On this date in 1977, “Star Wars” (later retitled “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”) was released in theaters. Movie-goers at the time mistook it for a light-hearted adventure story, little suspecting the behemoth it would become. Even the action figures, special Happy Meals, and commemorative drinking glasses failed to tip them off.
Urban I, Pope of Rome (d. 230), may have been a martyr, or may have died of natural causes. He is thought to be the originator of a decree that donations to the Church could only be spent on ecclesiastical needs, the common good of the Christian community, or the poor. This might lead one to wonder what else they could possibly spend money on, if one didn’t have access to cable news or the Internet. His reign was a time of peace for the church, and it grew rapidly. Little else is known about his life, although my sources are united in rejecting the story that he had silver furnishings made for the churches of Rome, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a great relief. The sources also agree that there was a great disagreement as to where Urban was buried, with the rival catacombs of Praetextatus and St. Callistus each claiming the honor. “See the Graves of the Great Saints” itineraries from the seventh century (I had no idea there were such things) put him in Praetextatus. Later a sarcophagus lid marked “Urban” and a burial directory from St. Callistus mentioning an Urban turned up, which swayed a lot of scholars, until one of them noticed that the name “Urban” was in the directory section for foreign bishops, not popes. The controversy doubtless still rages somewhere. If I knew where, I would definitely strike it off my “places to see before I die” bucket list.
Aldhelm of Sherborne (ca. 640 – 709), born in Wessex, is called the first English librarian due to his extensive reading. (The claim that he invented the Aldhelm Decimal System must be discounted, owing to the fact that decimal fractions weren’t introduced into Europe until the sixteenth century.) Studying first at Malmesbury, then under Adrian and Theodore at Canterbury, he learned Hebrew, Greek, Latin, law, astronomy, astrology, reckoning, and “the difficulties of the calendar” (a subject well known to twenty-first century Orthodox). In time he returned to Malmesbury as abbot, and it became a center of learning, drawing scholars from England, Ireland, and other lands.
He could play every musical instrument then extant (in England, anyway), and composed many songs and poems in both English and Latin, as well as treatises of various sorts. Sadly none of his English songs or poems survive. He loved wordplay, especially in Latin (it is said that Latin “went to his head” like wine), and used humor and folly in his writings and in his ministry. King Alfred records that when he (Al) complained that people weren’t coming to weekly Mass, Aldhelm stood on a bridge and sang pop tunes to the passersby, interspersed with his own comic verse, hymns, selections from the gospels, and “bits of clowning.” He always drew a crowd, and thus gently imparted some spiritual teachings to the people. (Regular readers of the Onion Dome will not need to be told that this is my kind of saint!) We aren’t told whether Sunday attendance went up as a result.
He went on to become bishop, although sadly my sources don’t say just how serious he was after that. One story tells that during the building of a church in Malmesbury, a beam was cut too short, but when Aldhelm prayed over it, it grew to the right length. He did some political stuff too, and was at the Council of Whitby, or some other council. He died in Doulting while on a tour of the parishes of his diocese. His body was taken back to Malmesbury (where it remains), and every time the procession stopped for the night, his friend and fellow bishop Egwin put up a roadside cross.
Ridiculously, he is not the patron saint of sawmills or of buskers, but his prayers are invoked to relieve headaches.
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.
May 25 (Wikipedia)
Pope Urban I (Wikipedia) – Main source
Pope Urban I (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Aldhelm of Sherborne (St. Patrick DC) – Main source
Saint Aldhelm of Sherborne (SQPN)
St. Aldhelm (Catholic Encyclopedia)
On this date in 1830, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by Sarah Josepha Hale was published. Some say she got fleeced by her publishers; others that she snowed them.
Vincent of Lérins (d. ca. 445) was definitely from Gaul, and may or may not have been of noble birth. He served for a time in the military, then fled the “service of the world” to become a monk at the island monastery of Lérins off the south coast of Gaul. At some point he was ordained a priest. St. Eucherius (who should know) refers to him as holy, eloquent, and knowledgeable, and Prosper (a friend of Augustine) (who may or may not know) refers to him as a Semipelagian. This comes from a smack-down Prosper gave to a treatise written by somebody named Vincent (some authorities think it was some other Vincent). At any rate everybody knows that south Gaul was simply crawling with Semipelagians at the time (for values of “everybody” approximating “the Catholic Encyclopedia”).
What we do have is his justly famous Commonitory (or “reminder”). This is something that Vincent says he jotted down to refresh his memory on how to determine true doctrines from false ones. It was also apparently to help him remember his pseudonym, because its noble, Pauline, 133-word (in English) first sentence starts, “I, Peregrinus.” He repeats it again near the middle of the sentence, apparently having temporarily forgotten. The Commonitory as we now have it runs about 19,000 words, although it purports to be only half of the original work. Yet, he says, he cut it short lest he be “wearied by prolixity.” Clearly he is a sturdier man than I.
