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February 17 Saints of the Day – Finan of Lindisfarne and Silvinus

Finan of LindisfarneOn this day in 1972, total sales of the Volkswagen Beetle broke the record long held by the Ford Model T. Similar to the older car, the Beetle came in any color you wanted, as long as it was underpowered.

Look eastward today to see the veneration of Finan of Lindisfarne (d. 661). (Westerners either venerate him today or on the ninth; it can be hard to tell which date is the right one if there is more than one. Drat their recurring calendar reforms!)

Finan was an Irish monk at Iona, who waded (swam, boated, flew, or something) ashore and became the successor of Aidan (Aug. 31) as bishop of Lindisfarne. (Which is also an island, come to think of it.) An able administrator, he founded many churches and monasteries, including the famous double-monastery at Whitby, also known (to people with green blood and other Celtic types) as Streoneshalh. He baptized Prince Peada of the Middle Angles (between 30° and 60°), and also the East Saxons (all of them? sources can be so confusing). He built a beautiful cathedral on the Holy Island in the “Irish” style, which is to say made of timbers, and with a thatched roof. One of his successors tore off the thatch and replaced it with lead sheeting. We hope it didn’t drip directly into the vegetable beds.

Finan is also known as the opponent of Ronan, a giant pteranodon from Tokyo – oops, sorry, that’s RoDan. RoNan was another Irish monk, albeit one who championed the new “Roman” way of calculating the date of Easter, whereas Finan our hero defended the traditional or “Celtic” method. Which is a weird thing to call it when before the sixth century it was everybody’s method, but there you are. Bede says that the more Ronan argued, the more Finan dug in his heels. You’d think they were Irishmen. Both were made saints, but the traditionalist cause was ultimately defeated at the Council of Whitby, some three years after Finan died. Bede, while admitting Finan was a godly and holy man, saw this as a triumph of truth and right-thinking (the winners write history), but since Finan is our Orthodox saint today, we don’t have to agree. Some say that the fight was about more than fixing the date of the Feast, but was also something of a proxy for the overwhelming of the Celtic cultures of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons. In which case (as the Catholic Encyclopedia hints with unexpected sympathy), it was probably a mercy that Finan didn’t live to see it. The Irish monks at Lindisfarne who did live to see it moved back to Iona (their “hmpf” still echoes down the centuries).

Silvinus' CrossLook westward today to see the veneration of Silvinus (d. 717), born either in Belgium (according to the Belgians) or Toulouse (according to the Toulousy). He spent his youth, we are told, in the courts of Childric II (king, at various times, of Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy) and Thierry III (king, at various times, of Neustria (including Burgundy) and Austrasia). This will be on the test. He left his bride on the eve of the altar and caught a flight to Rome, with a layover in Jerusalem (clearly he flew Delta). In Rome he was made a bishop-without-portfoloio, and sent to evangelize the pagans who were hugging the Belgian coast (it was insecure). He was very kind to others and austere to himself, loving brightly-lit churches, cleanliness, and iron chains. He insisted on good music and fine furnishings for his flock, and drove his vestment suppliers nuts by repeatedly giving away his garments to the poor. We are also told he ransomed slaves, but we are not given any details about that.

What he really wanted was to die a martyr or move to the desert, but murderous pagans and deserts being in somewhat short supply in seventh/eighth century Belgium, he had to settle for dying in peace at an abbey of Benedictine nuns. He was ushered out of this world while, by his request, those present sang selections from the Psalms.

February 17 (Wikipedia)
Feast of Finan, Bishop of Lindisfarne (Christianity.Com) – Main source
Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (book on paper)
St. Finan (Catholic Encyclopedia)
St. Ronan (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Synod of Whitby (Wikipedia)
Lindisfarne (Wikipedia)
Whitby Abbey (Wikipedia)
Rodan (Wikipedia)
Omer Englebert, Lives of the Saints (book on paper) – Main source
Childeric II (Wikipedia)
Theuderic III (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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