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Posts Tagged ‘Roman 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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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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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.

(more…)

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