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.

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 14 -- Feast of Saint Giles of Santarem

St. Giles, in his chapel

In the General Roman Calendar (adopted in 1969), May 14 has become the feast of Saint Matthias the Apostle.  I don't like to be out of step, but I think I will stick with his traditional feast and celebrate him next February 24.

The canon is full of folks who wanted religious lives, but their parents preferred something more lucrative.  For women (and a few men), this meant marriage.  For men, this meant law, commerce, or military or political careers.   Giles' parents, however, had him pegged for a religious life, and since dad had a lot of political juice in Portugal, Giles had a headstart on every other prospective priest of his generation.  King Sancho I gave him prebendaries (minor cathedral posts with income) in Braga, Coimbra, Idanha, and Santarem. 

Chapel of St. Giles, Santarem, Portugal
Giles' problem was different from so many other saints -- he wanted to be a physician, not a cleric.  There's a couple of ways of looking at that, and I want to mention them without going on my customary eight-paragraph riff.  Consider this as a metaphor for one who would heal the body, which is ultimately doomed, while leaving the eternal soul unattended.  Then again, consider the concept of True Calling, one's vocation in life.  How could Giles know whether God had called him to be a physician?  But that's just for musing, or at most pondering.  Probably dismissing. 

Giles set off for Paris and on the road, he met a very persuasive stranger with a very tempting contract.  Knowledge of all the healing arts ("Necromancy, even?"  "Of course, young man.  Necromancy's simple to master.") in exchange for... his soul!  [I'll bet you didn't see that coming.]  Giles signed, went to Paris, and became a great physician.

The Devil and Robert Johnson
One night, while studying in his library, he was visited by a large man in a suit of armor, brandishing a sword.  The knight threatened Giles with death if he did not turn away from his demonic ways.  Uncertain, Giles vacillated for a day.  The knight returned the following evening, convincing Giles.  The promising young physician returned to Portugal and entered the monastery.  After seven years hard monking, the BVM ordered the devil to surrender Giles contract to her.  The document was torn up and eventually, Giles was elected (twice) Provincial of the Dominicans in Portugal.

I love the idea of redemption, but as an American, I am uncomfortable with a superior power negating contracts.  Good faith is an odd word to use with the Devil, but it seems he has the higher ground in this case.  Maybe we're not legally entitled to the disposition of our own souls and so the contract was unenforceable from the beginning.

American blues pioneer Robert Johnson was said to have sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads in order to become a master musician.  If I am onto something, perhaps Mr. Johnson is not in the satanic grip today, because the rest of his life was not inordinately sinful, in spite of his deal.  The contract itself may only be a way of rationalizing abandonment of God, a misconception that ultimately becomes true by all the subsequent choices.  And speaking of sinning, this fine picture, done by Brandt Hardin and posted on Dreg Studios, is used without permission.   Get at me, Dreg; I'll take it down if you want.

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