Saturday, June 21, 2008

The test of a true cephalophore

The Saint Alban of Mainz we celebrate today may or may not be a true cephalophore.
Sometime in the fifth century, Alban traveled north from Greece or Albania (take your pick) with Ursus. Ursus was killed in the Alps, so Alban traveled alone to Mainz, where he proved to be an excellent battler against heresy. So much so that when the Vandals (capital V) attacked they made a point of decapitating Alban, thereby assuring his claim to the crown of martyrdom.

And why the doubt as to Alban being a cephalophore? Because the inscription describing his head-bearing comes four centuries later, arguably too late for any reliable witnesses. And it is well known that the iconography of many decapitated saints portrays them carrying their heads in their hands, more to underscore their headlessness than to accurately portray what happened to that head after being removed from its body.

I should, but I cannot, forgo mentioning on this day Saint Méen, or Mewan, or Mevannus or even Main (born in Wales, holy in Brittany), a patron saint invoked against skin diseases. Throughout the middle ages he was so popular that not only is a certain cutaneous trouble named St Meén’s Evil for him, but a variety of the curative plant scabious is called l’herbe de St Main, also for him.
There is no evidence that he himself either suffered from skin diseases or cured them, rather that the pilgrims who bathed in any of his many holy wells found comfort there.

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