unsuccessful attempt to get their submission, they hanged, drew, and quartered them.

A studio called Mary's Dowry Productions has made a film about Saint Margaret Ward, who landed in the Tower for helping a priest named William Watson escape. Mary very precisely measured a rope and smuggled it in to him. (live by the rope, die by the rope) She had also arranged that a boatman (John Roche) would ferry Father Watson to safety and then switch clothes with him. This allowed Watson to beat feet to someplace safe (maybe the Netherlands?) while Roche led the authorities on a false trail.

Watson got away and neither Roche nor Ward gave him up, though the tortures were pretty brutal. When the English officials were satisfied that they weren't getting anything more out of the prisoners, they gathered them up with the other Catholics they were keeping and held their hanging.

Watson winds up being a fairly unsympathetic figure, and although he too is hanged by the English (December 9, 1603), he is not canonized, beatified, nor even venerated as a martyr. He scooted back in 1588, but returned to England (if he ever left). He tried to use King James as a lever in his dispute with the Jesuits (he was a secular priest, i.e. one who is not in an Order of one kind or another). Unsuccessfully in this, he continued to weave webs, eventually forming something called the Bye Plot (to distinguish it from the Main Plot). It involved presenting a petition to King James as a device to get close enough to kidnap him. Once he was in custody, he could then be re-Catholicized (really?) and released to steer England back into the Holy Fold. I can't imagine how it failed.

Monday, August 29, 2011

August 29 -- Feast of Saint Jeanne Jugan

Ah, this one's tangled up in All Things Major. Let's start by talking about the saint herself.

Jeanne Jugan's dad died when she was four. Her mom farmed to feed the kids, and tried to teach them to live Christian lives. It wasn't easy because the French Revolution had put an anti-Church government in place, but she did the best she could.

Jeanne went to work for a wealthy woman (there were some, well after Napoleon's defeat when prosperity finally came back). Together, they visited the poor, the sick, the elderly, the shut-ins, and all the other least of God's children. Jeanne understood that she didn't have to be rich to comfort the needy, so she took the veil, became a nun, and eventually founded the Little Sisters of the Poor. At the website linked there, you can find a slide show with sayings from Saint Jeanne.

Little Sisters of the Poor. It rings a bell, doesn't it? Perhaps you remember last year when Dr. Gordon Gee, President of the Ohio State University, suggested that TCU and Boise State did not deserve to be in BCS games as much as his Buckeyes did. Regarding the relative strength of competition of their schedules, he said "We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor."

It played big, but not well. Dr. Gee started eating crow immediately and only just finished last week when he spent the day at a home they operate in northwest Ohio. You can read all about his faux-pas and penance here. Envy is a deadly sin, I know, but it is hard not to succumb when I read that the nuns gave Dr. Gee a bow tie with the logo of the Little Sisters of the Poor printed on it. I wonder if TCU and Boise State gave him anything.

August 29 also one of the feasts of Saint John the Baptist. In Poirot: Appointment with Death, Tim Curry plays a daffy archeologist who is digging in Syria for the head of John the Baptist. That's a silly notion, of course, since we know the skull was cracked up into three parts and is safely stowed in Amiens, Istanbul, and Rome.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

August 28 -- Feast of Saint Augustine of Hippo

This Saint Augustine (there are a few) stands out, even in the kennel of the Big Dogs. He was a brilliant philosopher, a provocative education theorist though a lousy teacher, and he has a mixed record as a family member, but he was repentant for the latter at least.

Confessions, his most famous book, is only a misnomer to modern readers. It means 'a profession of faith.' Of course, to make it more confusing (to modern readers), Augustine mentions a few of his moral lapses and regrets, but that only whets the appetite for many of us. You stole some pears? And you just threw them away without eating them? To paraphrase Homer Simpson, "Run for the hills, John Dillinger. Here come the cops!" True, he did offer some more substantial sins later, but in such a cerebral way that they just fail to titillate.

Okay, here are some confessions in the modern sense about this post.

1. I've been writing and deleting for about forty-five minutes. I ramble on with too many details and no thread or theme. That's not unusual for me, but there's so much info about him that the post would be interminable. So, I keep deleting and starting over.

2. I am only about halfway through Garry Wills' biography of Augustine, so I don't even know that I would hit the best things about him.

3. He's an easy target on the love-and-marriage thing, but to be fair, the Manicheans had a different code and the Platonists and Ciceronians screwed up his views. Their ideas of sexual continence were pretty whack. He was aspiring to chastity before he even became Christian, but his recommendations for others were still too demanding.

