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St. Lidwina of Schiedam

Lidwina was born in Holland in 1380, the daughter of a nobleman and a peasant woman. At an early age she’d already  decided to join a convent and lead a holy life, which like I keep saying on this blog, wasn’t such a terrible choice when your options are a) spend all day praying or b) spend all day feeding some man your parents chose for you while having and raising his children. Medieval marriage: not a picnic.

When she was 15, Lidwina went ice skating with friends, as you do in Holland, but fell on some rough ice and sustained a broken rib and some sort of internal damage. Her wound became gangrenous, and over the course of years the gangrene spread over her entire body.

Things get increasingly disgusting from there. Her entire body putrefied, but she didn’t die. She had fevers, she vomited blood and it poured from all her orifices. She stopped eating gradually, first only eating a bite of apple a day, then a little bit of bread and wine each week, and eventually she was only eating communion brought to her by the priests, some of whom were convinced she was possessed by a demon. Her hagiographies report that parts of her skin fell off, entire bones fell off, and parts of her intestines fell out. Instead of getting rid of those things like normal people, her parents kept her shed body parts in a vase, where they allegedly gave off a “sweet odor,” leading me to wonder if the rest of medieval Holland was even more awful than we thought.

In researching this one, I found way more stories about female saints miraculously nursing others than you would think exist, and Lidwina is one of them. A widow who cared for her since she was bed-bound, Catherine, had a vision of Lidwina’s breasts filling with milk. Shortly thereafter, Lidwina had a vision of the Virgin Mary and a host of other holy women surrounding her bed, opening their tunics and lactating into the sky. As expected, the next time Catherine came over to change her sheets, Lidwina rubbed her breast, it filled with milk, she fed Catherine, and religion is officially weirder than fetish porn.

Another scrap that appears a few times in the literature is the rumor that Lidwina was impregnated by the local priest. Specifically, the sources state that four soldiers “abused” her with this rumor, taunting her that her body was bloated because she’d been impregnated by the priest. This priest was the same priest who refused her communion more than once, and once tried to give her an unblessed wafer, but of course she had saintly superpowers of communion detection and spit it out. Later on in her life she “saw his heart,” rightly accused him of adultery, and of course he repented. Since the priest was kind of a dick (what kind of priest wouldn’t give communion to a clearly devout, clearly sick woman?), I have to wonder whether the adultery thing was really divinely-inspired knowledge, or more first-hand knowledge that the guy was a rapist.

Before she died at age 53, Lidwina slowly became paralyzed, though she never got up from her bed again after the ice skating accident. When she died, the only thing she could move were her left hand and her head, and the descriptions of her illness have led some medical types to speculate that she may have had Multiple Sclerosis. If so, she would be the first recorded person with the disease.

St. Lidwina is officially the patron saint of ice skating, and unofficially the patron saint of MS. Please keep all of your internal organs internal for her saint day, April 14.

St. Lidwina on Wikipedia

St. Lidwina of Schiedam on the Catholic Encyclopedia

Holy Feast and Holy Fast, by Caroline Walker Bynum

The Lives of the Primitive Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints by Alban Butler

It’s old news by now (The Illitegerati: Not Breaking News), but a group of filmmakers funded by evangelists found Noah’s Ark in Turkey. Again. As everyone is reporting, these people say it’s 99.9% certain that it’s Noah’s Ark, which sounds cool and all, and even better when you realize their reasons are as follows:

1. That thingie is totally boat shaped

2. Really really want it to be Noah’s Ark

The other best part is the amount of effort the other crackpot biblical archaeologists are putting into proving this Ark a fake, because how can you not love something that uses scientific evidence then follows it up with the following ad:

Yes, Noah’s Ark is completely real! Now find out “what you don’t Noah” about the story as well as your spectacular destiny they rarely ever mention in church in this autographed No. 1 best-seller!

Looking into this story I found out that there’s a lot I don’t Noah (get it?) about proving that the Old Testament is 100% real, true and definitely happened just like they say it did. After all, the most important part of faith is using scientifically gathered evidence to ensure that you’re absolutely right about the minutest details of everything you believe.

