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, April 5, 2012

April 5 -- Feast of Saint Derfel Gadarn

Saint Derfel
Derfel lived in sixth century Wales.  Sir Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex and chief minister to King Henry VIII for five years, lived in England just about a thousand years later.  Yet the two are linked by a singular event of iconoclasm and murder. 

Derfel was a knight of the Round Table, or at least one of the Welsh warriors defending the Britons from the invading Saxons (or were they Angles?) at Camlan.  Probably PTSD'ed from his years as a warrior, he lived for a while as a hermit before joining the monastery at Llanwit.  He later founded the monastery at Llandderfel, and finally succeeded his cousin Cadfan as abbot at Ynis Enlii on Bardsey Island.  He died there in April, 660. 

Derfel for the 21st century
So what, right? Apart from becoming grist for Bernard Cornwell's Arthurian novels, who cares?  Enter Thomas Cromwell, slayer of Roman Catholics throughout Britain.  [Yes, I know I promised some of the Protestant martyrs from Fox's Book.  I will hunker for a day in mid-April and work on it.] 

The folks at Llandderfel built a large wooden sculpture of Saint Derfel on a horse.  It became an object of veneration for pilgrims.  The Reformation was not a good time for relic preservationists, and Cromwell was a leader in the English Reformation movement.  It was handy for TC that the sculpture was made of wood because it burns so well, especially when it is old. 

Derfel's Horse
The Llandderfellers petitioned Sir Thomas to spare their sculpture.  He thought about it, especially when they offered him cash.  Nothing says "I'm sincere about reforming the Church" more than contemplating a bribe.  But he hated the thought that naive Brits were being bilked out of their donations with the promise that they could purchase a loved one's release from Hell.  Not wanting to seem unreasonable, he split the difference with them.  He took the sculpture of Derfel for destruction and left the Llandderfellers with the sculpture of the horse.  They still have it, but I don't think it has cured a case of gout for a long, long time.
Tough to keep your head in Tudor England

I know what you're saying.  Maj, you promised us a murder.  Fear not, ungentle reader.  But stay with me through a brief prophecy.  It had been predicted that if the sculpture were ever burned, it would set a whole forest afire.  Enter Father John Forest, condemned for the treasonous activity of being a Franciscan friar and confessor to Henry's ex-wife, Catherine of Aragon.  Derfel's sculpture fueled the pyre on which he was burned alive on May 22, 1538. 

Lest you despair of English justice, you should know that Thomas Cromwell lost his head to an axe on July 28, 1540.  His particular treasonous offense was having arranged Fat King Hank's marriage to Ann of Cleves. 

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