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Posts Tagged ‘medieval saints’

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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Hubert–who I keep wanting to called Humbert Humbert–was born in Aquitaine around 656 CE. His grandfather had been the king of Toulouse (this was back when basically every holler and hamlet had a king), and his father was duke of Aquitaine. We don’t know who his mother was because women didn’t matter.

As a “youth” he went off to the court of Theuderic III in Paris, was well-received, and “gave himself entirely up to the pomp and vanities of this world,” as the Catholic Encyclopedia so generously puts it. He married a young lady named Floribanne, but above all else he loved hunting and spent nearly all his time doing it.

One Good Friday, when everyone else was headed to a fun day in church, Hubert decided to go hunting. He was pursuing a large stag when it turned, and Hubert saw a crucifix between its antlers. Like Bambi: the evangelical version, he heard a voice say, “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell.” He asked what he should do, and the voice told him to seek out Lambert, the bishop of Maastricht.

I like to think he killed and ate the Jesus Deer anyway. Maybe it even counted as communion.

Hubert went to Maastricht and sought out Lambert. He avoided the “douchebags in the name of Christ” tag by waiting for his wife to die before fully committing himself to the priesthood, giving away all his possessions to the poor. As you do.

In 708 CE, Hubert made the pilgrimage to Rome, but while he was gone Lambert was assassinated back in Maastricht. Luckily the Pope at the time had a vision of the death, and also a vision telling him to appoint Hubert Bishop of Maastricht. Convenient.

He spent the rest of his life trying very hard to win the martyr’s crown–ie, trying to get himself killed in battle–and converting the remaining pagans in the region. He had a vision of his own death in 727 or 728, as well as the foresight to be reciting the Our Father when it happened. I hear that wins you big points with the dude upstairs.

Now he’s the patron saint of hunters, even the ones who shoot moose from planes and can’t form coherent sentences, and his seal is also on a bottle of Jagermeister. Jagerbomb for Jesus every November 3rd.

Wikipedia

Catholic Encyclopedia

Patron Saints Index

Hubert, Patron Saint of Hunters

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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

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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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