January 27 – Translation of the Relics of John Chrysostom; Angela Merici

Icon depicting the Translation of the Relics of John Chrysostom, iconographer unknown, 10th centuryTranslation[1] of the Relics of John Chrysostom (347–407). As everybody except one of my sources knows, “Chrysostom” is Greek for “Golden Mouth” (NOT “golden tongue” for crying out loud, which would be “Chrysoglott,” which might suffice for a movie villain in a 1950’s “B” horror flick.) John was of course given that sobriquet due to his skills as an orator. He served as Archbishop of Constantinople, had various and sundry fights with various and sundry Arians (including and especially the extremely unpleasant Empress Eudoxia), and compiled the liturgy which bears his name. So.

Our story begins 30 years after the great man’s death. His disciple and successor Proclus (“for Clus”) finally got around to preaching a sermon praising John, saying (somewhat paradoxically) that it would take somebody as great a preacher as John was to worthily praise John. He was sure as heck determined to give it a try, however, and after about half an hour of this his hearers got impatient, and demanded that if John was so marvelous, what was he doing buried in some hick town, and not the capital? It would be impolitic to suggest they were just trying to get Proclus to cut it short, so we are not even going to entertain that notion. They got permission from the emperor (Eudoxia’s son, which matters as you will see) to move the saint’s relics from the boonies to the big city. The boonyites, it must be said, were unhappy about this, but as they were only boonyites, that didn’t matter.

Strangely, though, when the workers went to lift the relics from the grave, they found them immovable. They fired off a quick Tweet to the emperor (@Theodosius #ImmovableRelics #Stymied), who sent a letter by return Chariot Express apologizing to John for the imposition, and when the letter was placed on the relics, they became as light as a light thing that is easily lifted. They were carried back to Constantinople, and after a miracle or three, and an impassioned prayer by the emperor to not hold his mother’s sins against him (which stopped an ongoing earthquake at her tomb, possibly caused by her rotation), the relics were interred at the cathedral.

Painting of Angela Merici, artist unknown, 17th centuryAngela Merici (1474–1540) was born in a small hamlet in Lombardy. She lost her parents at 10 and her beloved sister at 15, whereupon she joined the Franciscan third order* and prayed for her sister’s soul. (Oddly (I thought) we aren’t told she prayed for her parents; perhaps they didn’t need it?) Ultimately she had a vision showing her sister in bliss with the saints in Heaven, so her prayers appear to have worked. There’s no need to make a joke about that; it sounds like a pretty wonderful assurance to have.

When she was 20 her guardian uncle died, so she moved back to her natal village to open a small school for small poor girls, who were inexplicably going uneducated in that place and time (can you imagine?) (sarcasm). On a trip to Rome in 1525 she was collared by Pope Clement VII, who wanted to make her head of an order. Sadly there were no flies on the wall at their meeting capable of taking notes, or if there were, none of their notes have come down to us[2]. Nevertheless we know she turned him down and returned to Lombardy to continue her ministry. Maybe for the risotto too, and if so who could blame her? (The pope got over it.)

Once home she founded a group of women to expand her teaching ministry, which eventually grew into the Company of St. Ursula, or Ursulines, named after a third, fifth, or seventh century (depending on whom you ask) British martyr whose name means “She-bear.” One begins to understand why the Pope didn’t win the argument. This was the first non-cloistered and first education-specific order of women in the Catholic Church. Angela is the patroness of the handicapped/disabled, the sick, and the orphaned. But not of the disappointed pope.


[1] This means they were moved from one place to another, not that they were paraphrased in a different language. That would be absurd.
[2] Although are there any alive today who can read sixteenth-century fly shorthand anyway? We could call it Linear F, except shorthand isn’t very linear.