Archive for May, 2008

Patron saint of procrastinators, and one who generally hurries things along.

The story of Expeditus is extraordinarily confused, and ends with the Catholic church basically admitting that this guy never lived. He starts showing up in martyrologies–big lists of martyrs–in the eighteenth century in Italy, well before 1781. Unfortunately what the martyrology said was that he was a martyr who died in Turkey a Long Time Ago.  He’s represented in pictures as a young Roman soldier, though.

Add to that, his entry in the martyr list was probably some sort of scribal mistake. It’s been suggested that he was confused with St. Elpidius.

Then, in 1781 as the story goes, a group of nuns in Paris received a big box with the word “Spedito”–“Expeditus” in Latin–with the statue and relics of a saint in it. In a hilarious misunderstanding, the nuns thought that “Expeditus” was the name of the martyr within (rather than a shipping instruction), and started praying to him.

Since their prayers were answered super quickly and efficiently, he was made the patron saint of Getting Shit Done; this is more or less the Scientific Method of the Catholic church. Perhaps next week’s saint will be an example of the research process in the Catholic church. Hint: it involves visions, but no footnotes.

In any case, the cult of St. Expeditus survives until today. Wired claims him as the patron saint of hackers. He’s particularly revered in New Orleans, where a slightly different version of the same story was told: same idea, but with the relics and state being shipped to a church in New Orleans amongst a batch of other Church paraphenalia; since the state wasn’t labeled they decided “Expedite,” written on the outside, was his name.

Even better, he’s the patron saint of the Replubic of Molossia, a micronation in Nevadan desert (with a “colony” in the Mojave, near Twentynine Palms. Having been there, I am not at all surprised).

Finally, on the French island of Réunion (near Madagascar), there are red shrines devoted to the saint all over the place, as well as beheaded statues of the guy. This is what happens when you don’t answer prayers fast enough, Mister Speedy!

In the picture up top, he’s holding a cross with the word “hodie” (Latin for “today”) and stepping on a crow saying “cras” (tomorrow). Maybe this should go above my desk.

His feast day is April 19th, but you can wait until the 20th.

Catholic Online


Something else useful

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So Firefox has a google search toolbar which shows up by default. This toolbar has a “suggest” feature, which tries to complete your query by suggesting common search phrases. This also allows you to see what some of the most common google searches are.

Type “How” and the toolbar suggests “How to tie a tie.” Something ordinary, yet complicated enough to occasionally require instruction. Fair enough.

Type “Why” and the toolbar suggests “Why did I get married?” Whoa, that’s a little bleak. Probably most people performing this search are looking for the Tyler Perry movie, and aren’t asking google to solve their unsolvable problems.

Type “Is ” (with a space after it) and, near the end of the list, google suggests: “is barack obama muslim?” I guess that’s a pretty popular search. Still. Huh. Luckily, someone has started a website to answer this question. Is Barack Obama a muslim? That site seems to have a definitive enough answer.

Of course, I think the best response to that question, rather than an actual answer, is a simple “Who cares? And also, what the hell?”

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Astonishing. Astonishing!

Also known as Christina Mirabilis, which is fancy Latin, she was born in the town of Saint-Trond in 1150 CE, in the diocese of Liege, in Belgium because apparently if a saint is going to appear in the blog on Obscure Saint Friday, they must be Belgian.

She, along with her two sisters, were orphaned when she was 15. All three were quite religious, and some sources say that due to her intense interior life (i.e., she prayed a lot), Christina was extremely frail and prone to illness. It could also be due to the fact that she was an orphan in the Middle Ages. Just sayin’. Anyway, one day she had a seizure and died.

As she was lying in her coffin during the funeral Mass, she suddenly came back to life while the people attending were singing the Agnus Dei. Not only did she come back to life, she levitated into the rafters of the church and stayed there until the Mass was over, because the scent of sin on the people was too strong. She claimed to have died and gone to Hell, where she had seen many people she recognized, and then to Purgatory, where she saw many more. Jesus gave her the option of staying in Heaven then, or going back and helping more people out of Purgatory. She chose the Right Choice (save more people), prompting me to wonder what would have happened if she’d opted to stay in Heaven. Was this a trick question or something?

Having been revived, she proceeded to cause havoc, under the premise of “saving” people. She would jump up into tree branches and stay there for days or weeks at a time; she would curl up into a ball in the snow to pray, she shut herself in ovens, where the townspeople could hear her screaming*, because she was suffering for the people in purgatory. She would jump into the river mid-winter and allow herself to be dragged under the water by the mill wheel, but during all of this, she was never harmed.

The sources differ a little on why she did this: a few it was to suffer for the people currently in purgatory, some say it was because she could smell sin on people, and would do anything to get away from it. A few modern doctors have tentatively diagnosed her with epilepsy.