What is he reminding himself of, already? I hear you cry. In order to judge rightly in matters of doctrine, he says, we should apply a threefold rule, and hold to those doctrines that have been held from antiquity (“always”), in all places (“everywhere”), and by all (or the greater majority) of teachers. He then goes on to give multiple examples of heretics who taught something that would be excluded by this handy rule of thumb, including Nestorius, Pelagius, Origen, Tertullian, and Apollonius. Interestingly Augustine is not in this list, nor was I able to find any mention of him in the Commonitory. Hmm. Maybe that’s why part two is missing.
Lanfranc of Canterbury (1005 – 1089) was, unlike John Fogarty, a senator’s son. He went to law school and practiced for a time as a lawyer, but he got over it, and became a monk at Bec. While there he got into political trouble for condemning the marriage of William of Normandy (yes, that William of Normandy) to Matilda of Flanders. Even the Pope got involved in that one, but nobody today remembers why it was so important that these two lovebirds (and they appear to have been rather smitten, and to have remained so, political as their marriage was) shouldn’t wed. William nearly exiled him, but they got over it and became fast friends. Lanfranc even secured a papal override for the marriage prohibition, although it came many years after it was moot.
Crossing the storm-tossed English Channel with the Conqueror, Lanfranc became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1070. Always an advocate of the usurper — heh, we mean, rightful king of the British lands — he even served as regent for a time and crushed a rebellion. He was responsible for bringing the Archbishop of York under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and placed many Norman bishops in the island’s sees, some of whom were actually better suited to the office than the Englishmen ejected — erm, allowed to retire — to make room for them.
According to my source, Lanfranc has always been called “Blessed” (in that special sense of “nearly a full-fledged saint”), but there is no record of a cultus forming around him. But then, given the political situation at the time, this is perhaps not astounding. I could not discover any patronage, but perhaps we can consider him the patron of political yet amorous royal marriages that are first prohibited then blessed by the pope. Okay, maybe not.
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.
May 24 (Wikipedia)
Mary Had a Little Lamb (Wikipedia)
St. Patrick Church Saints of the Day May 24. 1998 – Main source for both saints
St. Vincent of Lérins (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Commonitory (Catholic Encyclopedia)
William the Conqueror (Wikipedia)
On this date in 1911, the New York Public Library was dedicated. That’s true. I’m not lion.
Michael “the Black-Robed” of St Sava Monastery (IX cent.) was born in Edessa, and after distributing all his worldly goods to the poor, wandered off to Jerusalem, then under “Mohammedan” (how often do they update these websites?) control. He settled into St. Sava’s Monastery, living a life so quiet that the hagiographers have nothing to say about it until a certain fateful day. On that day they sent him to Jerusalem to sell “goods,” presumably produced by the monks to earn their living. (Tapestries? Woven baskets? Tofu pemmican? Drat these sources!) At any rate the goods were well-made and fine, and pleased Empress Seida’s eunuch so much that he took Michael back to the palace, so he could present them in person.
The empress took a liking to Michael, if you get my drift, and attempted to lead him into sin (which sin? if you have to ask…). When this didn’t work she got downright unhappy, and ordered him beaten with rods, then brought before the emperor on charges of being an enemy to Islam.
The emperor grilled him (metaphorically in this case, although that’s not always the case), and implored him to convert to Islam. “Look,” Michael said, “let’s quit the pussyfooting around” (my interpolation). “Either let me go back to my monastery, or admit Jesus is Lord and get baptized, or just kill me so I can go to meet him.”
“Here, have a refreshing drink,” the emperor said, handing Michael a cup laced with poison. “Don’t mind if I do,” said Michael, drinking the draught and coming to no harm at all. Now it was the emperor’s turn to be unhappy, and he ordered Michael beheaded. The monks from St. Sava’s came and collected the body, and Daniel, igumen of the Kievan Caves, saw the holy martyr’s relics on a visit to Jerusalem some 300 years later.
But why, I hear you cry, is he called “black-robed”? I wish I could tell you.
Desiderius of Vienne (d. ca. 608) was born in Autun, France, and if that’s the worst thing you can say about somebody, they’ve led a good life. He was educated in Vienne (which is not Vienna, in case you were confused — I was). He became bishop there, and set about to calling to task both the clergy and the royalty, who had become rather lax, for values of “lax” that you don’t share with the grandkids. Of the clergy’s reaction, I have no reports, but the royalty were not amused. Queen Brunhildis (or Brunehaut), whom he accused (no doubt accurately) of incest and other things, sought revenge by writing to the pope (Gregory the Great) that Desiderius had been teaching pagan works to the priests (he was lecturing on Latin grammar from classical works). Gregory wrote the bishop telling him to knock it off, and also asking him to put up Augustine (who would soon be called “of Canterbury”) on his way through town.
