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Archive for August, 2008

Today in the anti-infidel edition of Weekend Obscure Saint Blogging, we’ve got a crusading saint. The Crusades are one of those things I’m always meaning to learn more about–partly, because when I heard about them for the first time (as a kid, from the Disney version of Robin Hood) I thought they sounded great. Then I grew up and actually learned something about them, and realized that not only did they excuse mass killings, they were kind of dumb.

Anyway, Adjutor. There aren’t a ton of sources about him online, which is the way I like it–the better to speculate wildly. He was born in Vernon, in the Normandy region of France, around 1070 CE and educated by a bishop since he was some sort of nobility.

In 1095, he decided it was a good idea to take 200 men and truck off to the Crusades, which were happening over in Turkey, after the Byzantine Emperor had asked the Pope for some help with the Muslims. Near Antioch, his 200 troops were surrounded by a force of 1,500 infidels and faced certain death. Applying a solution common to the saints discussed here, he prayed to St. Madeleine (the French name for Mary Magdalene), who sent a huge storm that scared the enemies off, and then Adjutor’s men charged, killing more than 1,000.

He fought for seventeen more years without incident that I can find. One webpage I found says he was fighting the Moors in Spain, not in Turkey, which would also kind of make sense. I mean, Spain’s a lot closer, and they were also in the throes of Christianizing or kicking out the non-Christian people. I’ll never know, though.

Eventually Adjutor was thrown in Muslim jail and bound with chains. His peacefulness and piety annoyed the jailers, so they put more chains on him and threw him in a deeper dungeon. There he prayed to Madeleine again, this time offering her some of his land in France for her convent if she helped him out. She showed up along with St. Bernard, and the two of them airlifted him, chains and all, back to Vernon overnight. Like UPS, but holier.

Back in Normandy he settled down into a holy life, giving Madeleine the land he’s promised and hanging out with bishops. Since his land was right on the Seine, he took it upon himself to fix some rapids that occurred naturally in the river: he and Bishop Hugues set out in a tiny boat, and while the bishop prayed he threw holy water and his chains into the river, which miraculously calmed.

One webpage I found did say he turned back the flames at the Siege of Vernon by prayer, destroying the enemy, but that same webpage says he died 1131, and Wikipedia says the Siege of Vernon by Louis VII happened in 1153. So that would be super miraculous.

St. Adjutor is the patron saint of dockworkers, yachting, swimmers, and generally anyone who does stuff on boats. Go sailing without a life vest on April 30th; you’ll be fine!

Our Lady Collegiate Church of Vernon

Lives and Legends of the English Bishops and Kings

St. Adjutor’s Life Realities (flimsily translated from French)

St. Adjutor’s Miracles

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First, some ground rules. We’re not talking about songs which make reference to movies. Breakfast at Tiffany’s song from the mid-90s – there’s no place for you here. Same goes for jokes. Maybe you could argue that Jonathan Coulton’s Re: Your Brains takes place in the world of a Romero movie, but it’s not about the movie. We are looking for songs based on movies, earnestly, or ambiguously ironically at the least.

The Drive-By Truckers The Monument Valley

Strange that on an album of slice-of-life character studies, the most heartfelt song turns out to be about westerns. But then, who doesn’t love John Ford movies?

“It’s all about where you put the horizon / said the great John Ford to the young man rising.” The opening lines describe the act of moviemaking. On the one hand, nothing is more irritating then meta-art. If I have to read one more book which equates writing with physical creation, I’m going to punch a wall. And an artist’s desire to put on display his or her influences is understandable, but tedious. Yes, I’m sure you’re very well-read and that you know a lot about 1920s wax cylinder recordings or 1970s summer camp movies, but show me what you’ve got.

That said, this song pulls it off – mostly because it so accurately captures the long quiet landscapes of the best westerns. And by the final verse, the lyrics tangle John Ford the person with the famous line from The Man Who Shot LIberty Valence. “It’s where to plant the camera and when to say action / When to print the legend and when to leave the facts in.”

In the end, far truer to what makes westerns so enduring than Burt Bacharach’s song The Man Who Shot LIberty Valence. (Sample lyric: “Cause the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood / When it came to shooting straight and fast, he was miii-ghtyyyy good!”)

