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.

Friday, December 2, 2011

December 2 -- Feast of Saint Bibiana

Prefect Apronianus
Fans of LA noir will appreciate that the patron saint of Los Angeles has a suitably miserable life and death.  Her life may not have been complex enough to make a film like Chinatown, but with Jack Nicholson taking over John Huston's spot (Prefect Apronianus / Noah Cross), it would make an interesting short.  Matt Damon would be my pick for Emperor Julian the Apostate -- he's mind-bending as a bad guy.  Hailee Steinfeld would be good as the saint herself, Alia Shawkat would play her older sister Demetria (an Ismene sort of character) and I'd leave  Francis Ford Coppola to round out the cast, since he'd be directing.

The story, as I said, would need some plot twists, but here's what I've got so far.  In brief, Emperor Julian reversed Theodosius' declaration that Christianity would be the official religion of the Roman Empire.  In fact, Julian went so far as to restore the Roman pantheon (the deities, not the building) and to launch a new persecution of Christians.  This was an ugly time for anyone with real religious convictions, especially difficult since no one could pretend they had not been Christians before.

Apronianus, Julian's appointment as Prefect of Rome, put his predecessor Flavianus on the spot.  Flavianus refused to deny his faith, and so was severely scourged and then exiled from Rome.  He died somewhere on the road, injured, in despair for the fate of his wife and two daughters.  [He died in Acquapendente, but I think a roadside death is more cinematic.]  Flavianus' wife, Dafrosa, intended to maintain the household, but was beheaded soon after.  The two daughters remained at the family home, but their father's wealth was denied to them.  You can imagine the slaves becoming recalcitrant, disobedient, perhaps even menacing.  It must have been a relief when Roman officers arrived to confiscate them for resale, proceeds to fill the state coffers.  The two girls were left on their own, hungry and hopeless.  Their lives were crumbling around them, but as Rome was gripped in the terror of a new persecution, there would be no kindly neighbors to offer help.

Saint Bibiana
Having taken his time exacting revenge for some ancient grudge against Flavianus,  the new prefect (Apronianus) finally summons the two girls.  The older girl, Demetria, confesses her faith and drops dead on the floor.  Suicide?  The younger, Bibiana, stands up to the Prefect and he villainously wants to break her.  Death would be easy -- he prefers such suffering that she eventually abandons her faith, which would effectively be a renunciation of her father.  Perhaps he makes an offer of adoption, or maybe concubinage.  Since he's the Noah Cross character, it could be the same thing.  She refuses, so he places her in the custody of Rufina, the matron at his favorite brothel.  Rufina's given instructions to to alternate kindness and cruelty until the girl breaks.  She's an old hand at this, and the prostitutes who work there are naturally unsympathetic to Bibiana's stubborn refusal.  They apply certain pressures of their own.

Saint Bibiana's execution
Recognizing the failure and the effect that Bibiana is having on the other girls in the house, Rufina asks Apronianus to take her back.  He does, and makes one last attempt at extracting submission.  Bibiana is beaten to death with lead-weighted leather thongs.  Her body was then thrown in a ditch for the feral dogs to devour.  The corpse lay there for two days while the dogs sat near it -- the beasts must become sentinels when the Prefect has become a beast.  Eventually, Deacon John (he was a priest but I just promoted him) gathers the body and carries it off for a Christian burial.  In doing so, he outs himself, of course, but the arrest and subsequent brutal execution he faces are only implied by the shock and dismay of those who see him remove Bibiana's body. 

Too long to be a short film?  Some one call Mr. Coppola and see what he's working on these days.

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