Christina also had pretty useful breasts. When she was came back from the dead, she lived in the woods for a few months, nourished only by the milk that suddenly sprung from her “virginal” breasts. Another time, she was in a wooden yoke in town, and oil came from her nipples. When it dripped on her wounds, it healed them, and nourished her.

Unsurprisingly, some people thought she was possessed by demons. Her sisters hired someone to catch her and keep her locked up, and he broke he leg with a cudgel when he did. After chaining her to a pillar they put a splint on the leg, but she escaped during the night anyway, showing up later unharmed. She also had ecstatic visions in which she led the dead to purgatory, and those in purgatory to Heaven.

She spent her last few years at St. Catherine’s convent, where she obeyed the prioress completely. She died in 1224 there. July 24 is the day to put yourself in an oven.

*Why, hello nightmares.

St. Christina Mirabilis, Vita (in Latin; the English translation is a copyrighted book & isn’t free)

St. Christina the Astonishing

A scholarly essay about St. Christina (partly about the spiritual / physical divide in the legend)

Butler’s Lives of the Saints


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I think Simeon's on the left.

I think Simeon’s on the left.

I have a serious weakness for the ascetic saints, probably because I think they mine the depths of insanity much more than any others. I mean, helping the poor and all that is just what Christians are supposed to do, right? But starving yourself in the desert while living in a cave on top of a pillar and only standing for forty years really shows a commitment.

The ascetic movement in the early Christian church really started where the martyrdoms left off. There are books and books and books on this topic, but the essential gist of most of them is this: martyrdom was considered a way for the faithful to emulate Christ. Once Christianity was the law of the land–meaning the fifth and sixth centuries–the extremely faithful wanted a new way to emulate Jesus, and thus asceticism was born. There are lots of specific passages in the New Testament that led to specific types, but in all them, one suffered daily, and therefore daily imitated Christ in his last hours on earth.

St. Simeon, fool-for-Christ, was an ascetic. He was of Syrian descent, born in Edessa, and had a lifelong friend named John. Simeon lived with his elderly mother, John was married with a child, and both were from wealthy families. Together they had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and on the way home, were struck by the overpowering desire to become a monk when they saw the monastery of Abba Gerasimus on the way home. Thanks to a minor miracle, they found the gates opened, and were welcomed by Igumen Nikon, the leader of the monastery. Igumen is some sort of title.

After a while, the two decided to go into the desert to live their chosen life even more rigorously. There they fought constantly with demons, who tempted them ceaselessly. Eventually, after lots of praying and fasting, the torments stopped. They stayed on in the desert thirty more years, until Simeon had a calling to go to nearby Emesa, to help the people.

John elected to stay in the desert, and the two bid farewell. On the way, Simeon prayed that God would give him a way to help people that they might not acknowledge him, which, I guess, is a pride thing, or some other sin.

Clearly, the solution to this problem was to enter the city gate dragging a dead dog tied to a length of rope. He acted a madman for the rest of his life: he threw nuts at women in church, blew out the holy candles, ate huge quantities of beans on fast days, dragged himself around on his buttocks, and sexually harassed dancing girls in the streets during festivals. He once punched a man in the jaw, breaking it, allegedly to keep him from the sin of sleeping with a married woman.

According to Wikipedia, though I can’t find another source, he tried to cure a man of leucoma by smearing mustard on the man’s eyes. Instead, the man went blind but eventually was saved. I should make a LOLsaint that says, “Miracles: ur doin it wrong!”

Simeon wasn’t seen on the streets of Emesa for three days before his death, as he shut himself in a cabin with only firewood. When he died and the people carried him to the graveyard, they heard sweet singing but couldn’t place its source. Eventually they began to realize all the saintly good Simeon had done them. This was about 570 CE.

I really wish a psychiatrist would take a good look at some of these ascetic saints, the way Oliver Sacks did with Hildegaard of Bingen. It would be fascinating, if heretical. My best guess about what really went on here is that Simeon was actually just a madman who lived in Emesa–the mentally ill homeless are nothing new. After a while people decided that he was so crazy he must have been holy, and started attributing miracles and the like to him, meanwhile conflating his story with that of the desert ascetic John. I don’t have any proof for that, of course.

As far as I can tell, Simeon, fool-for-Christ is only revered in the Eastern churches (not the Roman Catholic church), where foolishness-for-Christ is much more prevalent anyway. He’s the patron saint of fools and puppeteers. Put your underwear on your head in rememberance every July 1.

Ship of Fools

The Holy Fool of Emesa


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I’ll get back to folk music soon, but I want to comment on a trend I’m seeing in the sleazier attacks on Obama. I was watching CNN today, listening to whoever was on argue about whether Obama agreed with his crazy pastor or not. The answer to that question should not be hard to figure out. Just ask, “What does Obama say?” He says that he does not, in fact, agree with his crazy pastor. Then, to be extra sure, you might ask, “Has Obama agreed with his crazy pastor in the past?” Turns out that, no, he has never publicly accused the government of creating AIDS to oppress black people. So what, exactly, is the question here?