Daniel Johnston King Kong


This might be the most straightforward film-to-song adaptation. It’s a chanted summary of the film, told from the point of view of the titular monkey. Daniel Johnston’s childlike lyrics make for an interesting version of the story, full of straightforward descriptions like “He stripped his woman / he stripped her bare / but there was a pterodactyl / there.” It’s more of a description of individual things which happen in the movie, rather than a story.

The Jimmy Castor Bunch King Kong


Here’s another musical take on the same film, but where Daniel Johnston’s focuses on the obsession and fall of creature, The Jimmy Castor Bunch celebrate his power, size, and restraint, apparently. “He didn’t dance or party,” they tell us. But like Daniel Johnston’s song, a good chunk of time is devoted to straight up summary. Regarding Kong’s fight with a Tyrannosaurus, Jimmy Castor sings “He stretched the creature’s mouth until it split / Then like a child, began to play with it.”*

Bob Dylan Brownsville Girl

Even the most unappealing Dylan album has something to recommend it. Knocked Out Loaded, marred by weird 1986 production, and mostly uninteresting songs, has Brownsville Girl, Dylan’s collaboration with playwright/actor/former Holy Modal Rounder Sam Shepard. Clocking in at close to eleven minutes, it’s a winding, half-sung, half-spoken song about, um, something probably. Dylan mentions a girl, a trial, a bunch of places in Texas. Mainly, the song seems to be about this movie Dylan seen one time, ’bout a man riding ‘cross the desert and it starred Gregory Peck. As Dylan ruminates his way across the song (“The only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter is that his name wasn’t Henry Porter”, he sings at one point, and at another, “Oh if there’s an original thought out there, I could use it right now”) he returns to his Gregory Peck movie again and again. He thinks he sat through it twice.

*I would’ve included The Jimmy Castor Bunch’s Dracula as well, but in fairness, that’s probably based on the novel.

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Zap!

Zap!

St. Rita–possibly short for Margherita, better known as a delicious type of pizza–was born to somewhat elderly parents in Cascia, Italy, near Umbria. Antonio and Amata Lotti, her parents, were quite devout and known as “peacemakers of Jesus,” and that’s why they managed to have a kid at an advanced age. There’s a tale about how, as an infant, bees flew in and out of her mouth without harming her at all. Yum.

Being peacemakers of Jesus didn’t prevent her parents from forcing her to marry the abusive Paolo Mancini at age twelve, even though she repeatedly told them she’d much rather go into a convent. Soon after they married (so, at age thirteen or fourteen), she gave birth to twin boys. Interestingly, even though all the sources focus on how great Rita was, some seem to go out of their way to apologize for her husband’s abuse. A few claim that, as a town watchman, he got “sucked into” a family feud and took the stress out on his wife, and more say that due to her sweet and holy temperament she miraculously changed his demeanor and he became an absolute delight. Sure he did. That’s exactly how abusers work!

Rita and Paolo were married for eighteen years, until he was murdered, probably because he was such a jerk. Their sons, who took after their father, began planning revenge–remember, everybody, the word “vendetta” is from Italian. Selecting the most logical route, Rita prayed for their deaths so that their immortal souls wouldn’t be stained with such an egregious sin. Given that the Catholic church puts so much emphasis on intent, I’m not really sure how that works since they wanted to murder someone, but I assume it’s been convolutedly explained away.

With her family dead, it was finally time for Rita to achieve her dreams: the convent. She applied to join the Augustinian convent that had been the object of her youthful dreams, but was denied since one had to be a virgin to qualify. Long story short, she asked really nicely a bunch of times, and ended up getting in by breaking and entering with St. Augustine, John the Baptist and St. Nicholas of Torentino offering their holy help. When the sisters discovered her miraculously there in the morning, they couldn’t turn her down any more.

One day while meditating in front of a crucifix, she asked Jesus to be permitted to suffer like him. In response to this request, a thorn shot off of the statue’s crown and wounded her in the forehead. Lots of saints are credited with having stigmata, but according to the article on it in Catholic Online, she’s the only one known to have a bad smell emanating from the wound.

She died in 1457, and is now the patron of impossible causes. Pray to her on May 22 and maybe the Redskins will win the Superbowl.

Catholic Encyclopedia

West Coast Augustinians (from the Book of Augustinian Saints)

St. Rita of Cascia: Saint of the Impossible (excerpts by Fr. Joseph Sicardo, OSA)

Dictionary of Miracles

Life of St. Rita of Cascia

Wikipedia

(more…)

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I hate to do a nothing post which is really only a link to someone else’s blog post, but Sam’s guest post at Feministe on mistranslation and the virgin birth (of Jesus) is a good read on something I’d been meaning to mention here.

