Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It's her day again, Christina the Astonishing

I could not let today slide into tomorrow without noting that it - this day, July 24 - is the feast of Saint Christina the Astonishing. She is not an official saint, but unlike many official saints, she did actually exist.
She was born in 1150 in the region of Liège, which until September 1946 was written as Liége. It is unknown, at least to me, why the change was made from acute to grave. More recently, King Albert II (“Love-Daddy”) of Belgium was in Liège bidding fond farewell to his subjects on the eve of his abdication.
Back in the 12th century, Christina was an orphaned peasant girl with pathological tendencies. At the age of 22, she appeared to die, but most likely had a cataleptic fit. As was the normal course of events, her open coffin was taken to the church for the requiem mass; but just after the singing of the Agnus Dei, Christina sat up in her coffin and soared to the rafters “like a bird” and stayed there for the rest of the mass. All the mourners fled except for her sister, who stayed right until the end. With some cajoling, the priest then persuaded Christina to come down. She told him that she had in fact been dead, and had visited Hell, where she saw many friends, and Purgatory, where she saw many more friends. She also went to Heaven but apparently knew no one there. Christina chose to return to earth in order to liberate the purgatorial souls through her prayers. But back on earth she was often forced into uncomfortable situations in order to get away from the terrible smell of humans: she climbed trees, crawled into ovens, and dove into freezing water. The tales of her adventures (escaping from chains, praying on one foot atop a hurdle, surviving a millrace) and misadventures are legion, and remarkably well documented for the era. After several years of living on the edge, she climbed into a baptismal font and sat in the water, and moved into a convent and lived to be 74.
Despite her not being an official saint, Christina is variously categorized with the Levitating Saints and the Epileptic Saints. Putting saints into categories is something I find appealing. Other categories of interest are Virgin-Mystics, Virgin-Anorexics, Virgin-Hysterics, Married-Couples-who-Never-Consummate-Their-Marriage, Saints who Compiled Alphabets and/or Dictionaries of Hitherto Undocumented Languages, Saints Related to Other Saints, Bilocating Saints and my all-time favorite, the Cephalophores.

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