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Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism’

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

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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

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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.

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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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St. Aldegundis, also known as Aldegonde, Aldegund, or Adelgondis, was born in Flanders in 639 CE, in the county of Hainaut, which straddled the borders of modern Belgium and France. Her parents, Walbert and Bertilia, and her sister, Waldetrudis, are also all saints. In fact, her nieces and nephews by Waldetrudis: also all saints. They were all closely related to the Merovingian dynasty, who ruled the Franks until 751 CE.

The story of Aldegundis is, in part, your classic vow-of-chastity story. At a relatively young age she began having visions of Christ, and came to understand that she was to take no other husband but him. Predictably, her parents, saints though they were, had other ideas and wanted her to marry an English prince named Eudon. To solve this problem she ran away from home, but had to stop when she came to the Sambre river.

Showing excellent problem-solving skills, she called on God to help, and he sent two angels who told her to walk across the river on water, which she did, not even wetting the soles of her shoes. On the other side she continued a little way into the forest, then stopped to build a cabin. She received the veil-i.e., was made a nun-by St. Amandius, the bishop of Maastricht.

Her cabin in the woods eventually became a convent, which became the Benedictine monastery Mauberge, which in turn was taken over by canonesses.

She had visions all her life, but near the end she had a vision of Satan as a wolf. Her two hagiographers had different takes on how she handled this: according to one, she got angry and kicked him out. According to the other, she was compassionate and asked why he hates people so much (jealousy), before kicking him out.

In 684 CE she died of breast cancer. Her saint day is January 30, and she’s the patron saint of cancer, wounds, and sudden death.

I realize that I’m late on this bandwagon, but I finally discovered Google Books, and holy shit you guys. There is a ton of stuff there-public domain, some scholarly stuff, some regular books. The best part is that my academic fantasy has come true with Google Books: you can search inside a book instead of using an index or whatever. Wow.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Dreams, Visions, and Spiritual Authority in Merovingians Gaul, by Isabel Moreira

A Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative, Realistic, and Dogmatic by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

A Dictionary of Saintly Women by Agnes Baillie Cunninghame Dunbar

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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

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Review: More sins

Because I’m insane, I got really excited when the Vatican announced more new sins. The story lists them as:

1. “Bioethical” violations such as birth control / sanctity of life violations

2. “Morally dubious” experiments such as stem cell research

3. Drug abuse / trafficking

4. Polluting the environment

5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor

6. Excessive wealth

7. Creating poverty

Not nearly as pithy as the original seven sins. How will Catholic artists come up with easy-to-understand visual representations of “bioethical violations?” The first seven were easy. Lust, you draw a big-bosomed, scantily-clad lady, because obviously they’re all evil (and a stumbling block to our young men). Gluttony’s a fat guy. Sloth is someone asleep. Greed is probably a Jew counting his money or whatever. See how fun this is? Now you do some!

But what are we supposed to do with “contributing to the widening divide between the rich and the poor? Nobody could draw that in Pictionary. Maybe “bioethical violations,” the best example of which they can come up with is “birth control,” could be the same slutty lady from the previous paragraph, but you just can’t make a movie about a killer who forces someone to die by way of “morally dubious” experiments, though Fern Gully did a pretty good job of teaching us not to pollute. The rain forest pixies will be sad!

Really, though, these sins leave way too much room for error. Are we supposed to judge ourselves what’s “morally dubious?” Why didn’t they just write a press release that said SHADES OF GRAY? How will I know when my wealth is excessive? Honestly, if the Catholic Church won’t tell me what to do and how to think, who will?

Two stars at best.

★★☆☆☆

More sinning after the jump… (more…)

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