4. There's far more to this guy (I haven't even mentioned City of God) than I can cover. Whole courses are taught on him, so one blog post will hardly do him justice.

5. The kids in the pear stealing picture might look a little more European than North African, but remember that Carthage was a Phoenician settlement, taken over by the Greeks, then the Romans. Since it was pre-Arab conquest, the picture is probably pretty good. The woman holding Young Augustine's hand is his mom, Saint Monica, who is bathed in light while he's in the shadows. I have no idea what's down with Augustine and the Devil.

6. I resisted the opportunity to exploit the gap between his education theories and his classroom practice. He is the patron of brewers, but not schoolteachers, so I won't belabor the point.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

August 27 -- Feast of Blessed Roger Cadwallador

I know I have covered too many of the Martyrs of England, Scotland, and Wales. This is especially true since I don't have a copy of Foxe's Book of Martyrs (hint, hint) which would let me even the score by proclaiming feast days for some of the left-footed folks who died for their faith.

And in truth, I didn't lack options for August 27. It is the feast of the Transverberation of the Heart of Saint Teresa of Avila. I had to look transverberation up. It didn't help much, but then I found an explanation of the holy day. Good stuff for another day.

It is also the feast of Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine. More on that tomorrow.

So, we have Roger Cadwallador, another of these priests who wouldn't get out of Dodge (woldshireford-on-Tyne) and fell into the blood-stained clutches of King James I. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered, the customary punishment for the crime of being a Catholic priest in Tudor-Stuart England.

So far, unremarkable, right? As I said, I have mentioned this stuff before. Here's the part that struck me as worthy of a remark or two. He was arrested on Easter Sunday. Now put yourself in the place of the soldiers. You've been to church, probably on Friday. You heard all about the arrest, torment, and execution of Jesus. Now your boss tells you that you can't go to Easter service because you have to go arrest a priest who will most likely die a slow, painful, and public death. Really? It can't wait a day? I mean, I am sure that God loves irony, but is He really going to be down with this one?

A few random notes about Roger:
1. He was supposed to be killed in Hereford but there was a plague in the city at the time. I guess you can't kill people during a plague, so they shackled him up and made him walk to Leominster. It's a fourteen mile hike, which is a long way to go in leg irons.

2. The crowd usually cheered at executions, but this time they booed because the executioners botched the job so badly. I guess the standard procedure was a quick, neck-breaking drop in the hanging, following by a post-mortem drawing and quartering. At one time, of course, the whole thing was meant to be a protracted, torturous execution (as was depicted in Braveheart), but people get squeamish. They don't mind a bit of knackering at the end, but if the guy's still groaning and spouting, it's all a little hard to take. When the crowd's patience had broken, the executioners cut him down and chopped him up still alive (well, briefly, anyway), but it was too late. Their clumsiness had just ruined the whole thing.

3. The gentleman above is Father Frank Slater, standing in front of a stained glass window in St. Ethelbert's Church. The window behind him commemorates Blessed Roger's refusal to take the Oath of Loyalty that stipulated that the King was also the head of the Church.

Friday, August 26, 2011

August 26 -- Feast of Saint Bregwine of Canterbury

That's the thing you need to know about Saint Bregwine -- he was of Canterbury. Archbishop of Canterbury, in fact. Sure, he might have been born somewhere over in Saxony. He was friends with Lull, the archbishop of Mainz. And he even sent a reliquary to Mainz, but his loyalty was still to Canterbury, his adopted home.

This is important to understand because after his death and burial in the baptistery of Canterbury Cathedral, a few issues rose. First, the good monks at Saint Augustine's claimed the privilege of planting him in their ground, as they had for many of his predecessors. They got no satisfaction, but the objection was duly noted. Three hundred years later, the baptistery burned down, leaving the ground above him (and a whole bunch of other dead archbishops) uncovered. By this time, the monks must have forgotten their claim as the decedents were given new berths in the north transept vault.

Sixty years after that, a German monk named Lambert shows up, putting forward a claim on the relics of Bregwine. He's planning a new monastery back in the old country, and he figures a box of bones would be just the thing to impress the visitors at the annual harvest fair. Good for the bottom line, right? And he's got a bag full of letters from influential men ("Who?" "Top. Men.") to support his case.