I’ll go into the scientific explanations of Noah’s Ark another time–there are plenty, and they are good– so now we can talk about one Ron Wyatt, who keeps finding biblical stuff.

First, I should say that there are two types of biblical archaeologists. Some are archaeologists who study the same approximate time period and place of the Old Testament, and they turn up some pretty interesting stuff. For example, no one thought the Hittites were real for a long time, or that Sargon I was a real Assyrian king. But, even though people like you and me think that stuff is pretty cool, it’s not a big fucking ship.

The other kind of biblical archaeologists grabs a Bible and uses it like a Lonely Planet guide to the Middle East. They do not carefully comb through records of ancient cultures written in cuneiform to discover new lineages. Oh no. They climb mountains and find arks in the morning before taking a little swim in the Red Sea and finding ancient chariot wheels in the afternoon. Right where the Bible said they’d be.

Mr. Wyatt has, thus far, found not only Noah’s Ark but Sodom and Gomorrah, Mt. Sinai, the Egyptians’ chariots in the Red Sea, and the Ark of the Covenant. For my money, Sodom and Gomorrah is the best–mainly pictures of weird rock formations with explanations that the fire of God was so hot it burned the limestone into little crumbly layers, or something like that.

The important thing here, of course, is that we prove that what we believe is 100% true and therefore worthy of being believed, so we’re going to go look for it because this book that we believe to be true says so, and we believe the book because we found this rock that… oh. Oh my head hurts.

Enjoy, and try not to giggle with delight next time that one guy you know brings up how they found the Ark.

Blessed Columba of Rieti

Technically, Columbia of Rieti is not a saint. Technically she gets the title “Blessed,” which is one rung below sainthood on the Catholic Ladder of Holiness. The process of beatification is simultaneously quite thorough and totally haphazard, as best as I can tell, and anyway her technically non-beatified status doesn’t make her any less interesting. Onward!

Columba was born Angelella Guardagnoli in 1467 to parents in Rieti, Italy who were poor but still gave money to the church because how else are they supposed to get those nice hats, hm? When she was baptised a dove flew into the baptismal font, so she was nicknamed Columba. She was educated by the Dominican nuns whose laundry she mended and made, and while still a teenager she had a vision of Christ on a throne, surrounded by angels. When you start having visions of Jesus there’s usually only one way for your life to go if you’re a young lady in Renaissance Italy, and that is straight into the convent. Unfortunately her parents had other plans (have you noticed that the parents of these virgin, female saints ALWAYS have other plans? Was no parent ever like, oh, okay honey, sure you can be a nun! Follow your dream!) and betrothed her to a young man. As was done at the time, and thankfully no more, she cut off her hair and sent it to him which was a clear signal that she had no hair and thus meant to become a nun.

At ninteen she became a Dominican Tertiary, and sometime before that she became anorexic. There’s a long long tradition among the more mystical parts of Catholicism of lots of fasting, or subsisting only on the communion wafer, or eating severely limited diets, and throwing up everything that gets forced down. It goes along with other physical self-punishment in lots of cases. Columba’s fasting, or anorexia, or whatever you want to call it went along with visions in which her spirit toured the holy land, like an early Birthright Israel for non-Jews.

Anyway, Columba was barely eating if she was eating at all, and then one day she wanted to throw her family a feast. She did, and then disappeared, leaving only her vestments behind in her chamber folded in the shape of the cross. There was no way out of her chamber or the city gates, but she left somehow.

It’s after she wanders away–with no real idea where she’s going–that the weird stuff happens. At an inn she’s mistaken for a noble girl who was seduced and then left by a priest, Chiaretta of Naples, whose father had a pretty good reward for her return. The innkeeper says he’s got a wife and daughters, and then shows up with some drinking buddies and demands the reward. Columba explains she’s not the noble runaway, and things get ugly when they try to rape her. However, after they rip her clothes off they’re shocked to discover lashmarks, blisters from a hair shirts, iron bands around her neck, waist and breasts, and that she was incredibly thin. Two men run off and the innkeeper drops to his knees and prays for forgiveness.

