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October 26 Saints of the Day – Demetrius of Thessaloniki and Eata of Hexham

On this day in 1972, Henry Kissinger declared “Peace is at hand” in Vietnam. He also announced to his staff he was going to the restroom, and would be right back. He was right about two of these three things.

Demetrius of ThessalonikiGreat Martyr Demetrius of Thessaloniki (ca. 270 – 306) was a noble Macedonian (related to Alex the Megalo? sources don’t say) who rose to a high position in the Roman army. He was a Christian right off the bat (no bats were harmed in the production of this hagiography), and his preaching won many a pagan to the faith. Maximian, Caesar of the East but not Augustus (it’s confusing) threw a gala one day (after returning to Thessaloniki from a successful military campaign), including games and sacrifices and (doubtless) gyro vendors. Demetrius’ lack of participation was noted and reported.

While he languished in prison (a guarded bath-house), possibly in Sirmium (in modern day Serbia), Demetrius was visited by a young Christian named Nestor, who sought his blessing for a mano-a-mano with a giant named Lyæus. Nestor went on to slay the giant (just like David and Goliath! one source gushes), and was beheaded for his troubles when the emperor discovered (okay, who blabbed?) he had had help from Demetrius. Demetrius was impaled, and his servant Lupus was beheaded when he was caught working miracles with Demetrius’ robe.

All of this might have been forgotten outside of Thessaloniki (where for centuries they didn’t even have his relics, just a ciborium that acted as a cenotaph) (look ‘em up; I had to), had Demetrius not appeared during a battle in 586 to help defend Thessaloniki from the incursing Slavs. His bones were soon discovered (how they got there from Sirmium, no one will say), gushing myrrh, and he went on to become one of the most famous and beloved military martyr saints of the middle ages. He is often depicted in icons with St. George, even, and who else can claim that? Besides the dragon, I mean. Bits of Demetrius’ relics also reside on Athos, and in Astoria, Queens.

Eata of HexhamEata of Hexham (d. 686) was a monk, one of twelve Anglo-Saxon boys picked by St. Aidan of Lindisfarne as missionaries to the north of England. These were times, as our readers well know, of some tension between the Celts and the English, the former somewhat resenting the way the latter invaded their island and pushed them around, then tried to get them to change their religious practices as well. Your intrepid hagiographer refuses to choose sides between the God-pleasing Celts and the dirty stinking rotten filthy Anglo-Saxons, largely because of wonderful saints such as Eata.

After the Synod of Whitby (q.v.), which established various Roman (read: English (if you were Celtic at the time)) practices, Aidan’s successor Colmán returned to Ireland in disgust (or in a coracle; accounts vary), and Eata, then abbot of the monastery at that Melrose place, was picked to head the abbey on the Holy Island (that’s Lindisfarne, and vice versa). Cuthbert was prior (that’s the noun, not the adjective), but when Eata was pegged by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Theodore) to preside over the newly-formed Diocese of Bernicia (that’s the north half of Northumbria), he (Cuthbert) became abbot. When Bernicia was split into the dioceses of Lindisfarne and Hexham, Eata got Lindisfarne, and Cuthbert got Hexham (“six cured pig thighs”). (Dioceses in that area at that time seem to have split apart and rejoined faster than 1960s folk rock bands.)

The two friends remained as thick as thieves, travelling about their sees together to evangelize the pagans. Eventually, for reasons I couldn’t discern, they traded bishoprics. Eata lived two more years, died of dysentery, and was buried at Hexham Abbey. He was proclaimed a saint by popular acclaim by the many Northumbrians he had evangelized, who had seen his sanctity of life at close hand (and foot and arm and head, etc.). In 1113, when plans were made to move his remains to York, Eata appeared to the archbishop thereof in a dream, saying, “Don’t do that.” So they didn’t.


Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


Bibliography
This Day in History for 26th October
Demetrius of Thessaloniki (Orthodox Wiki) – Main source
Demetrius of Thessaloniki (Wikipedia)
Saint Demetrius of Sermium (SQPN)
Sirmium (Wikipedia)
Image of ivory icon of Demetrius (late X cent.) from Wikimedia is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license. This doesn’t mean the licensee gave me permission or anything. Had to say that, as much as it hurts.
Eata of Hexham (St. Patrick DC) — Main source
Eata of Hexham (Orthodox Wiki)
Eata of Hexham (Wikipedia)
Historical development of Church of England dioceses (Wikipedia)
Stained glass window of Eata from steatasatcham.co.uk (copyright unknown)

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About Your Intrepid Blogger

I'm a guy. I live in the Seattle-Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I'm vainly attempting to teach pre-algebra to 8th graders at a local prep school.

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