Wednesday, August 15, 2012


          Banging on about real time appearances (or the lack thereof) of the Virgin Mary got me thinking about my favorite saints. These are saints I have made the acquaintance of, haphazardly, over the years, usually while doing other things. You should please not assume that I spend all my idle hours reading Butler's Lives of the Saints.

Saints Crispin and Crispian (AKA Crispinian)
          These saints are referenced in the very moving Saint Crispin's Day speech Henry V gives before the Battle of Agincourt in Shakespeare's Henry V.
          They are the patron saints of cobblers and shoemakers, and of course I have already mentioned my star-crossed love affair with shoes. Their feast day is October 25.

Saint Joan of Arc
         How can you not love a peasant girl who put on armor and against all odds led the French to victory over the English? How can you not feel the betrayal she suffered from Charles VII, the man she put on the French throne, when she was captured while trying to raise the siege of Compiègne, and handed over to the English without any royal efforts to save her? She was burned at the stake as a heretic for wearing men's clothing, which makes her obviously, in my book, the patron saint of cross-dressers*, as well as soldiers, and one of the patron saints of France. Her feast day is May 30.

Saint Martin of Tours.
He is not trying to stab the beggar; he is cutting his cloak in half
to share with the beggar.

           Another patron saint of France, also of the city of Tours, where K and I used to live. He has a very handsome basilica there, which houses his sarcophagus in its crypt. St. Martin was a well-respected bishop of Tours, which was then (as it is still) a well-travelled pilgrimage crossroads. His death, at the monastery he founded at Candes-St-Martin, has an element of farcical cloak-and-dagger whose charms I am helpless to resist: Because he died at the monastery there, the tiny town of Candes-St-Martin claimed his body, realizing how important economically it would be to them to become the pilgrimage destination for Martin, who was important and widely-known even before his sainthood. The city of Tours, whose bishop he was, and where his basilica was, also claimed Martin's body, but Candes-St-Martin refused to give it up. So, under the cover of darkness, a group of citizens of Tours made their way to Candes-St-Martin, 39 miles downriver, where Martin was lying in state in the monastery church. They snuck in to the church, grabbed his body and shoved it out through a window, and then sailed with it back upriver to Tours, where you can bet they posted a watch to prevent a the citizens of Candes-St-Martin from stealing it back until the viewing and funeral were over and they had Martin safely sealed in his sarcophagus.
          Saint-stealing. Even though it's not supposed to be funny it is, and I always imagine it as a Monty Python sketch.
          St. Martin is also the patron saint of beggars, innkeepers, and soldiers. His feast day is November 11—nicely appropriate, as November 11 is Veterans' Day.

Saint Caedmon
          Caedmon was a cowherd who wrote the oldest recorded Old English poem and became the father of English sacred poetry. Only a few lines of his poetry survive, and here they are:

Now let me praise the keeper of Heaven's kingdom,
The might of the Creator, and his thought,
The work of the Father of glory, how each of wonders
The Eternal Lord established in the beginning.
He first created for the sons of men
Heaven as a roof, the holy Creator,
Then Middle-earth the keeper of mankind,
The Eternal Lord, afterwards made,
The earth for men, the Almighty Lord.**

          Fans of J.R.R. Tolkein will notice the reference to Middle Earth in Caedmon's Hymn. Tolkein was a great medievalist who obviously knew his Caedmon.
          I can't find any patronage for St. Caedmon, but it stands to reason that he would be the patron saint of Hobbits. His feast day is February 11.

Saint Denis, as I first made his acquaintance.
          Yet another patron saint of France here, but that's not why I like him so much. 
          See his head? Notice how it isn't where it's supposed to be? This apparently happened a lot to martyrs of the early Catholic church, this having their heads lopped off. When St. Denis lost his, on top of Montmartre, he picked it up, tucked it under his arm, and walked down the hill to his burial place. 
          But wait—there's more! Apparently this practice was so common (the picking up of the head and walking off, not the lopping, although that would have had to have been pretty widespread as well) that these martyrs get their very own name—"cephalophore."
          Which I always have difficulty remembering, usually coming up with "cephalopod" instead.
          Which would explain why I believe that St. Denis is the patron saint of fried calamari.
          He is also invoked against headaches (go figure). His feast day is October 9.
*This is definitely not the official stance of the Catholic Church. I don't care. Cross-dressers need a patron saint as much as anyone else.

**There are other translations in existence. I like this one for its clarity, although at the expense of the alliterative verse form.

No comments:

Post a Comment