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, August 31, 2012

August 31 -- Feast of Saint Raymond Nonnatus

Latin roots question:  What does the surname Nonnatus suggest about Saint Raymond? 

The answer will follow  some of the info about him.

Freein' slaves and taking the Word to the Moors
Raymond started off the way many saints do: he was the son of a wealthy, well-connected Spanish family but heard the religious vocation.  His dad agreed not to send him to the royal court at Aragon (Plan A) but instead made him the manager of one of the family estates.  Raymond hung out with the shepherds and field hands, talking about God.  In the face of such stubborn piety, his dad had no choice but to accept that Raymond would never pay his own way in the world.  He permitted him to become a Mercedarian priest instead.  The Mercedarians were a newly founded order, officially called the Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives.  Their mission was to ransom Christians who were held in slavery by the Moors.  The Order was founded in 1218; Raymond joined in 1222, getting in more or less at the ground level.

A venerated saint, for sure
He freed 148 captives in Valencia and 250 in Argel.  Then he went to Tunis, freeing twenty-eight prisoners but exhausting his funds.  When the money ran out, he ransomed one more captive with his own freedom.  His captors were expecting prompt payment -- when the deadline passed, he was sentenced to death by impalement.  However, at least one of the Moors had the good sense to suggest that Catholic priest from a wealthy family was worth more alive than dead, even if the money was slow to arrive.  They locked him up and sent word to hurry up with the cash.

Ministering to the other slaves and preaching to his captors got him in trouble repeatedly.  When normal discipline failed to correct his behavior, his lips were pierced with a red-hot iron and then padlocked shut so he could not preach.  The lock was removed once a day so he could eat. 

Locks at his altar in Mexico City
Eventually, he too was ransomed by the Mercedarians.  He spent ten years in Rome as the representative of his Order, traveling around Europe to raise funds and volunteers.  There are some accounts that he was elevated to the rank of Cardinal, but Dr. Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, Scriptor of the Vatican Library and Professor of  of the Vatican School of Paleography, Diplomatics, and Archivistics, says that the claims are false.  According to the good professor, someone confused Raymond Nonnatus with Robert Somercote, cardinal-deacon of Saint Eustachio.  Simple mistake -- anyone could make it.

All accounts agree, however, that Saint Raymond died in Spain in 1240. 

Medieval C-section -- a desperate operation
And his name?  It means "not born," as in delivered by C-section.  Such procedures were almost always lethal to the mother (as it was in Raymond's case) and therefore forbidden unless experienced folks judged that the mother would die either way.  Raymond is the patron saint of expectant mothers, of infants, of obstetricians, -- of all things birth, I guess.  He is also the patron of secrets and protection against gossip.  Altars and shrines to him are festooned with chains of padlocks, each of which has been offered by someone who wishes a secret kept or malicious gossip squelched.