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April 14 Saints of the Day – Martin the Confessor and Bénézet the Bridge Builder

On this date in 1986, one-kilogram hailstones fell on the Gopalganj district of Bangladesh. Purveyors of ice reported reduced sales for days afterward.

Martin the Confessor, Pope of RomeOur eastern saint today is Martin the Confessor, Pope of Rome (d. 655). Martin was no sooner papified when the heretical book The Pattern of Faith was published by the monothelite emperor Constans II. (Readers will recall that monotheletism is the belief that Christ had only one will, rather than two: a divine and a human.) Constans and Patriarch Paul of Constantinople were of one mind (get it?) on this, and Martin stood firm against them. He called a council in the Lateran which condemned the heresy. There might have been some bickering about how ecumenical the council was (not having been called by an emperor, etc.), but its findings were later affirmed by the Third Council of Constantinople, and everybody who’s anybody accepts that one as ecumenical.

The emperor sent an envoy to drag Martin to the capital to stand trial, but the envoy instead hired an assassin, who was subsequently struck blind. Constans sent a second envoy, who grabbed Martin and dropped him on an island in the Aegean, where he languished for a year, growing ill through hunger and maltreatment, before being brought to trial. He was accused of colluding with the Saracens and other absurd things, and was not even allowed to speak in his own defense. He softly said it would be kindest if they would just put him to death right there, but kindness was not on the docket. He was dragged through a crowd scene frighteningly reminiscent of Holy Friday, and thrown into prison.

When the Patriarch heard about these goings on, he repented of his part in them, and upon his pleading, Martin’s death sentence was commuted to exile to the Crimea. Given his broken health, however, it proved a short exile. He is considered a confessor in the eastern church, and a martyr (the last such pope) in the west.

Bénézet the Bridge-BuilderOur western saint today is Bénézet the Bridge-Builder (ca. 1163 – 1184). A shepherd, Bénézet one day stopped some children from taunting an old Jewish woman who was being bothered by a flea she could not reach. Bénézet killed the flea out of kindness (to the woman, not to the flea), and the woman blessed him and told him the location of a secret treasure. Later, during a solar eclipse, a voice spoke from heaven saying, of all the improbable things, “Bénézet, go to Avignon and build a bridge.”

“But …”

“I’ll watch your sheep. Here, follow this angel.”

Sure enough an angel appeared and led him to Avignon. He explained his mission to the bishop, who, full of Christian compassion, sent him to the magistrate with a note suggesting his hands and feet be chopped off. The magistrate laughed, pointed to a stone weighing a hundred quintals (and they made quintals pretty heavy in those days), and said, “Use this one first! Hahahaha!” (Or “Héhéhéhé” or however they laughed in France back then.) Soon the townfolk had gathered to watch Bénézet make a fool of himself.

Bénézet blithely wandered over, grabbed the stone, and placed it in the stream. The crowd went wild! The blind could see, the deaf could hear, the crippled could walk, and the hunch-backed straightened up and heard their spines pop (that’s in my source). In all, eighteen miracles occurred. The magistrate was struck with remorse (he could have been struck with worse), and coughed up 300 sous, the crowd volunteering 5,000 more. Added to the money from the old Jewish woman, it was enough, and before you could say something that took about seven years to say, the bridge was built. Sadly Bénézet passed away before it was completed, but a chapel was built on one end, and he was buried therein. The bridge was destroyed by floods some 500 years later, and only the chapel and four arches remain. But it lives on in song, for it is the bridge in the old French chanson:

Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse tous en rond.


Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


Bibliography
April 14 (Wikipedia)
St Martin the Confessor the Pope of Rome (OCA) – Main source
Pope Saint Martin I (SQPN)
Confessor of the Faith: Eastern Christianity (Wikipedia)
Benedict the Bridge-Builder (St. Patrick DC) – Main source
Pont Saint-Bénezet (Wikipedia)
Sur le Pont d’Avignon (Wikipedia)

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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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