The poor Archbishop of Canterbury at the time -- a hapless fella named Ralph -- is too busy dying to put up much of a fight, so Bregwine does the fighting himself. Instead of Bregwine being boxed up and fed-exed to Germany, Lambert suffers an unexpected death and winds up being buried in Canterbury. I don't imagine his monastery ever got built, but if it did, the brothers did not send for Lambert, probably because he never wound up being canonized for he wouldn't have been worth dragging out on market days and holy days.

If you happen to find yourself in Canterbury, stop by the north transept and pay your respects. Just don't threaten to move him anywhere unless you fancy a spot beside Lambert.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

August 25 -- Feast of Saint Hunegund

Hunegund. It is a very cute name, isn't it? Especially if it is pronounced Honey-gund, as I imagine it, instead of Hoon-ay-goond, or some other twisted way of saying it. "Honeygunnnnnd. Who's my little honeygund? You are!" Who wouldn't want to marry someone named Hunegund, especially if you knew how friggin' rich she was?

Well, poor Count Eudaldus (he was listed as a French nobleman, so I just decided he was count) was pretty excited about marrying her. She was young (having just come of age), rich, good-looking (ignore the picture and use your imagination), and well-mannered. The only quality left to hope for was fertility.

Hunegund told Eudaldus that she wanted to go to Rome before the wedding, see all the holy sites, and maybe even get married by the Pope himself. Eudy should have smelled a rat, but he was willing to give his little Huney just about anything as long as she married him.

They saw all the holy stuff in Rome, ruins and relics and churches and tombs and catacombs and all that stuff. Then they were finally granted an audience with Pope Vitalian, at whose feet she threw herself, pledging her chastity to Christ and begging to be granted a nun's veil. I imagine the Pope was surprised, maybe even a little embarrassed, but what could he do?

Eudy wanted to murder her, of course, but again, what could he do? There were Swiss guards all around, big bastards with razor-sharp halberds. You don't draw your sword in front of these guys, even if you are the Count of Saint Quentin.

They parted immediately after. He packed up the army of servants they had been traveling with and set out for home. On the way, he formed a plan to claim all the land that should have been his dowry. If he couldn't have the girl, at least he could have the money that would have come with her. However, when he got home, he found that she had already gotten there. Moreover, she gave all her property to the Homblieres, a group of nuns living in the area.

Eudy went home and chewed on his anger for a while. Then he realized that she was probably on to something very holy, and he could either ride that train to glory or walk the long hard road to perdition. He apologized, endowed a church, and became her very good friend. One site even says that she appointed him to be her chaplain, though the other site makes no mention of him taking holy orders. Either way, all his worldly possessions were bequeathed to the Homlieres convent.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

August 24 -- Feast of Saint Nathaniel Bar-Tholomew

Nathaniel Bar-Tholomew was an apostle, one of the original twelve. He doesn't get much attention, though. No big speeches or monumental failures of faith. He's just one of the twelve, walking through the Holy Land, doing the apostle thing.

However, he does have one very quotable line. He was sitting under a fig tree, munching peacefully, when Philip calls him to meet this Nazarene that everyone's talking about. Quoth Nate, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Of course he gets blown away by the Messiah when he meets him and signs up for the whole evangelical tour.

The accounts of Nathaniel's work after the crucifixion have him evangelizing everywhere: India, Mesopotamia, Persia, Armenia, even Egypt. In the fourth century, Eusebius wrote that Pantaneus went to India and found a copy of the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew characters that had been left with them by Nathaniel. It was probably a Rig Veda written in sanskrit -- Pantaneus couldn't tell the difference and the locals were too polite to disabuse him of his error. [Well, that's my hypothesis and I'm sticking to it.]
In the pictures above, you'll see that Nathaniel made a good end of it. Or at least that the artists imagine he did. He was flayed alive and then beheaded. He is, contrary to all good taste, the patron saint of tanners. The sculpture pictured above is a common way of representing him: he has his own skin draped over him arm. One of his real arms, by the way, is kept in Canterbury Cathedral. Other parts of him are in Rome.

courtesy of The Brick Testament,
And finally, the name thing. I suppose we are not certain that Bartholomew and Nathaniel are the same guy, but here's the argument for linking them. Bartholomew is actually a last name: Bar= son of and thomomew was the name Tolmai. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the Book of Acts mention him but do not list him next to Philip in the Apostle roll call. The Gospel of John does not mention Bartholomew, but it does mention Nathaniel, who was called by Philip to meet Jesus.