Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lydwina of Schiedam

Among the many strange saints you will encounter, one of the strangest -and saddest - is Lydwina of Schiedam (1380—1433)

She is the patron saint of ice skaters, and perhaps I have her to thank for the occasion of falling through the ice several years ago (though at the time I attributed it to a post-divorce tendency to skate on thin ice), but I would not recommend her to the Sonia Henie’s out there. It was an ice skating adventure that precipitated one of the most miserable lives imaginable. During the particularly cold winter of 1395-96 , and while across the ocean Aztec astronomers were viewing the Transit of Venus, Lydwina fell while skating on a frozen Dutch canal and broke a rib. This was the beginning of a lifetime of illness and pain, a lifetime that would include- but was not limited to – vomiting, spasms, toothache, gangrene, headaches, dropsy, neuritis, gravel (gout? kidney stones?), syncope of the heart, blindness in one eye, and a fissure extending from the top of her forehead to the middle of her nose. Lydwina’s condition was so gag-inducing that even Alban Butler – who is not known for shirking the gruesome details of a martyrdom – writes of the revolting symptoms: “The full description of which we will spare the reader.” She spent the remainder of her life on a plank, often fasting for years at a time, confounding the medical authorities, and having visions.
Strange too is the biography of Lydwina by J.K. Huysmans, the decadent & erudite French writer not normally associated with suffering females; but then, who associates Mark Twain with Joan of Arc? (I do.) Huysman’s most famous book, À Rebours, features an all-black meal of caviar, squid ink and black pearls, served on ebony plates by naked Negresses. (At least that is how I remember it.)

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