Some of the things I most appreciate about Alban Butler, writer of Butler’s Lives of the Saints & source of much of my entertainment, are his incredulity, his withholding of that willing suspension of disbelief in the face of impossible or ridiculous, and his voice of reason while describing the most appalling or improbable acts.
Today, for instance.
Having told us, regarding saints Faustinus and Jovita, that “all the incidents of their reputed “acts” are of doubtful authority”, he goes on to shore up this doubt: “A single feature may be cited to illustrate the extravagance which characterizes these hagiographical romances. When taken to Rome and Naples the martyrs are represented as having baptized …191,128 persons.” That is more people than there are, at this very minute, in Salt Lake City or Providence, Rhode Island or even Huntsville, Alabama, whose population is lately reduced.
But I really wanted to share this bit about Saint Walfrid*, a 9th Italian abbot. After a happy marriage that produced 5 sons and a daughter, Walfrid and his wife decided they preferred to enter the monastery and convent. Along with Walfrid came his favorite son, Gimfrid. But just as he was about to make his final vows, Gimfrid got cold feet and fled the abbey. Walfrid prayed for his son’s swift return, and when that didn’t happen he prayed to God to send Gimfrid a sign to forever after remind him of his folly and be a warning for the rest of life.
The same day Gimfrid was found and brought back to the abbey, with the middle finger of his right hand so mutilated that he could never use it again.
Butler does not tell us what Gimfrid was doing that so trashed his middle finger, but we do learn that he never left the abbey again.
*Not to be confused with the Brother Walfrid who founded the Celtic Football Club in 1888.