A long time ago, at the dawn on the Internet era, there was a very funny cartoon in the New Yorker featuring a dog at a computer and the caption: On the Internet no one knows you’re a dog.
Today I would amend that: On the internet (and providing you turn off the video monitor) no one knows your face is evidencing a weird and disconcerting allergic reaction to some as yet unidentified aspect of the universe, with blotches, bloating and itching. On the Internet you can still look like that 1985 picture of you in a red bathing suit reclining near a Costa Rican waterfall.
Over here, across the Internet, my face is prickly and puffy and none of the normal remedies (Benadryl, eye of Newt, bee stings, St Ulphia’s Cream, arnica) are doing any good. I have no idea why my face is doing this, but when I think about it too much – and I am thinking about far too much – I cannot help but think this is the outer manifestation of my inner prickliness and puffiness. I must mend my ways, but what ways shall I mend?
I checked out the patron saints of skin rashes and skin diseases, and they are a good bunch.
St Anthony the Abbott, anchorite of Egypt, (251-356). The rational for his patronage goes thus: In art he is generally represented with a bell, a book, and pig by his side. Originally the pig denoted the Devil, with whom Anthony had many tussles as he prayed out there in the desert, and Anthony always got the better of the Evil One. But the meaning changed in the 12th century when the Hospital Brothers of Saint Anthony used to allow the poor people to graze their pigs gratis upon the monastery’s acorns. And since skin diseases were often treated with poultices of pork fat, to alleviate itchiness and reduce inflammation, the connection was made between St Anthony and skin disease. For extra credit, here is a good word to know: tantony. A tantony pig is the runt of the litter, named for the saint.
Yet another confusing aspect of Saint Anthony the Abbott, is that he is not the St Anthony I thought he was. St Anthony was my beloved grandmother, Bonne Maman’s favorite saint; she invoked him almost hourly to find lost objects. But the Anthony of Lost Objects is not the Anthony of Egypt, which confused me as a child since she had lived in Egypt for so long. The Anthony she prayed to never left Italy.
Anthony the Abbot died at the respectable age of 105, and Butler informs us that not one tooth “was lost or loosened.”
Pisanello’s Madonna with St Anthony Abbott and St George. The pig at St Anthony’s side looks more like a boar to me, but what do I know?
Saint George is another patron of skin diseases, but I think we dealt with him, and his dragon slaughter, yesterday.
So we shall move on to St Marculf, the renowned missionary to those pagan Gauls. There is no mention of intimacy with skin rashes in his lifetime (Unless you count the Miracle of Snail Slime). But later French kings, otherwise known for their clean living, found that touching St Marculf’s relics, particularly the ulna bones, could cure their scrofula, also known as The King’s Evil. (Scrofula is a kind of TB with some very unattractive symptoms; it is the root of the excellent adjective, Scrofulous.)
St Peregrine Laziosi (1260 – 1345) was so anti-church in his youth that during a demonstration he hit the papal nuncio (later to be St Philip Benizi); Philip turned the other cheek and Bam! – Peregrine was converted. In order to do atone for his misdeeds, he spent 30 years working in silence, solitude and standing. The only time he spoke was to preach. We don’t know whether or not it was on account of the constant standing, but Peregrine did develop cancer of the foot. The night before his scheduled amputation, he had a vision of Jesus touching the diseased area, and in the morning he was cured.
The only patron saint I would have guessed is St Roch (1295-1327), because he is often represented lifting his robes to display his plague-ulcerated leg, with his faithful dog by his side.
Roch contracted the plague while ministering to the afflicted and then went into the forest to die. He survived because a dog brought him food and gave him solace. Unfortunately, when Roch recovered and returned to Montpelier, he was arrested as a spy and jailed for 5 years. It is not said what happened to the dog while Roch languished in prison. We do know that an angel brought Roch food while he was incarcerated, but he still died. Draw your own conclusions.
St Roch with his dog
As my sainted mother would say when confronted with a sumptuous dessert tray: “L’embarras du choix.”