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October 19 Saints of the Day – John of Rila and Philip Howard

On this day in 1914, the US Post Office first used an automobile to collect and deliver mail. It was a disaster, but on the second day they put a driver in the car, and it worked much better.

John of RilaJohn of Rila (876 – 946), a Bulgarian orphan and cowherd, was one day beaten by his employer for losing a cow and her calf. Ivan (that’s John) cried, prayed, looked, and finally found the bovine pair on opposite banks of the stormy Sturma River, which if not at flood stage was close enough. He threw his cloak on the water, picked up the calf, and nonchalantly strolled across (as nonchalantly as one can stroll while carrying a calf). The owner saw this and moistened his undergarments. He paid Ivan handsomely and released him from indenture. (I’ve you’ve ever had something in your dentures, you’ll know how sweet that release can be.) Ivan gave away the money and went either to an unknown monastery or to the St. Dmitri Monastery at Mount Ruen. Either way, he was tonsured a monk.

He went to dwell as a hermit, joined by his cousin Luke. Luke’s father however came and nabbed him, and was dragging him back to civilization when the boy was bit by a snake and died. The father came back and begged Ivan’s forgiveness. For years Ivan would go to the boy’s grave when he needed solitude.

Ivan fed on beans that grew near his cave, which God had planted when he saw that Ivan had been eating nothing but grass. (“That’s just not healthy,” God said.) One day a group of shepherds chasing their wayward sheep stumbled upon Ivan’s cave. He fed them, but one of them stuffed some beans in his pocket to eat on the way home. When later he pulled some of the beans out, he discovered that the pods were empty. The shepherds went back to Ivan and asked his forgiveness, which, after a little scolding, he gave.

The shepherds must have blabbed, however, because people were soon crowding to Ivan’s cave for healing or exorcism or spiritual advice or bean recipes, and before you could say “soak overnight in salted water, rinse, and boil,” a monastery sprang up. Even the Tsar of Bulgaria came to see him, but for some reason (cue spooky music) he could not find a clear path to where Ivan was, and the two men bowed at each other from a distance. The Tsar later sent a gift of food, some of which Ivan kept, and money, all of which Ivan returned, explaining that Tsars need gold to protect the land and give alms to the poor.

Ivan’s Testament is one of the earliest works in the Bulgarian language. He is the patron saint of Bulgaria as well as of pie makers, due to a story in which he fed a number of poor people with two pies. The southernmost Orthodox Church in the world, in Antarctica, bears his name.

Philip HowardPhilip Howard (1557 – 1595) was the first, thirteenth, or twentieth Lord of Arundel, but not until after his grandfather died. Before that he lived a dissolute life at Cambridge and then at the court of Queen Elizabeth (the First) (his second cousin once removed). His father was executed for treason, but the scandal didn’t touch Philip. What did touch him was a theological debate in 1581, as a result of which he sobered up his life, converted to Catholicism, and reunited with his long-estranged wife (and stepsister — don’t ask).

When things got uncomfortable for Catholics, he and his family tried to escape to the Continent, but a servant gave them away. Phil was locked in the Tower for ten years, constantly in fear of execution, although (and nobody told him this) the queen never in fact signed his death warrant. It was signed in the end by dysentery. As he lay dying he begged to see his wife and children, but Bessie refused unless he convert, and that he could not do. He was proclaimed a martyr popularly almost immediately after his death, and officially in 1970, as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

This Day in History for 19th October
John of Rila (Orthodox Wiki) – Main source
John of Rila (Wikipedia)
Icon of John from Wikimedia (public domain)
Philip Howard, 20th Earl of Arundel – Main source
Saint Philip Howard (SQPN)
Image of Philip from SQPN (copyright unknown)


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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