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February 11 Saints of the Day – Theodora the Empress and Cædmon

Theodora the EmpressOn this day in 1942, the first gold record was presented to Glenn Miller for “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” This was about a week after he won an award from the Shinola company for the condition of his shoes.

Our eastern saint today is Theodora the Empress (d. 867). After the restoration of icons in 787, iconoclasm once again raised its undepicted head in 814 (or 815) under Emperor Leo V. It was continued by his successor Michael II, who urged more lenience on the iconodules than on his predecessor, in whose murder he is implicated. Michael’s successor, Theophilus, got tough on the iconodules, and executed his dad’s co-conspirators, just to demonstrate his dedication to justice.

Theophilus was the husband of today’s saint, Theodora. When he died, his son Michael III (whom we’ve met), was still a lad, and Theodora became regent. She called the Council of Constantinople in 843, and asked for icons to be reinstated, on the condition that her husband not be censured. (He recanted of his iconoclasm on his deathbed, she said. Okay.) The assembled bishops knew a good deal when they saw one. Theodora then led a procession of icons through the streets of the capital on the first Sunday of Lent (wouldn’t you?), and the Orthodox have been celebrating that Sunday as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” (or, more boringly, “Sunday of Orthodoxy”) ever since. She was eventually exiled by her son to a monastery (such a good lad), where she died in peace. Thus she rightfully won the title, “Theodora the Restorer (of Icons).” (None of our sources mention a magic backpack or a pet monkey.)

CaedmonOur western saint today is Caedmon (d. ca. 681). In his latter years (which are all we know about), he served as cowherd for the great Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire (ruined by Henry VIII, dispraise be unto him). Apparently at the time it was the fashion to have shindigs where people passed the harp, each in turn singing a ditty. Caedmon was ashamed of his own voice and his lack of skill in either making or remembering verse, so when it looked close to being his turn, he’d skip out and go home. (“Uh, I think I left something on the, um, pasture.”) After one particular party of this sort (or, strictly speaking, in the middle of one particular party of this sort), he went home to sleep in the barn, and had a strange dream: a man stood before him and asked for a song. “But I can’t sing,” said Caedmon, “and besides I don’t know any songs.” “Piffle,” said the man (or the Anglo-Saxon equivalent). “What shall I sing about?” asked the saint. “The creation of the world,” came the answer. And Caedmon sang a beautiful song, much to his surprise.

When he awoke he told his supervisor, who ushered him into see Abbess (St.) Hilda (whom we’ll meet on June 23). He sang his song to her and her counselors, and all agreed that he had received a miraculous gift, and persuaded him to become a monk (monk or cowherd? twist my arm). Since he was unable to read, the other monks would read a Bible story to him, and he would go to bed and awake with a new-minted song about it, each more beautiful than the last. In this way, we are told, he covered the whole of the Scriptures in song (this is Bede telling the story, so there might be just a leeetle exaggeration). One day he had a premonition that he was soon to die, and checked himself into the hospice. There he called for his brother monks and asked if they had anything against him. “What? No, of course not,” they all said, and he assured them of the same. He received the Sacrament, and died in peace.

Sadly only the aforementioned song (“Caedmon’s Hymn”) survives, scribbled in the margins of various manuscripts of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. It is the oldest surviving poem in (Old) English, and among the oldest preserved alliterative verse in any Germanic language. Tolkien fans will perhaps be amused to learn that the poem contains the word “middungeard” — Middle Earth.

February 11 (Wikipedia)
Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (book on paper) — Main source
Cædmon (Wikipedia)
Cædmon’s Hymn (Wikipedia)
A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary
Ford & Ford. Marriage As a Path to Holiness: Lives of Married Saints (book on paper) — Main source
Theodora (9th century empress) (Orthodox Wiki)
Theophilus the Iconoclast (Orthodox Wiki)
Michael II (Wikipedia)
Byzantine Iconoclasm (Wikipedia)
Theophilos (emperor) (Wikipedia)

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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