Thursday, July 24, 2008

All the Saint Christinas

I feel confident in saying – and I have it on good authority – that I was named for none of the Saint Christina’s who are celebrated today.

But that doesn’t make me less interested in them, weird and distressed as they are or were.

Saints Christina of Tyre, of Bolsena and The Astonishing are all celebrated today. Given the fact that the C’s of Tyre and Bolsena are probably one and the same, a legend reshaped and retold, it makes sense that they share the day. Why they share the day with Christina the Astonishing, whose existence is verifiable, if astonishing, is merely random.

Both Christina of Tyre and she of Bolsena were third century Christians with pagan parents, and in both cases they are known for their elaborate and extravagant and yes - highly unbelievable – martyrdoms. Their tortures included – but are not limited to:
– She was tossed into a lake with a millstone tied round her neck (see painting above of St C standing on said millstone) and miraculously surviving
– Her tongue was cut out but she kept preaching, and in fact, got better at it. She threw the severed tongue at her judge, who was then blinded in one eye.
– Her flesh was torn out with hooks and she picked up a piece and threw it at the judge. (See above.)
– She was thrown into a furnace and remained there, unharmed, for five days.
– She was placed in a tub of boiling pitch and oil with four men to fan the flames and rock the pot; Christina was as comfortable there as in her cradle.

You get the idea. They say she was done in, finally, by an arrow to the heart. Or through her neck.

This all happened, to the extent it happened at all, during the reign of Diocletian, whose palace in Split, in what is now Croatia, my neighbor, Dawn, will be visiting sometime next week, and I am hoping very much for a postcard.

Christina the Astonishing, a 13th century Belgium orphan, was thought to have died. Then at her funeral mass she regained consciousness and levitated to the roof of the church, refusing to come down until the mass was over. (It doesn’t do to think too hard about all the possibilities for premature burial in the good old days.) Following that performance she lived for the next few years in abject poverty and apparent derangement. She found the smell of sinful humans so offensive that she preferred to stick her head in ovens. She levitated on several more occasions. But after a while she calmed down, and lived to a ripe old age in a convent, revered by all.

I am assured that my parents had none of these ladies in mind when they named me Christine. But they will not tell me who or what they did have in mind.

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