She ends up going to Perugia, and on the way her travelling group, all women, keeps being beset by people who want nothing more to rape Columba, whose holiness keeps getting her out of it: once a man who sticks his hand up her skirt feels a “pang in his heart,” once she stops at a roadside chapel and they can’t find her. Take home lesson:  if you don’t want to get raped, be holier! An unspecified amount, naturally, and mind that this is of course all your responsibility since we can’t expect men to stop raping or anything.

Once in Perugia, Columba joins another convent and keeps not eating. Due to this whole “not eating” thing, lots of church higher-ups thought she may be in league with Satan, and no less than Lucrezia Borgia accused her of witchcraft, but Pope Alexander VI (also a Borgia) asked her advice once in a while.

As usual, there are conflicting reports on her death. Some sources say that when the plague struck Perugia, she became ill in place of the townspeople, saving them and dying herself at 34. Other sources say she starved herself to death, and honestly, given a history of self-starvation vs. a miraculous report of plague-gathering, I know which one I’m going to believe.

Her feast day is May 20, though maybe you shouldn’t feast so much as look longingly at some food while thinking about getting closer to God.

Holy Anorexia on Google Books

Judaism is Tasty

With the Jewish holiday season right around the corner–the fun begins tomorrow night with Rosh Hashanah– for a while I’ve been meaning to put together a list of my favorite Jewish holidays, because they’re fun, kind of exotic (unless you’re actually Jewish or something), don’t require getting up early, and most importantly, they are hella tasty. L’chaim!

1. Passover

The Jews followed Joseph into Egypt, and it was cool for a while until the Pharaoh decided to enslave them. But then Moses came along and told the Pharaoh (probably Raamses II) to Let His People Go, God sent a bunch of plagues, and the Jews invented Matzoh right before walking through the Red Sea. All this so that thousands of years later, matzoh ball soup could exist. It’s mainly for this most delicious of all Jewish foods that Passover gets the top spot on the list, but I kind of love the whole thing. You get to drink four glasses of wine, which is Manischewitz if you’re doing anything right, before dinner and that ALWAYS makes food good. You get to mix horseradish with charoset, the Jewish interpretation of mortar.

I can see where it would be a drag if you went to a seder that was four hours long and entirely in Hebrew, but the reform Jews I party with never make me wait that long. Plus, unlike Yom Kippur, the mere hour of sitting and waiting for food makes the anticipation build to the perfect level, unlike not eating for 24 hours.

2. Chanukah

However you spell it, it means latkes. If you have never had a latke I weep for you; imagine mixing onion rings and french fries, then dipping them in sour cream, then chasing the whole thing with a jelly donut. Sound pretty good? Yes it does. It’s also the only Jewish holiday where I’ve ever set wrapping paper on fire in the living room. Hey, it’s the festival of lights.

3. Rosh Hashanah

Jewish new year means dipping apples in honey and then eating them, and also that the challah bread is round. Actually, for whatever (deeply symbolic I’m sure) reason, we usually get chocolate chip challah, which is pretty good. Plus the Hebrew part is short and you’re free to snack throughout.

4. Yom Kippur

I imagine this is down near the bottom of anyone’s list, because it’s the Jewish holiday that focuses on the opposite of eating. I did fast for the day once, though I had a normal life and didn’t have to go to Jewish services all day that day or anything, which I hear makes you even hungrier. The break fast food is usually just OK, relatively bland and light because after all these people haven’t eaten anything all day.

5. Purim

All I know about Purim is Hamentashen (and that it’s “Jewish Halloween”), and those are pretty good.

6. Sukkot

I celebrated this once. we sat in a tent and ate Domino’s pizza. Good, but it wasn’t any matzoh ball soup or latkes.

There you have it. A knowledgeable, culturally sensitive guide to which Jewish holiday invitations you should accept and which you should turn down.

