Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nothing is verifiable

Here is what I love, cannot help loving, and am inexorably drawn to, about hagiography: As Alban Butler writes, re Saint Sebald, “His biography is of uncertain date, full of anachronisms and inconsistencies.”

What you need to know about Saint Sebald is the Miracle of the Icicles. One snowy night in Bavaria, somewhere in the Dark Ages, also known as the Little Ice Age (see above reference to uncertainty) Sebald stopped for shelter in a poor peasant’s cottage, but found it to be as cold inside as out because the poor man’s fire was almost dead. And there was no more firewood. So resourceful Sebald brought in a bundle of long icicles he found hanging from the eaves. He threw the icicles onto the embers and voila! They turned miraculously into firewood. Warmth ensued.

There are other miracles. My favorite is the one whereby the holy Sebald chastised a mocker (little did he know with whom he mocked) by causing the earth to open up beneath him and swallow him whole. This doesn't strike me as miracle one would associate with holiness.

As for Saint Mochta, a sixth century contemporary of Saint Patrick, he miraculously calmed the stormy seas and learned to write from an angel. But Mochta had a skeptical side. When he expressed to Patrick his doubts about the longevity claimed for certain antediluvian patriarchs, Patrick sentenced Mochta to live for 300 years. So there.

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