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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 10 -- Feast of Blessed Anthony Neyrot

For a single-religion state, the Caliphate of Tunis in the fifteenth century sounds like a pretty tolerant place.  That Blessed Anthony Neyrot got himself stoned to death there probably says as much about Anthony as it does about Tunis. 

Anthony was a young, restless Dominican from the Piedmont region of Italy.  He studied under Saint Antoninus of Florence, but life at the San Marco monastery was not cutting it.  He was sent to preach in Sicily.  I don't know what wasn't working for him there, but he was then sent to Naples. 

Idealized or accurate depiction? 
One his way to Naples, pirates captured his ship.  They sold everything, including Anthony, in the Caliphate of Tunis.  Anthony wasn't badly treated for a slave -- he apparently was purchased by the household of the Caliph and given fairly wide latitude to move about the city.  If he guessed that this was his opportunity to convert the Moors, he overestimated his cards and himself.  Having irritated folks with his Christian message, he was locked down on bread and water. 

He folded.  Once he tossed his Christianity away and embraced Islam, he was out of the cell, feasting on anything he wanted (except bacon-wrapped medallions of pork loin).  He was the toast of the town (with a non-alcoholic beverage, of course).  He married a young woman from a well-connected family -- and just for good measure, let's say she was stunningly beautiful.  And then he set about translating the Qu'ran, which I figure indicated that he'd still be pitching, but now for the other team.

Meanwhile, back in Florence, Archbishop Antoninus died on May 2, 1459.  The news did not travel quickly, but it did travel.  Probably some other captured Europeans in the slave market told him; perhaps he was down there urging them to convert to Islam.  It is not recorded how he got the news, but a troubling dream followed it.  His old teacher appeared to him and persuaded him to apostatize once again, returning to the Christian fold, even though it would cause his death.

The first thing Anthony did was to send his beautiful young wife back to her well-connected family.  It must have been tough to be her, having been married to and divorced by a Dominican priest from Italy.  I don't know the mores of Tunis, but I am guessing that her prospects for remarriage were dim. The next thing he did was to seek out the local Christian community and ask for forgiveness.  It happened to be Palm Sunday, which was probably a good time to come back. They can hardly reject you in the midst of the Easter season with all the talk of sacrifice and redemption.  The local priest (also a Dominican) even gave Anthony a spare robe. 

The following Thursday, as the Caliph was coming back to the palace after a day out and about, Anthony was waiting on the front steps for him.  In the full black and white attire of the Dominicans, probably with a big old cross hanging around his neck, he announced his change of faith to the Caliph in front of his whole entourage (and more than a few curious gawkers).  The public stoning followed immediately. 

It is true that, once he had accepted Islam, he would not have been allowed to apostatize, however quietly he did it.  I do not approve of this coercion.  But I don't think it was necessary to embarrass the Caliph who had treated him better than he might have expected.  I am sure that the Gospel verses which discuss testimony and persecution could be cited to show that Anthony's initial proselytizing was the way to go, but nothing says you need to be abrasive and undiplomatic as you preach.

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