Archive for the ‘History’ Category

This week we’ve got our first Armenian saint, St. Blaise. He’s probably the least obscure saint I’ve covered yet–at least one former Catholic I asked had a vague idea of who he was.

Blaise was also hugely popular in the Middle Ages, because he was one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers/ Martyrs, a group of saints who specialized in healing and were called upon largely because of the Bubonic Plague.

Getting to the bottom of his history is a little shaky; the first mention of him happens in late versions of the Martyrology of St. Jerome, dated to the late 700’s; the Acts of St. Blaise are dated to the mid-700’s. Since he is reported to have died in 316 CE, that’s plenty of room for error.

According to the legend, he was born to a noble family as a Christian, became a physician, and later the Bishop of Sabastea. Under the governor Agricolaus and the Emperor of the East Licinius, Christians were being persecuted again, and Blaise received a message from God telling him to go hide in the wilderness.

Later, some hunters out looking for beasts to kill Christians in the amphitheatre came upon Blaise in his cave, surrounded by sick wild animals he was healing. He was captured and taken to the jail to be starved, and on the way, he saw a wolf with a pig belonging to a poor woman in its jaws, and convinced the wolf to release the pig. The pig’s owner was so grateful that she secretly brought him food and water in jail. Possibly she was feeding him the pig.

While in jail, he miraculously healed a child who was choking nearly to death on a fish bone, making him the patron saint of not choking on things. He was first tortured with iron carding combs–what they use to make wool–and then beheaded.

St. Blaise’s feast day is February 3 for Roman Catholics and February 11 for Eastern Orthodox; that’s also the day you can get your throat blessed by having candles pressed against it by a priest.

St. Blaise at New Advent

St. Blaise at Catholic Online

St. Blaise at American Catholic

Read Full Post »

St. Genesius of Rome lived in the late third century, mostly under the reign of the emperor Diocletian. He was an actor by trade, which probably means that he was lowborn and not a Roman citizen–the Romans thought about actors differently than we do. Since acting was essentially lying, the Roman logic goes, actors were people who lied for a living, making them among the dregs of Roman society. Therefore, most actors were of foreign extraction, and acting tended to be a hereditary job. There’s also some evidence that acting and prostitution happened in close quarters with each other. Two careers!

When the emperor Diocletian visited the city of Rome in 303 CE, Genesius’ company decided to put on a farce mocking Christians, knowing that Diocletian had been forcing them to convert or die since about 299 CE. According to some sources (by which I mean “webpages”), Genesius wrote and directed as well as acted in the play. I’m a little skeptical about this claim, since I wonder how many actors were literate. On the other hand, by this point most plays were mimes or farces which basically involved a whole lot of bawdy humor and not a lot of craft.

In the play, Genesius was supposed to be mock baptised on stage, and according to his Acts (written in the 7th century), he supposedly infiltrated the Christian community to do “research,” becoming particularly interested in the act of baptism. This is probably not true because it doesn’t make any sense–why would someone risk death and go to all the hard work of becoming part of a very secretive, wary community just to know how to pour water correctly for a play that probably featured farts prominently?

However, when the other actor poured water over his head in the mock baptism, it took for real. Genesius dropped the script and started proclaiming the Heavenly Father and the Light, Truth and the Way and all the other stuff you read about in pamphlets on the street. It didn’t take the emperor long to arrest the whole company and torture Genesius in an attempt to make him recant and sacrifice to the Roman gods.

Genesius’ martyrdom happened in 303, a mere ten years before the Edict of Milan made Christianity legal. Though he was never formally baptized, as the intent of the actor pouring water on him on stage was not to baptize (Catholics do love their intent), since he was martyred he’s considered to be “baptized by blood,” something I don’t recommend you try at home.

Genesius’ special day is August 25, and he’s the patron saint of actors, comedians, the cinema, epileptics and lawyers.

Life of St. Genesius

St. Genesius on Catholic Online

Genesius of Rome on Wikipedia

Read Full Post »

I love me some apocryphal historical confusion, I really do. Around 30 CE, Abgar V, King of Osroene (part of modern Turkey, on the upper Euphrates) suffered from some incurable disease. Historians differ (as they do) on what disease it was, but most say either leprosy or gout. He heard about Jesus’ healing miracles, and so wrote to him via his messenger Hannan, asking for Jesus to heal him. Jesus sent back some sort of reply saying that he was “about to join his father,” (heretic translation: would die) but that one of his disciples, imbued with his power, would be sent out afterward.

Later storytellers added some things here: first, that Jesus actually wrote a letter and sent it back to Abgar (via his messenger Hannan), and second, that Hannan painted a portrait of Jesus “from life” and also took it back to the East with him. Eventually, this portrait was purported to be “not made by hands” (acheiropoieta in Greek if you’re fancy) which was all kinds of important to the iconoclasm debates but not so much here.

Anyway, Jesus died, the Apostle Thomas was put in charge of converting the East, and he sent Addai–also called Addal, and sometimes Thaddeus–one of the 72 disciples, to heal King Abgar. Abgar got healed, and Addai stuck around to do some converting, supposedly write the Doctrine of Addai, and get martyred. Weirdly, I can’t find anything about the supposed martyring besides something that says he died naturally. Usually the gruesome death is everyone’s favorite part.

We know about this because Eusebeus the church historian of the 4th century wrote about it; he claims to have seen the actual documents written by Jesus as well as the picture of Jesus. Most historians think that a fake document was planted somewhere, possibly in the archives of Edessa, Abgar’s capital city, so Eusebeus could “find” them. The Doctrine of Addai was almost certainly not written by Addai himself; some of its main concerns are with the search for the true cross (something that became a fad for a while after Constantine’s mother Helena did it in the early 4th century), and what scriptures proper Christians had been reading, also very hot in the early 4th century.

Some of the internet claims that Addai converted all Abgar’s people, but I’m pretty sure that part of the internet is wrong. More impartial sites point out that that part of the world became officially Christian in the early 3rd century, and someone alive at the same time as Jesus would not live another hundred and fifty years.

He’s also mentioned in two previously unknown Apocalypses by James the Just, found in Nag Hammadi in 1945 with the rest of the stuff The Da Vinci Code is (oh so loosely) based on.

You can pour one out for Addai/Addal/Addeus/Thaddeus every August 5th.

Read Full Post »

And now for a fun and exciting weekly feature of the Illegiterati: Friday Obscure Saint Blogging. Every Friday, I’ll pick an obscure saint, usually from either Roman Catholicism or some sort of Christian Orthodoxy, and write about them.

Sadly, not Our Lady of the Carnivals

First up is St. Wilgefortis. I can’t tell when she lived, but her cult came about sometime in the 14th century, during the gothic period. Ms. Fortis was a young princess from Portugal, daughter to a pagan king. Her father bethrothed her to another pagan king, possibly the King of Sicily, and arranged for their wedding. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the young Wilgefortis had already taken a vow of chastity, and so to avoid the marriage she prayed that God would make her somehow unappealing to her future husband. Lo and behold, within the day she sprouted a beard and moustache, and her fiance decided he didn’t want her anymore.

Because the patriarchy is awesome, her father flew into a rage and had Wilgefortis crucified. She’s now prayed to by women who wish to be “unencumbered” of abusive husbands.

The very best part is that even the Roman Catholic church admits it’s totally untrue.


Read Full Post »