Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Not Saint Patrick's Day

Notice the mouse at her feet.
You would have to be color blind, live in a cave, or be my mother not to know that today is Saint Patrick’s Day. And however you feel about green beer and a forest’s worth of paper cutout green shamrocks, you probably have some residual fond feeling for the patron saint of Ireland.

But he’s not the only saint you could celebrate today. Imagine a parade in honor of Saint Gertrude of Nivelles, the patron saint of sufferers of suriphobia (also known as musophobia or murophobia), which is fear of rats and mice. She is also invoked against insanity, and for help in obtaining lodging while traveling. Imagine the floats. Imagine the spectators rushing off in all directions as the rodent marching bands make their way down Fifth Avenue.
Gertrude came by her sainthood the old-fashioned way, that is, from her family. Her parents, Pepin and Ida, were both Blesseds. Her sister Begga and her niece Wilfetrudis were both saints. She was born in AD 626 and died 33 years later, having worn herself out with fasting and wearing hair shirts. There is no satisfactory explanation of her connection to mice and rats. As recently as 1822 when there was a plague of field mice, the peasants brought little gold and silver mice to her shrine in Cologne.

What's with all the mice?
I had always been told that peas should be planted on Saint Patrick’s Day, but it seems in this case he is stealing Gertrude’s thunder. It is her feast day that is regarded – at least in obscure parts of Belgium – as the beginning of the gardening season.

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