Friday, April 1, 2011

I have been trying to keep my hagiographic divagations to a minimum, but I cannot resist telling you about a certain saint whose feast we celebrate today. St Digitassa of Phalangeville experienced a very ordinary youth, ordinary for the child of 14th century traveling acrobats. She was uneducated, promiscuous and triple-jointed. She could tumble before she could walk, and by the time she was eleven she was performing multiple contortions balanced atop a phallus-shaped pillar. (Apparently in the 14th century traveling acrobats were expected to be bawdy, and there were no regulations about child pornography.)
Because of her talents, the nubile Digitassa generated a decent income for her parents. She was actively discouraged from seeking any other way of life. But even so, she was drawn to holiness, and the Blessed Virgin Mary in particular. She regularly disappeared from the family caravan and snuck into local churches, where she was entranced by the statues and stained glass windows. In her religious fervor she unconsciously bit her fingernails and even her cuticles, and when there was absolutely nothing left for her to chew on, she bit her toenails. Because she was triple-jointed, this was extremely easy for her, so easy that she was unaware of the spectacle she made in church.
One day in the tiny village of Phalangeville in the Ardennes she was rapturously nibbling her toenails in a dim corner of the Chapel of St Wandrille when the Abbé noticed her unusual behavior. He immediately reviled young Digitassa for desecrating the house of God and threw her out into the muddy square, forbidding her from ever entering the church again. She was bereft. She looked at her hands and feet and realized that all her fingers and toes were bleeding, and she swore at that moment that she would spend the rest of her life atoning for her misspent youth* and blasphemous behavior in the church. She stopped a beggar-woman on the square and traded clothes with her: the beggar-woman was happy to walk away with Digitassa’s brightly colored, form-fitting attire, and Digitassa trudged away in layers of ragged filthy skirts, dragging her bleeding toes in the mud.
And Digitassa did indeed spend her few remaining years going from village to village, in a kind of sanctified mirroring of her earlier wandering days, but this time everywhere she went she displayed her scarred fingers and toes to warn the people of the evils of acrobatics and nail-biting. In 1313 she had wandered back to Phalangeville, the scene of her conversion. After displaying her hideous fingers to the populace, she walked outside the village and fell asleep under a tree. She never woke up. When a young shepherd found her body the next morning, all her fingers and toes had been restored to perfection. He ran to town announcing the miracle, and since that day the shrine of St Digitassa has attracted manicurists from all over Christendom to Phalangeville, where they can view the preserved body of the saint inside the very chapel she was once ejected from.

* and you regular readers of SQD are surely well-aware of my devotion to saints with misspent youths.

1 comment:

Anne said...

Un beau p'tit poisson d'avril--merci, Christine! The patron saint of manicurists everywhere...