It occurred to me that the Rev. Wright pseudo-scandal is very similar to the Obama-went-to-a-madrassa-and-is-therefore-a-secret-muslim pseudo-scandal. Both seem dumb enough to dismiss easily, but both have stuck around for a surprisingly long time. And they both ask the same question – “What’s Obama hiding?” Usually, most political candidates aren’t accused of being double-agents, but I won’t be surprised if we see this question pop up again in another form soon.

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The Abstinence Clearinghouse-which I guess is like Publisher’s Clearinghouse, but if you win instead of a million bucks you get no sex?-recently launched a blog, which I of course checked out since I love kitsch. Mostly it’s full of irritating news and eye-rolling slogans (“Free love is pretty expensive!”) but one post in particular actually blew my mind:

I recently received the following email. Thought many of you would enjoy it. Read on–

Installing A Husband…Dear Tech Support,

Last year I upgraded from Boyfriend 5.0 to Husband 1.0 and noticed a distinct slow down in overall system performance — particularly in the flower and jewelry applications,which operated flawlessly under Boyfriend 5.0.

In addition, Husband 1.0 uninstalled many other valuable programs, such as Romance 9.5 and Personal Attention 6.5 and then installed undesirable programs such as NFL 5.0, NBA 3 . 0, and Golf Clubs 4.1.

Conversation 8.0 no longer runs, and Housecleaning 2.6 simply crashes the system. I’ve tried running Nagging 5.3 to fix these problems, but to no avail.

What can I do?


Then there’s the joke response, which you can surmise if you’ve ever seen a sitcom: “I Thought You Loved Me.exe,” Beer 6.1, Food 3.0 and Hot Lingerie 7.7 all factor in. You probably had this very email forwarded to you by a “friend” in 1997.

This organization is an entire organization devoted solely to convincing young adults (mainly teenage girls) that they should wait until they’re married to give it up. Therefore, I honestly have no idea why they thought it would be a good idea to post this. It would seem that the assumption here is that, once a dude pops your cherry, he immediately turns into Homer Simpson. And then every other post on the site is dedicated to telling you that this is a good thing.

I get that it’s supposed to be a joke-haha, relationship problems that make actual people miserable every day have numbers behind them, like they’re computer programs!-but I think I’d rather keep it under wraps and join the convent if these are my options.

One star for the baffling marriage software post:

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In 1966, the Beach Boys put out Pet Sounds. The album was written by Brian Wilson, and was a major leap over previous Beach Boys songs. Where their previous recordings were catchy teenage surf rock, Pet Sounds was a melancholy mission statement. The arrangements were elaborate and the melodies were powerful. Although the Beatles fashioned Sgt. Pepper as a response, Pet Sounds remains a one-of-a-kind album.

After Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson started work on Smile. Mental health problems led him to stop work on the project for 40 years, but not before he finished a few classics, including Heroes and Villains, Good Vibrations, and – one of my favorite songs – Surf’s Up.

This song provokes a near universal reaction: “That’s Surf’s Up? That doesn’t sound like surf music at all.” It’s strange, haunting, and oddly sad. The lyrics, by Van Dyke Parks, are some kind of American class system gibberish, somehow made poignant by the weird leaps in the melody. The Beach Boys always sang high, but in this song, and particularly in the solo recording in the clip above, the song sounds otherwordly.

That clip, by the way, is from a Leonard Bernstein TV special on pop music. Bernstein introduces the song by saying something to the effect of “95% of modern music is crap. This song, though, is OK, I guess.” I’d like to find the full recording of that show, or at least the full recording of Brian’s performance.

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St. Drogo was born in Sebourg, France, in 1105 CE, though his mother died in childbirth. His father also died at some point, though sources seem to disagree on whether it was before he was born, or when he was a teenager. At any rate, he was orphaned, and although he was nobility, he gave away all his money to become a shepherd.

He felt so bad about his mother dying in childbirth that he became a penitential pilgrim, going to Rome nine or ten times, as well as visiting other shrines around Western Europe. A whole bunch of internet sources say he also practiced “extreme penitence,” which may mean that he felt really bad while surfing or rock climbing or whatever, but more likely means he was into self-flagellation or had a cilice.

In his next career, he became a shepherd. He was also supposed to have the ability to bilocate-meaning, he was bodily in two different places at once, usually working in the fields and at Mass at the same time. I have to admit, this is a rad power and one I’d never heard of before.

