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.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

September 1 -- Feast of Saint Drythelm

Dore's version of Dante, but it fits here too
Long before Virgil and Beatrice took Dante on a tour of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, an unnamed guide took a Northumbrian monk there. The monk, however, didn't talk much about the experience. Only his wife, a monk named Haemgils, and a king named Alfrid got to hear about it. Fortunately, Haemgils talked to the Venerable Bede, who recorded it in his Eccesiastical History of England.

In the quiet little sixth century English town of Incuneningum (now called Cunningham), family and friends laid Drythelm, loving husband and father, out for a final farewell before burial. He had been sick for a while, much to the distress of all who knew him, because he had been a good neighbor as well as a good family man.  Many gathered beside the corpse to keep vigil before the morning burial.

Yet as dawn approached, Drythelm sat up and greeted his friends and family.  Everyone except his wife fled in terror.  She sat tight to learn what the story was.  The first thing he told her was that he had indeed been sick, but now he was cured.  He also had been dead, but he had been permitted to return to life.  Because of that, he'd be needing to live differently than he had been.  Based on his tour of the Afterworld, he divided up his property (note: his, not theirs -- sixth century, after all).  One third went to his wife, another to his children, and the third that he claimed for himself was promptly given to the poor.  Then he entered the monastery at Melrose (Mailros) and lived the quiet life of a monk.  

Not Purgatory -- not even a little
Of the tour itself, he greeted by someone whose face was full of light, and whose clothes were shining. The guide only spoke a couple of times so we don't learn much about him/her. But their first stop was a huge valley with a raging fire on one side and bitterly cold glacier on the other.  I'm guessing it was Iceland.  The souls being tormented in the fire with thrash and wail with the heat until they couldn't stand it anymore and then they'd leap onto the ice.  Finding the bone-cracking, skin-blistering ice no more tolerable, they'd fling themselves back into the fire.  Night and day, for years on end, from then until the Final Judgment -- that's how they existed.  The guide, sensing what Drythelm was thinking, said something like, "If you think this is Hell, you're wrong.  This is just Purgatory, where souls who might yet be saved are having their sins purged."  

The Gate of Hell, Dervaza, Turkmenistan
On they went, down a smoky tunnel until the only light emanated from the guide, until at last they came to a pit of fire.  There souls were cast up into foul, unbreathable vapor and then fell back down into the eternal blast-furnace of divine vengeance.  The guide ditched him there to experience the heat and smoke and stench and lamentations of the damned.  He waited an uncomfortably long time.  Was he doomed?  Being tested?  Should he wait (patience is a virtue) or try to climb back out (the Lord helps those who help themselves).  As he stood their wondering, a pack of demons arrived with five more captive souls, including a layman, a woman, and a priest.  They were jeering and abusing their prisoners like victorious soldiers following a battle; the newly condemned were wailing with pain and terror.  After the demons cast their new prisoners into the pit, they surrounded Drythelm and tried to seize him with their red-hot tongs.  Some force protected him momentarily, and after a few harrowing minutes of abuse, his guide arrived and got him out of there.  

Not Paradise, but not too shabby, either
Next they came to a great wide hall in the middle of a sweet-smelling, brightly lit field.  Everyone there was clothed in white and merrily rejoicing.  "If you think this is Heaven, you're wrong," the guide explained.  "Heaven's over there, where I can't take you.  This is a sort of paradise where folks who lived well enough to avoid Purgatory, but not so well that they moved straight to Heaven, are waiting for the Final Judgment."  They walked over near Heaven, allowing Drythelm to see that the beatific anteroom was indeed a pale joy compared to the actual Kingdom of God.  Then, just to be sure that his visitor understood, the guide recapped the tour.
Up to his neck in holiness

After his return from the dead and admission to the monastery, Drythelm used to walk into the river Tweed, where he'd recite psalms and prayers up to his neck in cold water.  Even in the winter, with ice chunks floating around him, he spent hours in the frigid water praising the Lord.  When fellow monks or curious laypeople mentioned that the water must be cold, he'd reply that he had seen colder.  When they told him that he lived a hard life, he replied that he had seen folks who had it much harder.  

In July, 1999, Blessed Pope John Paul II told the faithful that Purgatory, like Hell, is not a place but rather a state of being.  To reconcile that statement with the experience of Saint Drythelm, one must remember that place is a condition for the flesh, but being is a condition for the spirit.  

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