January 29 – Translation of the Relics of Ignatius of Antioch; Walloch of Scotland

Drawing of Ignatius of Antioch and two lions, artist unknown, from the Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints (book), 1874Translation of the Relics of Ignatius (ca. 35–50 to ca. 98–117). Ignatius (aka Ignatius Nurono or “Ignatius of Fire[1]”) was the third (or second) bishop of Antioch, and one of the Apostolic Fathers*—early second-century writers identified by having been gathered into anthologies with “Apostolic Fathers” in the title. His feast feast is on December 20, October 17, February 1, Koiak 24, or Epip 7, depending on whom you ask. But we had no room there, so we will write about him here on the feast of the Translation of his Relics.

He left seven letters immensely important to understanding second-century Christianity. He was the first Christian writer, for instance, to specify the one-to-one correspondence between cities and bishops (known colloquially as the “Hey, you, get offa my Chair” rule), and his reference to “God existing in flesh” gives witness to very early belief in the doctrine of the Incarnation. Letters prophesying the Protestant Reformation and the winning of the Ashes in 1877 are now thought to be apocryphal.

Nobody can say why he wasn’t just killed in Antioch but sent to die in Rome, but everyone agrees on the itinerary of his trip (Antioch → Asia Minor → Smyrna → Troas → Neapolis → Philippi → Rome). Nobody says why this matters, however. Witnesses say he calmly and without fear entertained large numbers of decent, law-abiding Roman citizens by getting ripped to shreds by lions in the Coliseum. (We’re so much more civilized these days.)

Now for the relics. My readers will by now have cottoned onto the fact that some saints’ bodies seem to enjoy an unusually peripatetic afterlife, often putting on more miles than the saint ever did while alive. Ignatius, or rather his body, is no slacker in this department. Those parts of him not eaten by the lions were collected by his disciples, ferried back to Antioch, and buried outside the city gates. Centuries later Emperor Theodosius II (r. 402–408) had a pagan temple inside the walls converted to a Christian church and our saint’s relics translated thither. Centuries later redux, when the Persians took over Antioch (637), Ignatius’ relics were dug up once more and removed to St. Clement’s in Rome, where finally, one hopes, they are able to get a little rest. His prayers are invoked against throat diseases.

Photograph of the Churchyard of Walla Kirk, Scotland, photo by Anne Burgess, 2009Walloch of Scotland (d. ca. 724 or 733 or V cent.) (aka Voloc) is nowadays like King Arthur or Michael Dukakis—almost more of an archaeological puzzle than a historical figure. He was either a relative of Columba (Jun 9), or of no known parentage, and either the abbot of Iona or an emissary of Ninian’s Candida Casa (Sep 16). Most of what we do know comes from the Aberdeen Breviary, published in 1507, which states that he lived in a hut made of reeds and wattles (we assume “wattles” here refers to the “stakes interwoven with branches,” and not “skin hanging from an animal’s throat”). The Breviary was clearly as impressed as Dr. Johnson with the folks north of Hadrian’s Folly, and goes on to describe Walloch’s flock as “fierce, untamed, void of decency of manners and virtue, and incapable of easily listening to the word of truth.” This, and his humility and self-imposed poverty, are all we know for certain. The rest is riddles and clues. A standing stone at Logie-in-Mar bearing his name. A fair named after him held either two weeks before Christmas or on January 30 (discontinued somewhere between 1824 and 1874). A bit of half-remembered doggerel:

Wala-fair in Logic Mar
The thirtieth day of Januar.

Nowt remains of Walla Kirk but the graveyard; the last burial took place there in 1899. St. Walloch’s Well, once a repository of pins tossed by pilgrims seeking healing for eye ailments (I don’t get it either), has been destroyed. St. Walloch’s Bath, an indentation in a rock by the River Deveron where children were brought to be healed, remains, although its last recorded use for that purpose was 1874. Like the contents of the library at Alexandria or next week’s Powerball numbers, we can only wish we knew more about this ancient saint.

[1] Not to be confused with “igniter of fire,” with whom he was no match.