During one of these pilgrimages, something terrible afflicted him. He became extremely deformed in the face, to the point where the townspeople of Sebourg could no longer look at him. Therefore, he took the obvious solution, and became a hermit, sealing himself inside a hut attached to the wall of his local church and becoming an anchorite. This was a big thing in the Middle Ages, especially in England-most churches would have at least one anchorite hut attached, and they were completely sealed with only a small hole facing inward (to watch mass and take communion), and hole facing outward (to dispense advice to the townfolk).

The bilocating probably helped with the being an anchorite, though. I’d imagine it made it more bearable.

Once, the church caught fire and Drogo’s cell burned to the ground. Since the Middle Ages had no fire safety codes, Drogo remained inside while it burned around him, but miraculously was not harmed himself. He died in 1185 in the anchorite cell, and after his death his noble Flemish family came to take his body back to their fancy family graveyard. However, when they tried to lift it, it became too heavy, and no matter how many strong, strapping men tried to lift him, they could not. Finally they had to bury him in the church.

St. Drogo is the patron saint of ugly people and coffee. I have no earthly idea why he’s the patron saint of coffee, but thanks to Obscure Saint Blogging, I finally know what I’m going to name my coffeeshop when I open it someday.

His saint day is April 16.

St. Drogo on Wikipedia

Saints Alive!

A Dictionary of Miracles, by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

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I hear Old Man Luedecke has a new album out. I haven’t gotten my copy yet (it’s only available on the Canadian iTunes store – weird), so I thought I would review a previous album of his.

Old Man Luedecke - Hinterland

Hinterland is a nice album. That may sound like faint praise, and those who demand that their music be edgy and challenging at all times may find little here to like, but I mean it in the best possible way.

I found Old Man Luedecke the same way I found the Ditty Bops – on Pandora. I believe the station for both of these was a mix of Townes Van Zandt and Dan Hicks. If you haven’t tried that yet, I highly recommend it.

The title track came on, and I liked it immediately. The low-key banjo and the melancholy chorus got under my skin. Hinterland is a song you can live in. After it popped up for the third or fourth time, I bought the whole album.

None of the other songs match the power or feeling of the title track, but the album is full of nice moments.

The song proper starts around 1:15.

The songs are catchy enough to be immediately enjoyable, and simple enough to stand up to repeated listens. The lyrics are… well, they seem sincere, and appropriate to the music. Really, the main draw here is nice melodies in an upbeat pseudo-traditional style. I’m looking forward to hearing his latest.

Old Man Luedecke – Hinterland: ★★★★☆

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Dymphna was a young lady in Ireland sometimes during the 7th century CE. Her father was a pagan Irish chieftain Damon, and her mother was his beautiful Christian wife whose name has been lost. When Dymphna was about 14, her mother died. After searching all over Western Europe and not finding a woman as beautiful as his dead wife, her father came back home, where his advisors pointed out that Dymphna looked exactly like her dead mother.

Anyone at all familiar with any sort of narrative knows what happened next: he announced his intention to marry her, so she and her priest, St. Gerebernus, fled the country. They took a ship and landed in Antwerp, Belgium. From there they went to nearby Gheel, where they lived in a hut near the church, where Gerebernus said Mass and Dymphna helped the sick and poor.

Outraged that his daughter had run away, Damon the Irish cheiftain searched for all across Europe. Eventually, in Antwerp, he tried to pay for his lodging with Irish coins (this was before the Euro), and the innkeep refused, saying it was difficult to exchange. Damon realized that the innkeeper would only know this if someone else had recently paid with Irish coins, and that his daughter must be somewhere near.

When the chieftain found them, he ordered Gerebern killed and tried to convince his daughter to come back home with him. When she refused him again, he ordered his men to kill her, but when they all refused as well he beheaded her himself. The bodies of Dymphna and Gerebern were left where they lay, but interred in a cave shortly after by the locals. They were later taken back out and but in the church at Gheel, where they remain.

Surprisingly, the life story of Dymphna is a little suspect. Her hagiography wasn’t written until the 13th century, and was based solely on oral history. Several sources think that the timing is all wrong-she would have had to have lived before 500CE or after 900; it’s charmingly offensive, but this Google book explains why that is.

However, the thing that really grabbed me is how similar this story is to lots of European fairy tales about fathers, usually kings, who want to marry their daughters. There’s a page full of them here, and a long essay about them here. What they say, basically, is that they’re all fables about sexual abuse of children. In the first one, “All Kinds of Fur,” the girl who is presumably abused as a child goes on to marry a different king who abuses her as an adult by throwing boots at her.

My best guess is that Dymphna is a Catholicized version of these tales: instead of working in the kitchen and marrying a prince, she works for the church and is “betrothed” to Jesus.

All the same, Dymphna’s saint day is May 15. Among other things, she’s the patron saint of the insane. Celebrate by getting it on with someone you’re not related to.

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