Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Your Guide to the Saints

Of course today is St. Patrick's Day. Besides St. Valentine, he's the only widely recognized Saint in this country, whose flavor of Christianity boils down to several shades of Protestant. Which is a shame, because Pat and Val are gateways into a whole history of strangeness.

3/17: St. Gertrude of Nivelles: Belgian Abbess at a Benedictine Monastery. At age ten, during a party her father was throwing, she was asked who she wanted to marry and she replied that Jesus alone would be her bridegroom (the guy is like Captain Kirk). She lived just thirty-seven years, most of them in piety and fasting, where she prayed for the souls in Purgatory. She's the patron saint invoked against rats and is generally depicted with mice or rats running up the length of her staff, as at the time mice were used to represent the souls in Purgatory.

3/19: St. Joseph: Jesus' Dad. A friend of mine told me that while she was living in Cincinnati, the the Irish-Catholics would have their feast on St. Patrick's Day and the German-Catholics would have theirs on St. Joseph's Day and never the twain should meet.

5/16: St. Brendan. Irish-born saint, who, according to legend, voyaged out on a small boat to the mythical land of Tir na Nog, which some scholars later figured might be Newfoundland. Largely discredited. My friends and I used to, around this day, run a flotilla of canoes down the Huron River. A fun time was had by all.

7/12: St. Veronica. Was in the streets of Jerusalem as Jesus carried his cross up to Golgotha. Taking pity on him, she stepped in his path to wipe the sweat off his brow. Her cloth retained his image. Not surprisingly, this converted her on the spot. She became the patron saint of photographers before Vatican 2 rationalized her out of existence.

8/10: St. Lawrence. Larry here was one of those early Christians routinely martyred by whichever Roman Emperor was in power at the time, in this case Valerian. Lawrence was grilled to death, hence his association with the gridiron and his rightful place as the Patron Saint of Cooks.

8/28: St. Augustine of Hippo. Famous drunkard, lout, and all-'round good time, who recanted just in time to be saved, and also to produce a slew of philosophical papers (and his biography, The Confessions of St. Augustine), introducing the concept of "original sin" (I poked a badger with a spoon!) and the idea of a just war. I don't know why we don't all get drunk on this day. It'd be a hoot.

10/21 St. Ursula. Patron saint of orphans, archers and students. Set out for a sea voyage with, according to the legend, eleven thousand virginal handmaidens. This is likely a mistranslation from the reading of "11 M" in a document to mean the Roman numeral "M" as opposed to "11 Martyred." I don't know where you get eleven thousand virgins anywhere. There's an Ursuline order of nuns named after her, as well as the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Anyway they were all massacred, which always helps you get in to Sainthood.

12/13: Saint Lucy of Syracuse was born around 283 AD. Her name means light. Lux, lucid, Lucifer, Lucy. She was raised by a Roman father and a Greek mother. When her father died, Lucy was put up for marriage by her Mom, who didn't really believe in Jesus until Lucy, after forestalling the marriage as much as she could, took her mother to the tomb of St. Agatha, and an illness of her mother was miraculously cured.

Still, she was s'posed to get married to some bigwig and when she didn't, local authorities decided to force her into prostitution, but when men came to move Lucy, they couldn't, not even with a team of oxen (which may have been exaggerated; I'm not sure how you get a team of oxen into the streets of Syracuse). So, the Governor had her tortured instead. If the oxen claim is to be believed that means God was a little more concerned about Lucy's virginity than her being tortured to death, which is what happened. Part of the torture included having her eyes taken out, though depending on your account she either regrew them or was simply able to see without them. They tried stabbing her too, and eventually burned her alive. She's depicted with a sword (or the little palm frond thing that St. Agatha carries) holding a dish with a pair of eyes on it, and for obvious reasons got to be the Patron Saint against blindness and for blind people. Less obvious is why she gets to be the Saint of salesmen. Saint Lucy, called Sankta Lucia in Scandinavia, is the only Saint to be recognized by those primarily Lutheran countries. You've seen the pictures, of girls in white robes, with goddamn candles in their hair, which always kind of terrifies me. God forbid the girl use too much product in her hair and--whoosh!

3/9: Saint Catherine of Bologna was your typical saint. Raised in relative well-to-do-ness, skipped out on it to live a life of piety, visions, miracles. The miracles in question happened mostly after her death. Her body, for some reason, was interred without being embalmed and without a coffin, probably due to that whole pious poverty thing. Eighteen days later, though, they dug her up due to an odor of perfume and the presence of miracles coming from her grave (the website is vague on the miracles. Restored sight? No bad hair days for a year?), and her body was interred in the cell in which she spent most of her life. Apparently when she was exhumed the body was incorrupt, and now exists as a mummified Catherine. Must've been all the bologna.

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