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St. Rita of Cascia

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

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In which nuance is lost

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.

St. Alexis of Rome

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

Before I bought At Mount Zoomer, I read reviews about how they recorded it at the church owned by the Arcade Fire. My heart caught in my throat. The Arcade Fire treatment, I thought, was the last thing my lovely Wolf Parade ever needed, because Wolf Parade is all rough edges and the Arcade Fire is all sandpaper. To sort of mix a metaphor, I like the Arcade Fire okay, but I feel like they’re in third gear all the time and need to push it to overdrive. I realize this is not a popular opinion among the skinnypants-and-ironic-shirt wearing crowd.

It’s not as bad as all that. Actually, that’s not fair to say–At Mount Zoomer is downright good. It’s full of the howling synth and vocals, both always sounding a little off key, that I loved on their first album. It’s downtempo, it’s got melodies and hooks. It jams. It has lots of those driving grooves that make you tap your foot and nod your head and you don’t even realize it, along with my favorite rock & roll trick, which is the mid-song tempo change. Lots of eighties-style singing along the lines of New Order (see also: Modest Mouse, Interpol) that some other blogger doesn’t like but I do.

The thing is, though, that I can’t talk about this album or the show I went to a few weeks ago without comparing it to their first album, Apologies to the Queen Mary. Calling that one frenetic and raw wouldn’t be amiss, and that’s something that’s just not there in Zoomer. It doesn’t have the same wild, screaming-at-the-rafters energy of the first, the near desperation you can hear in all their best songs. And who knows, maybe they really were desperate. Maybe the sound of Mount Zoomer is the sound of relief.

The concert crowd agreed with me, though. They cheered for the new songs, but they went berserk for the older stuff. Hell, I went berserk, sitting up in the balcony in my padded seat I was waving my arms, singing along and probably looking a little like a lunatic. I felt like a lunatic, and it was great.

I couldn’t really find a decent concert video of these guys (although they were amazing), so here’s a great regular video.

At Mount Zoomer: ★★★★☆

(Apologies to the Queen Mary: ★★★★★)

St. Apollonia

Painted in 1531 by a German painter, apparently before they discovered perspective, since the tooth and her head are the same size.

Painted in 1531 by a German painter, apparently before they discovered perspective, since the tooth and her head are the same size.

Way before a dude named Prince was making Purple Rain, there was a martyr in Alexandria, Egypt, named Apollonia.

Nothing, apparently, is known of her life, besides the fact that she was a Christian virgin who lived in Alexandria. Some sources say she was an older lady, but other sources say that’s a mistranslation, and what the letter it’s from actually says is that she was a deaconess. Either way, she was doing her thing in 248 or 249 CE, right after Rome’s first millenial celebration (it was founded in 753 BCE), and during one of the most intense persecutions.

The Emperor Decius, who ruled for all of two years (which was an admirable stretch at the time), decided that Christians were a big threat to the empire because a) they had weird customs, b) they weren’t worshiping the proper gods, and c) they were more loyal to the Christian god than the Emperor. Seeing an opportunity to unite the rest of the Roman people by joining together to beat up the Christians, they all got rounded up and told to convert or die. That’s the point I tried (and failed) to make last week: this is how most organized religious persecutions go, more or less.

A whole lot converted. You don’t hear about this much, because instead of getting sainthood they got to live out their lives, but it’s true. Here and here are some certificates saying former Christians had sacrificed to the Roman gods. Many went back to the church a little later asking to rejoin, which caused a big fuss, but that’s for another day.

That’s the deal they offered Apollonia. She refused, so they beat her, and either punched her and knocked out her teeth, or extracted her teeth as a torture method. When she wasn’t deterred, the mob (remember, it was a family activity) made a fire and told her to change her mind or she’d be burned alive. By pretending to consider, she got the crowd to unhand her, and then jumped in the fire herself.

You may think that this counts as suicide, which is totally a sin. St. Augustine, early father of the church, says it wasn’t, though. Clearly, as a holy person, she was told by the holy spirit to jump in the fire. Since she was just obeying God, it wasn’t suicide, so she was a martyr and therefore holy. It’s a little circuitous.

Apollonia became a saint, and Decius dealt with a huge smallpox pandemic (5,000 people PER DAY died in the city of Rome) right before being the first Roman Emperor to die in battle with barbarians.

Unsettlingly, Apollonia is the patron saint of dentistry, usually pictured with a tooth and sometimes pliers. She has relics all over the place, but her head is in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is totally near where I lived when I did a semester in Rome, and I went there a couple of times because I was just as crazy then.