For more mistranslation fun, check out Zechariah 9:9. That last couplet is a really common rhetorical device in the Hebrew Bible called parallelism, which basically underscores the point. Here, it means that the messiah’s gonna come into town on a donkey, emphasized because that’s probably not how people are expecting him.

Now check out Matthew 21:4-7. Most academics tend to agree that Matthew was probably the Jewish gospel writer, and pretty interested in convincing Jews that Jesus was the awaited messiah who fulfilled prophecies such as Zechariah 9:9. Unfortunately, he wasn’t too in tune with the nuances of Hebrew poetry, so Jesus is somehow straddling two donkeys while riding into Jerusalem. Maybe one was a footrest.

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Here’s a fun author factoid: my parents almost named me Alexis, but for the character of the same name in Dynasty, which was super popular around the time I was born. (Video hint: it gets great around 1:50. Alexis Carrington Colby, in case you are my age or younger, is in the white pantsuit-thing.)

I got the second-choice name, so St. Alexis of Rome, also known as Alexius or Alexios, isn’t my namesake but it’s close. He was born to a wealthy Christian family in Rome sometime in the 5th century CE. He was an only child and into Christianity from a young age. His parents, on the other hand, wanted their only kid to have a normal secular life rather than one devoted to the church. As he was agonizing over these decisions, he had a vision of St. Paul, who quoted Jesus the Gospel of Matthew and told him, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37, KJV) Christ: no so much a family man.

Alexis did something that’s always a good idea and ignored what Paul had said in his vision, agreeing to a marriage with a young woman from a wealthy family despite his numerous misgivings. The versions I’ve read differ slightly on what happened next: according to one, immediately after the church marriage ceremony, he looked up at the statue of Christ above the altar and walked out of the church without saying a word to anyone. In others, he left “on his wedding night,” in one explaining his disappearance to his wife. Either way, he’s getting a “douchebag in the name of God” tag.

He escaped off to Edessa, selling his possessions along the way and giving the proceeds to the poor, keeping only enough for himself. He either joined an ascetic monastery or became a beggar right next to a monastery, giving away his earnings to the poor and keeping only enough for himself to stay alive. His poor parents sent many people looking for him, including his former servants, but none recognized him and he even begged money from his own servants, which sounds too New-Testament-feel-good to be true.

He carried on this way for seventeen or eighteen years, news of his holiness spreading ever farther. The head of the monastery he was living in / in front of had a vision of Mary, Mother of God in which she singled out Alexis as a “Man of God,” a big holy deal. Not enjoying the attention, he set sail for Tarsus, birthplace of St. Paul.* On the way, a storm blew the ship far to the west, so they decided to head for Rome, and Alexis would stay with his family.

Meanwhile in Rome, his family had grieved over his loss for seventeen years, including his wife who was now living with his parents. The modern retellings want this to be because of how much she loved him, but I for one am skeptical. Arranged marriage, people. Instead I spent an hour looking around the internet for info on divorce laws in the late Roman Empire. I couldn’t find anything exact, but it looks like the Christian emperors made divorces pretty hard to get, especially if you were a woman. She might have stayed with his parents more out of necessity than anything–being jilted at the altar couldn’t have been good for your reputation back then.

When he arrived, nobody recognized him, but they granted him a cell in the courtyard where he continued to do holy stuff for a while. Before he died–I guess asceticism shortens your lifespan–he wrote a note to his family, telling them who he was. The bishop of Rome at the time interred him in St. Peter’s, and the family home became a church.

Along with OG obscure saint Wilgefortis, Alexis was taken off the worldwide saint roster in 1969, because his legend is weird, confused, and doesn’t show up in the West until the tenth century. There’s a church in Rome, on the Aventine, named after him, and my best guess is that he was originally a Syriac ascetic who someone decided was actually Roman after his church there went up.

I recommend running away BEFORE the wedding on March 17.

*No, the geography does not really make any sense. Some version say he was in a Syrian monastery, which would be ok, but Edessa is landlocked. I gave up.

Wikipedia

Catholic Encyclopedia

Orthodox Wiki

The Orthodox Church in America

Matthew 10

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