St. Florian

This post is about penance. Well, sort of, though that would imply that this is somehow punishment rather than something awesome. Last week at the local pub quiz, there was FINALLY a question about a saint–who is the patron saint of firefighters and chimney sweeps? Well, dear reader, I had absolutely no idea. Naturally this led to a bit of existential crisis (if I can’t even get a pub quiz question about a saint right WHAT AM I DOING?), but I got over it and looked up good old Saint Florian.

Unfortunately, it’s also appropriate because Los Angeles is on fire (again) right now*, and we could probably use all the help we can get.

Florian von Lorch lived around 300 CE, and all it seems like we really know about him is that he was fairly high-ranking in the Roman Army stationed in Noricum, which is now more or less where Austria is. I did find a source that went on and on about how he was part of the valiant firefighting unit in Noricum, but nothing else I can find backs that up much, though it’s some interesting stuff about how firefighting worked in Rome, which is that people had to pay firefighters to put out fires, and it turns out you can get a LOT of money out of people whose houses are burning down. It’s a libertarian’s wet hot dream.

Firefighter or no, Florian lived during the big Diocletianic Persecution, along with some other obscure saints, and was thus (wait for it) persecuted for being a Christian. What followed was pretty standard: first they were just going to set him on fire and be done with it, but he got excited about that idea (telling them he’d fly to heaven on the smoke), so they opted for the more labor-intensive flogging and spiking and ripping out his shoulder blades with hooks instead. Finally they tied a heavy stone around his neck and threw him into the river Enns.

Miraculously in one piece, his body floated up onto a rock downstream, and an eagle watched over it until a peasant woman named Valeria could have a vision and come get the body. Afraid of being persecuted herself, she covered it with twigs, leaves and braches and pretended that she was building a fence for her garden. While taking him to where her vision said he should be buried, her animals tired so God made them a spring, and they carried on. Finally he was buried where he’d asked, though he was moved into the abbey at the town nearby, and later still they sent some of his relics to Poland, because when it’s the middle ages and you want a king to be your friend, you send him some bits of your dead saint.

A whole bunch of healing miracles are attributed to him (including one case of crushed genitals), but the thing he’s known for isn’t really clear. He’s supposed to have extinguished an entire burning village by pouring a single pitcher of water on it, but I can’t find whether that happened before or after he died. How about I just go with my gut instinct, which is, “Story invented a few hundred years later and posthumously ascribed to the living Florian.” There, done. In fact that sentence will do anyone lots of good in the area of Obscure Saint Studies.

Florian is the saint of firefighters, chimney sweepers, Poland, and beer brewers, so you should buy a Polish firefighter a drink on May 4 and then use him to sweep the chimney.

Translations!

*Thanks for asking, but no, the Illegiterati are not in any danger. Lots of other people are, though.

The Darwinian Heresy

This morning, drinking coffee and reading Pharyngula, I came across this:

The Voyage that Shook the World: Trailer
The Voyage that Shook the World: Darwin as a Boy
(Embedding has failed me. Sorry.)

Which is the trailer for a creationist movie neatly reviewed by the Lippard Blog. Obviously I would like to see this movie, but the closest screening to me is in Austin (I’m in Los Angeles, where I can get anything I want any time of the day, except apparently creationist movies).

Creationism actually bothers me, unlike most of the religious stuff I blog about. I don’t think we’re in much danger of Quiverfull becoming anything more than a fringe movement (the thing about having a dozen kids is then you have a dozen kids),  just like the American public at large will not suddenly become enamored of Sharia law or think speaking in tongues is an awesome fad. Yeah, I could be wrong, but we’re on a pretty clearly unreligious course as a whole and besides, I’m an optimist.

Evolution, however, is totally hard and complicated. It requires a basic understanding of genetics and biology to even grasp properly, otherwise I suspect it starts to sound a lot like “Your grandfather was a monkey,” which is the most interesting family secret I can think of. (“We wanted to tell you when you were a child, but your father was so ashamed and we just couldn’t, we thought maybe you would come to some conclusions on your own…”) Creationism or “Intelligent Design,” on the other hand, are delightfully simple: someone else made everything this way. Bam! I suspect that it’s worming its way into public schools in no small part because of this.

