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, November 10, 2011

November 10 -- Pope Saint Leo the Great

There's more to Leo I than I can address in this post.  He might be one of the folks who gets carried, year to year, as facets of him are explored.  This year, I think the celebrated meeting between him and Attila the Hun is a good starting place, if only because Raphael left us this depiction. 

Pope Leo is the one on the white horse, just left of the cross, under the angels.
In AD 452, Attila the Hun invaded Italy.  Y'all have heard of him; he needs no introduction, but it is worth remembering that Attila rolled deep.  His crew registered five digits, and this was in the twilight of the Western Roman Empire, after Alaric had already sacked Rome (AD 410).  Military resistance was not going to be effective, so Emperor Valentinian III turned to diplomacy, a path that Attila (contrary to reputation) was open to following.  After all, he had already sent word that he would not attack Rome if the Emperor gave his sister, Honoria, with a dowry suitable for an imperial princess -- say, about half the Western Empire. 

In this, Attila was neither delusional nor barbarous, but rather just a chump.  Honoria, it seems, had been betrothed to a Roman senator by her brother.  She didn't think much of the match, so she wrote to Attila, proposing the marriage and the division of the Empire.  She sent her ring as a token of her sincerity.  Attila, like any noble prince, rode to rescue the winsome princess from her unfortunate marriage to Senator Gasbagus.  Valentinian might have killed his sister, but their mother intervened to see that she was only exiled.  But the damage was done -- the Huns were on the peninsula, ready for war. 

Leo the Great rode north to -- well, negotiate is not the right word, since he had nothing to offer.  I guess he rode north to persuade Attila to go home.  And the strange thing is, the Hun King listened, then turned his army around and went home. 

The reasons suggested for this vary from the fantastic to the pragmatic.  Let's start with the latter and work back to the former.

1.  The Huns were running low on supplies.  Moreover, plague broke out in their camp. 
2.  The Eastern Roman Emperor, Marcian, had sent an army to relieve Italy.
3. Aetius, another plundering king, was threatening Attila's possessions on the Catalupian plains.  Attila had to get back and settle that business.  
4.  Attila was reminded at some point that Alaric had sacked Rome but died shortly after.  It was not safe to earn the disfavor of Heaven.
5. Leo was just a persuasive fellow.  No one knows what he said, but there's no denying his ability to persuade others.  Was his eloquence a divine gift, and Attila's receptivity also divinely ordained? 
6.  The vision of a huge man in priestly robes brandishing a gleaming, razor-honed sword was visible only to Attila as Leo spoke.  [This story is courtesy of Paul the Deacon's eighth century Historia Romana.] 
7. Any combination of the above reasons. 

Whatever the reason(s), Attila listened politely and then packed up and went home.  He did not give up his claim to half the Western Empire, nor to Honoria, but he did feel compelled to leave at that moment, a pretty miraculous result. 

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