Desiderius was temporarily banished (the timing here is confusing – did he not put up Augustine? did some further letter come from the pope?), but when Gregory finally wised up to Brunhidis’ lies, Desiderius was restored, and began immediately to call people onto the rug for what they did under the duvet, including Brunhildis’ grandson, King Thierry (II, for those keeping score) of Burgundy. In a fit of projection, Thierry accused Desiderius of an improper relationship (with a lady named Justa), and once again the bishop was exiled. He returned having apparently not learned his lesson, for he once again rebuked Thierry for his shouldn’t-ottas. He was taken into custody by a contingent of soldiers, three of whom took it upon themselves to relieve him of his life (via either strangling or stoning). The place this took place is now called St.-Didier-de-Charalaine. His relics have managed to remain in Vienne, which is admirable — you know how peripatetic some relics can be. His prayers are invoked against fever. I wish I could add, “and against teachers of Latin grammar.”
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.
May 23 (Wikipedia)
Martyr Michael the Black-Robed of St Sava Monastery – Main source
Desiderius of Vienne (St. Patrick DC) – Main source
Desiderius of Vienne (Wikipedia)
On this date in 1980, Namco released the highly-influential arcade game Pac-Man. Millions of people can still be brought to ecstasy or agony when they hear the familiar “wocka-wocka-wocka” sound.
Basiliscus of Comana (d. 308) was arrested with his brothers, but while they were killed, he was sent off to prison in Comana. In a vision he was promised divine help, but told he’d die a martyr anyway. He asked his guards to let him go say goodbye to his family, and knowing his honesty and miracle-working reputation, they gave him a three-day pass. He was just on his way back when a detachment of soldiers, sent by the enraged governor (“you let him what?”), was sent to fetch him. They draped him with chains, nailed shoes onto his feet, and marched him back to Comana.
Stopping for a drink in the heat of the afternoon, the soldiers went into a house (owned by a woman named Troana, although it’s not clear why that matters) and left Basiliscus tied to a tree out front. He prayed, and there was an earthquake, after which a spring of water gushed up where he could drink from it. The house emptied as all came to see what had happened. Somewhat unnerved, the soldiers set Basiliscus free, and he healed a number of sick people from the local village who came to see the man who made an earthquake.
Eventually he ended up before the governor, who predictably ordered him to offer a sacrifice to the pagan gods. “My sacrifice is praise and thanksgiving to the true God,” Basiliscus said. Unimpressed, the governor had him dragged to the local temple, but just as they arrove, it was struck by lightning and obliterated. The governor then flew into another of his trademark blind rages and ordered the saint beheaded, and his remains tossed into the river. They were soon after fished out and respectfully interred, and a church was eventually built to house them. It is said that the saint appeared to John Chrysostom shortly before his death, telling him, “Tomorrow we shall be together.” We are not told what John replied. Basiliscus’ relics and prayers have been associated with many healings.
Rita (Margarita) of Cascia (1381 – 1457) wanted to join an Augustinian convent, but bowed to her elderly parents’ wishes and married at age 12. Her husband was “cruel and brutal,” and my source says everybody in the district knew it. She put up with him for 18 years, at which point he was murdered, to the regret of few. Her sons, however, determined to get revenge, but Rita begged them not to, and they obeyed her. The source doesn’t call this is the first of her miracles, so she must have done some previously.
When her sons died, she applied for admission at the closest Augustinian convent, but they turned her down — ostensibly because she wasn’t a virgin, but one source says relatives of her husband’s murderers were sisters there. Sex or politics: you make the call. She applied a few more times, then bypassed the abbess and sent her application straight to Augustine himself, as well as two other saints, just to be safe. The next morning the nuns awoke and found her in the middle of the locked convent, looking like nothing at all had happened. She was admitted to the sisterhood.
As a nun she was severe in her self-mortification, and efficacious in her prayers. Once, after she heard a sermon on our Lord’s crown of thorns, she felt a sharp pain in her forehead, and over the next few days an inexplicable wound opened up there. Except for one brief respite, it remained with her until her death. When that was near, a visitor asked if there was anything she could get her. “A rose from my family’s estate,” said Rita. It was January, but out of love for Rita the visitor went to the estate and, lo! a rose was there blooming.
She is the patroness of people in abusive marriages, and of lost causes.
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.
May 22 (Wikipedia)
Martyr Basiliscus the Bishop of Comana –Main source
Saint Rita of Cascia (SQPN) – Main source
Rita (Margarita) of Cascia (St. Patrick DC)
St. Rita of Cascia (Catholic Encyclopedia)