How long has it been since I have written about a saint, any saint, in SQD? A very long time, and while there are some of my readers who have perhaps not bemoaned this hiatus, and while perhaps not a single one of you has woken in the middle of the night with a craving for a hagiographic tidbit, I am going to plunge back into the haloed fray.
This has nothing to do with the fact that on Sunday (21st) the Pope will canonize 6, or 7, depending on your source, new saints, thus rendering my compendious Lives of the Saints even more out-of-date than it already is.
It has more to do with the fact that today is the feast of René Goupil, a deaf French Jesuit who came to North America in 1639 to missionize among the Hurons, a group not known for their fondness for missionaries. However, it was the Iroquois, fierce enemies of the Hurons, who killed Goupil. The method was a tomahawk to the head, and on account of that dispatchment, he is the patron saint of anesthesiologists as well as patients who receive anesthesia.
This remarkable – is it literal or magical? – linkage-giving-rise-to-patronage made me want to suggest a patronage group for another of today’s saints: Peter of Alcantara. He was a 16th century Spanish friar and until today’s exciting discovery, I only knew him as a friend and mentor of Teresa of Avila. Early in his monkish career, Peter was put in charge of the refectory at his monastery. After six months of his regime, the other monks finally complained that they had not been given one piece of fruit in all that time. Peter replied that he hadn’t seen any fruit. A fellow monk directed his eyes just slightly upward, and there were grapes and apples and figs hanging in profusion.
Peter’s taste buds had not felt the lack. Monks, as we all know, have a great sense of humor, and once for fun they gave Peter a bowl of water with vinegar and salt and told him it was soup. He never knew the difference.
Based on this story, I am recommending to the Vatican that Peter be made the patron saint of school cafeteria workers who, no doubt, need all the help they can get.
St Frideswide, an 8th century virgin, is the patron saint of Oxford, England, but that is never here nor there. Her story gets interesting about 500 years after her death, when England was in the throes of reformist zeal. For those hundreds of years, Frideswide’s relics had been resting undisturbed in Oxford. Then in 1561 came Calfhill, of whom even the laconic Alban Butler writes: “[he]went to such trouble to desecrate them [Frideswide’s bones] that it would seem he must have been insane with fanaticism.” For the purposes of his nefarious desecration, Calfhill dug up the bones of an apostate nun (She had married a friar) and mixed them up with the bones of the virginal Frideswide, and then reburied the mélange back in the church.
This performance piece was written up in Latin and German, and given the rubric: “Here lies Religion with Superstition.” History does not tell us what Calfhill did with the rest of his life, nor the manner of his death.