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May 4 Saints of the Day – Pelagia of Tarsus and John Houghton

On this date in 1814, Napoleon arrived at the island of Elba to begin his exile. Without WiFi, he soon grew bored and began to plan his escape.

Pelagia of TarsusPelagia of Tarsus (d. early IV cent.) lived in that city, which is why she’s called that. The heir of Emperor Diocletian fell in love with her and asked for her hand, but she had had a vision in which Bishop Linus (of Tarsus) had converted her to Christianity and suggested the perpetual virginity thing as a valid lifestyle choice, so she refused the boy’s suit, saying “I am wedded to Christ, so to speak.” The heir (curiously unnamed in my sources) decided to bide his time, figuring he was such a stud, she’d soon change her mind.

Pelagia’s mother at this juncture suggested she take a trip to visit her old nurse, and along the way whom should she run into but Linus himself (she recognized him from the dream). “Baptize me!” she suggested. “But there’s no water!” the bishop replied. “Oh wait, what have we here?” And a brand-new spring gushed forth near to where they were standing. Pelagia’s lack of baptismal sponsors ceased to be an issue when a retinue of angels appeared. After giving the newly-illumed one communion, Linus prayed with her and bade her Godspeed. Upon returning home, the saint sold all her stuff, including her fancy clothes, gave the money to the poor, and dressed in simple white linen. She tried to evangelize her mother, but it rather backfired — Mum sent word to the nameless heir about her daughter’s baptism, and said heir fell on his sword in despair. “This won’t do,” said the mother unit, and she dragged Pelagia before the emperor.

Upon seeing the maiden, Diocletian’s heart burned with lust and other bad things, and he suggested that she become his bride. “You’re nuts,” she said. (Well, my source says, “You are insane” but my version has a certain punch that the source’s lacks, I’m sure you’ll agree.) “I’m married to Christ. Marriage to you would be loathsome in comparison.” She went on to mention the imperishable crowns of faith, purity, and martyrdom. Enraged, the emperor brazenly ordered her to be tossed into an oven in the shape of a bronze bull. (Something of a theme – cf. Antipas.) Not wishing to be manhandled, she waved off the guards and jumped into the bull unaided. Witnesses said her flesh melted gently like myrrh, giving off a sweet odor. Her bones were tossed out, but they were guarded by four lions from the Leonine Undertakers Union until they could be gathered by Linus and reverently buried. A church later sprang up on the site.

John HoughtonJohn Houghton (1487 – 1535) was a Cambridge-educated Carthusian priest in London who was arrested and taken to the Tower for not signing the Act of Succession as demanded by Henry VIII, the loving friend of monasteries and books. Among other things, the act arrogated to Parliament religious powers which loyal Catholics felt belonged to the Papacy. When it was amended with the phrase “in so far as the law of God allows,” John reluctantly inked it and was set free, but before his copy even made it into the filing clerk’s in-box, the act was replaced by the infamous I’ll-Divorce-Whomever-I-Damned-Well-Please Act (euphemistically known as the Act of Supremacy) making Henry head of the Church in England. John and others asked for an exemption from signing the act, but were arrested and brought to trial.

The jury was about to find them innocent when a message came from the King suggesting something about the jurors’ own necks. Suddenly they were able to see aspects of the case they had hitherto overlooked, and returned a guilty verdict. The defendants were hanged, but John was taken down alive and quartered. Smallish bits of him were subsequently displayed throughout the city.

John is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

May 4 (Wikipedia)
Virginmartyr Pelagia of Tarsus, in Asia Minor (OCA) – Main source
Saint Pelagia (Wikipedia)
Pelagia of Tarsus (Orthodox Wiki)
April 11 Saints of the Day – Antipas of Pergamum and Guthlac of Croyland (Onion Dome)
John Houghton (martyr) (Wikipedia) – Main source
Saint John Houghton. (SQPN)
First Succession Act (Wikipedia)
Forty Martyrs of England and Wales


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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