Thursday, March 17, 2011

Not green saints

There is no question about St Patrick's many good qualities, and I am personally in favor of coloring any food, but just in case you are inclined to broaden your horizons, and celebrate any other saint than Patrick today, here is selection.

You can salute the first century St Joseph of Arimathea, of whom “we know nothing authentically” outside of the gospels, but of whom there are numerous myths, fabulations, fabrications and legends. Among them: that he went from Gaul to Britain and the king gave him the island of Yniswitrin (later called Glastonbury) smack in the middle of a swamp, where Joseph built a church of wattles. Another story is that Joseph and his 150 companions all sailed from Gaul to Britain aboard the shirt of his son. Much later come the stories that Joseph brought with him 2 silver cruets (the Holy Grail) one containing Jesus’ blood, and the other his sweat.
Then we have St Agricola (6th century) best known for his simple and saintly life, for eating very little and standing when he did eat, and translating the relics of the recluse St Didier to his own cathedral at Chalon sur Saône.
I have already written about St Gertrude of Nivelles, whose own mother cut off her hair and shaped it like a monk’s tonsure, to ensure that no foolhearty man would think of marrying her. She has much to recommend her.
Nothing is known about the 12th century recluse St Diemut of Saint Gall.
St Jan of Sarkander was born in 1576 during the Protestant Reformation, educated in Prague, ordained in Austria. In the long and repulsive human history of torturing other humans, his ordeal was exceptional: he was tortured on the rack, branded with torches, racked some more, covered with pitch, sulfur, oil and feathers and then set on fire. And he had the terrible misfortune to survive and linger for a long painful month.
Comparisons are odious, really, but surely St Paul of Cyprus suffered as much on this day in 775, when he was crushed between two boards, torn with iron combs and then hung upside down over a slow fire and roasted to death, because he refused to trample a crucifix.
I am happy to report that Saint Withberga was born a princess in East Anglia, became a nun when her father was killed in battle, and died in her sleep in her convent in 743.

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