Her saint day is February 9, but I recommend the nitrous oxide.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Wikipedia

Butler’s Lives of the Saints

St. Nicholas of Japan

Why do all Russian dudes look like Rasputin?

Why do all Russian dudes look like Rasputin?

Sometimes I purposefully pick a saint that doesn’t seem to have too much weird stuff going on in the hopes that I can post on him or her in a quick, timely fashion. I’m never right. There’s always too much interesting historical stuff in the way.

St. Nicholas of Japan was, in fact, a Russian. Although I tend to think of Russia as “Eastern Europe” and Japan as “East Asia,” it turns out that Russia is really big and they’re right next to each other, and as such they’ve had lots of contact throughout history. His birth name was Ivan Dimitrovich Kasatkin, and he was born in 1836 to a Russian deacon. He went through the usual priest school, and then volunteered to serve at a chapel in Japan. He went there in 1861.

Until 1873, Christianity was technically illegal in Japan, or at least, proselytizing wasn’t allowed. For some reason, I was surprised to find out that a largely Buddhist nation has a long history of religious persecution. It was first outlawed in the 1500’s, partly to avoid the religious wars Europe was having at the time. The Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu also claimed it was because he feared the Christians would have a greater loyalty to each other than to the Shogunate–sort of like another big empire I can think of.

In 1880, Nicholas became the bishop of Revel, Russia, which he never actually visited.

Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov–later Nicholas II of Russia and the last Czar–visited Japan in 1891, and St. Nicholas was around for it. At the time he was tsarevich, which is like the Russian Prince of Wales. While he was there, one of his police escort attacked him with a saber and his cousin, the Prince of Greece and Denmark, saved him by blocking the blow with his cane. It left a huge scar on his forehead, and he ended up cutting his visit short. It’s now known at the Otsu Incident.

The Japanese totally freaked out when this happened. One town forbade use of the attacker’s family name. 10,000 telegrams were sent. A seamstress named Yuko Hatakeyama slit her throat in front of a government building as an act of public contrition, and the media praised her patriotism. Obviously I’m not a Japanese or Russian history expert, so I can only make stabs at why the Japanese reacted that way. Clearly it’s a big deal to almost have a foreign leader assassinated on your watch, but the Japanese army was also MUCH smaller than Russia’s at that point.

Fourteen years later, the Russo-Japanese war began. It was an imperialist deal, mainly over Korea and Manchuria. Basically, all imperial Russian wars start when someone important says, “You know, guys, we could really use a port that isn’t frozen over half the year.” This time they wanted one on the Pacific.

Being a Russian in Japan, the war was hard on Nicholas. On the one hand, he was Russian; on the other, part of his job was to pray for the Emperor of Japan publicly. The Orthodox liturgy at this time demanded that one pray not only for one’s sovereign, but for the explicit defeat of the sovereign’s enemies. Nicholas didn’t participate in public church services during the war.

He also helped Russian prisoners of war, at one point discovering that 90% of them couldn’t read, and dispatching nuns and priests to help sovle the problem. His attitude and manners during the war impressed everyone, including the Emperor Meiji. Russia lost the war pretty badly, which contributed to the Russian Revolution of 1905.

After all this, in 1907, Nicholas was elevated to the Archbishop of All Japan by the Holy Russian Synod. He was also the first to translate the New Testament and parts of the Old into Japanese–translations which are still used today. He’s considered the first saint of the Japanese Orthodox Church, and his saint day in February 16 if you’re old school, 3rd if you can handle that the earth goes around the sun.

Wikipedia

Orthodox Wiki

Eat this, James Cagney

Did you know there were book trailers? I’m a reading beast and I didn’t. Of course, maybe that’s the problem, since I guess trailers tend to be on television.

I’ve learned about them recently thanks to the LA Public Transit system. The newer buses have TV screens in them, and most of the time it’s news, get-out-of-debt commercials, commercials in Spanish for fast food (“injection marinated” chicken? Is that good?), and commercials for Spanish telenovelas. To be honest, I have considered learning Spanish more than once mainly so I could watch telenovelas. So imagine my delight when this come on the Transit TV today as the 761 is headed down the Sepulveda Pass:

HELL YEAH. Apparently shot by a high school film class, there’s a lovely lady! A “dashing” gentleman! Some European city, or maybe a couple of them! Making out in front of a Monet painting with a bomb behind it! Some sort of technological threat, as evidenced by the “scrambled” TRUST NO ONE message! People hitting other people with frying pans! Check out the sweet ninja action at 1:11, by the way.

And don’t worry, I have no intention of reading the book. Obviously that would ruin everything.

