January 16 – St. Peter’s Chains; Honoratus of Arles

Photo of Chains of St. Peter, from San Pietro in Vincoli church, RomeThe Veneration of the Precious Chains of the Holy and All-Glorious Apostle Peter. Most Christians and other interested parties will know that Peter, born Simon bar Jona (ca. –1 to +67), was the chief of Christ’s twelve apostles, and was by tradition the first Pope of Rome. This of course goes to show that even a poor fisherman’s son can become Somebody if he just buckles down, does his homework, and happens to fall in with the incarnate Son of God.

Peter was thrown in jail in about A.D. Acts 12 by Herod Agrippa, but while he was sleeping in his cell, an angel of the Lord came down, smacked him, and told him to put his clothes on and clear out. The brethren (King Jamesean for “other Christians”) were so delighted to get him back that they went and fetched his chains, keeping them around Jerusalem and bringing them out for visiting dignitaries and so on. (One can imagine their conversations. “Wanna see something cool?” “Yeah, yeah, you have Peter’s chains. Fine, I’ll look at them.”)

Finally in 437 (or 439) they were brought to Constantinople by Empress Eudokia, who kept one (the left one, I’m thinking) and sent one to her daughter Eudoxia[1] in Rome, which hardly seems fair since Rome already had the chains Peter had been given by Nero. “Legend” has it that when the two chains found themselves in proximity, they fused together. (I have been unable to ascertain exactly who this mysterious “Legend” is.) The chains are kept in a reliquary under the altar of the basilica in Rome after which they are named (the “Peter in Chains” basilica[2]).

Icon of Honoratus of Arles, date and provenance unknownHonoratus of Arles (350–429) was born somewhere in north Gaul, and died on January 6, 14, or 15 (but who’s counting?). His dad was a Roman consul of the pagan sort, but while still a young man Honoratus, along with his brother Venantius (whose age isn’t specified) was (were?) converted to Christianity. The two immediately embarked on an all-expenses-up-front, cash-only tour of the Holy Land, the Egyptian Desert, and other ports of call. Sadly, Venantius shuffled off the mortal coil in Methoni, on the far western end of the Peleponnese, which is a beautiful place to die (if dying is the best you can manage), although it’s not quite the Levant (let alone Egypt). This brought the trip to a juddering halt, and Honoratus in great sorrow fell back to Gaul, determined to live as a hermit. (Actually the sources don’t mention sorrow, but it makes him seem more human, I hope you will agree.)

Having had a taste of the warm Mediterranean climate, however, Honoratus wasn’t about to go back to north Gaul, so he settled down on an island on the Riviera that shares his name (who or what it shares it with, my sources do not say). There he founded the famous Lérins Abbey, mainly because monk wannabes (the famous Monkkabees of Handel’s oratorio) kept turning up on his doorstep, and he had to find something for them to do. If that weren’t uneremitic enough, in 426 he was dragged kicking and screaming to be made bishop of Arles. From that point everything becomes conjecture. None of his writings have been preserved, and nobody seems to know what exactly he did as bishop, other than that he cleaned up the Arian problem, and conducted the monastery “from the chair” (so to speak). He died in the arms of his deputy and successor, Hilary, about whose episcopal adventures we know a whole lot more, and whom we’ll meet on May 5.

Honoratus is the patron, delightfully, of divided precipitation loyalties, which is to say he the patron both “against rain” and “for rain.”

[1] Yeah, the name thing is weird, I agree. Go back to the text and continue reading now.
[2] San Pietro in Vincoli, which I suppose is Latin. Or Italian? Google Translate was singularly unhelpful. Which is so unusual for it. Legend says.