Here is something I don’t understand: why Charles Darwin is always dragged into this mess. I know 2009 is his 150th birthday year and we’re all celebrating, because figuring out evolution is a cool thing, but I don’t understand the smear campaign that Creationists are running against the guy himself. It’s not as though he’s responsible for the fact that this stuff seems to be going on, he just found out about it. Demonizing him won’t make the last 100 years of scientific research magically go away; Galileo recanted on geocentrism but the earth doesn’t go around the sun any less.* If you’re going to disprove evolution, shouldn’t you be, you know, disproving evolution?

The whole thing puts me in mind of heresies more than science, because they seem to be operating on the idea that this is a movement, led by this one (albeit dead) guy, and if they can discredit him then everything else will fade away. If that’s true, I think it might belie a serious misunderstanding of what science is by those trying to discredit it–it’s a testable set of hypothesis about how the world works, not a movement dedicated to following one person’s ideas.

Any creationists reading this want to suggest why the movement is so focused on Darwin and not on what he said? I am all ears.

*”It still moves,” I know I know.

My weirdly intense-yet-atheistic interest in religion can pretty much be traced to growing up in a very Christian place while not having a religious family at all. I’m sort of like that kid you know who’s never left Wisconsin but is really inexplicably into Japanese culture, except there are no swords hanging on my wall. Yet.

This puts me in a position of having several religious friends who I’m close with, but an absolute deluge of Facebook friends (otherwise known as “people I vaguely remember from high school”) who are very religious. Then they post things. Fantastic, terrible, religious things for everyone to “think about.”

These posts are about those things.

Our first is actually from a friend of a friend, who got so excited that she emailed the whole thing to me.

Cell phone vs. Bible
Ever wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phone?
What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?
What if we flipped through it several time a day?
What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?
What if we used it to receive messages from the text?
What if we treated it like we couldn’t live without it?
What if we gave it to kids as gifts?
What if we used it when we traveled?
What if we used it in case of emergency?
This is something to make you go….hmm…where is my Bible?
Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we don’t have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill.
Makes you stop and think – “where are my priorities?” And no dropped calls!

This particular nonsense comes from a long, proud line of nonsense which gets all upset that something secular (e.g. cell phones, iPods, cars, television, laser discs, the Beatles) are now more popular than the Bible; these things also all assume that the reader is already Christian. That makes sense, given that 77% of Americans self-identify as Christian (even though something like 15% of them attend church more than twice a year*). Presumably, the answer to all these questions is supposed to be, “My life would be better in every way!” not, “I would have the extra encumbrance that comes with carrying around a big book.”

This little missive mostly makes sense. Mostly, because I have never “received messages from the text” from my cellphone. Nope. I just receive texts like everyone else, except apparently the author of this note. I’d use my Bible when I traveled, but does it still work in Europe? Do I have to get a different BibleCard for it so I can use it over there? Can I somehow use it to contact AAA in case of an emergency? Maybe I should upgrade to a Bible with 100-mile tow. I bet that would be extra useful if you were stuck in the Devil’s Punchbowl or Hell’s Gate, and it would all be free because our buddy Jesus has apparently pre-paid the bill.

My favorite, though, is the “And no dropped calls!” tacked on at the end there. Well, no, the Bible does not drop calls. It also doesn’t carry calls in the first place, unless “calling” here is a metaphor for “praying,” in which case maybe the call is never dropped but we’re more like that guy in the old Verizon commercials wandering the globe, shouting, “Can you hear me now?” into a book. And then we give up and just call God back from our landline, because our Bible doesn’t work in our office building, and this metaphor is really overextended by now.

The point of this is, I think, Jesus should be #1 on your speed dial. That’s right, even before your mom.

Two stars because while entertaining, I am not enlightened and it did not really bring the crazy.

★★☆☆☆

*Totally made the second number up.

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