St. Hiatus

Hello fervent readers of Friday Obscure Saint blogging! Just popping in to say that there won’t be an obscure saint (or, probably, much else) for this week or next week. Henry & I are moving house–literally–and packing all your things and then unpacking them somewhere else is kind of a time suck. Hopefully we’ll be back by the 18th.

While you’re waiting, try out some of these: walking submissively, worshiping triumphantly, witnessing urgently, working fervently, watching expectantly. Wait, no. That’s for the rapture.

St. Maximinus of Micy

The Obscure Saint Blogging is trickier than you think. It’s a challenge to find an appropriate saint–obscure, yet interesting, enough information to write a good post, but not so much that it could take me a week to read it all. This week I realized, halfway through, that there are two Saint Maximinuses. One killed a dragon, and one was an opponent of the Arian heresy.

This is about the one that killed a dragon. Someday I’ll talk about the Arian heresy, since it was important, but not nearly as interesting as the word “heresy” might have you think.

Maximinus lived around 520 CE, and was the first abbot at the monastery of Micy, in modern France (Gaul at the time). My main source–okay, the only source I could find–was the Life of St. Maximinus of Micy, written in the mid 9th century by Bertholdus of Micy.

On a hill nearby Micy, there was a huge dragon, “depriving people and animals far and wide access to those lands.” Well, I would imagine. Maxminus, with God as his wingman, marches up and kills the dragon in its underground lair. Bert the Biographer manages to reall spare the details here, but another source called him a “thaumaturge,” so I like to think there was some flashy magic-type stuff. Then he declared the hill holy and marched back down.

This page says that he also multiplied wine and grain, healed some blind people, and delivered some possessed people. Great! He died from a fever a few years later, on December 15, which is when you should punch a stuffed dragon, I guess. He was buried on the hill where he killed the dragon.

My favorite part, though, is another text called the Miracle of St. Maximinus of Micy. Its protagonist, a young man named Henry, is in some sort of physical distress and has a vision during which he hears a voice telling him to visit the tomb of St. Maximinus.

And so then he gets confused over the exact same thing I did! He heads to Trier, which is where the Arian Heresy Maximinus is buried. Again he hears the voice, this time saying, “Dude, wrong one. Try again!” though it’s not exactly clear why THAT Maximinus couldn’t just help him. Guy made an honest effort.

Then Henry packs us his bedroll and distress and goes to Tours after asking a bunch of people. When he gets there, of course it turns out that the Max saint there is actually Maximus. Uh, whoops. He hears the voice again, surely getting annoyed by now, and which gives him a hint: GO TO ORLEANS, FOOL.

So he goes to Micy–which is near Orleans–and gets there just in time for December 15, Max’s saint day. He hangs out with the monks for a while, and after lots of prayer sees St. Maximinus walk in the door. St. Max then says, “Where are you going, fool?” and slaps him.

And Henry is cured. The end!

Life of St. Maximinus of Micy

The Miracle of St. Maximinus of Micy

Another Life

Like the rest of the world, I was sad to hear that George Carlin had died. I have a copy of Brain Droppings which was read so heavily it barely survived. Pages are falling out left and right. My dad rented one of his HBO specials when I was thirteen or so, and it felt like a rite of passage. Countless writers better than me explaining why he was important, or why he was so damn funny. I’ll settle for sharing a personal story.

I was in high school. My friends asked if I wanted to go to the Brentwood Country Mart for lunch. Sure! I got in the car. I had a class at 1. We’ll be back by then, right? Nope. Disappointed, I got out of the car and ate lunch alone.

A few hours later, after I got out of my 1 o’clock class, I saw my friends again. Here’s my best attempt at a transcript (six or seven years after the fact) of what my friend Ben told me.

We’re sitting at a table in the food court, and I see George Carlin come in. He’s going to a table on the other side, so he’s heading our way. I whisper “That’s George Carlin!”, and as he goes by he says “Quit whispering, it’s not working.”

For the record, my friend Ben is very loud, even when whispering. He also did his best impression of George Carlin’s angry voice when George Carlin spoke. Back to the story.

So we finish eating, and we’re just hanging out there. Eventually, we see George Carlin get up from his table, and start walking out, so he’s walking past us again. This time, because we all know that he knows that we recognized him, we just kind of smile at him as he goes by. He leans over, and says “Why don’t you kids quit gossiping about celebrities, and DO YOUR FUCKING HOMEWORK!”

So there you go. The day I ate lunch alone, when I could have gotten cursed at by George Carlin. All because I didn’t want to be late for class.