February 13 – Martinian of Caesarea; Catherine de Ricci

Icon of Martinian of Caesarea, 11th centuryMartinian of Caesarea (d. ca. 422) became a hermit at age 18, and spent 25 years in the wilderness, not uttering a word, and for his troubles received the gifts of healing illnesses, and casting out demons (and not the other way around)[1]. The Evil One (yes, that one) hates that kind of thing, so he sent a certain “profligate” woman to tempt him. She had made a bet with some “dissolute” people that she could induce Martinian, known throughout the neighborhood as a holy (if quiet) man, to sin. So the next horrible storm that hit, she dressed in rags and disfigured her face and knocked on the saint’s door, begging for shelter. Of course he let her in, made her a bed on the sofa (or equivalent), and locked himself in his inner cell. The next morning she had cleaned herself up and changed clothes, and proceeded to put the moves on Martinian. One source says that “for a whole day he came very near to assenting.” Whoa. Finally he jumped into the fire, saying he wasn’t going to burn in Hell for her (or something—accounts vary). She repented and while she tended to his feet asked what she should do. He sent her to the monastery of St. Paula (Jan 26) in Jerusalem, and she became a model nun. I mean a good one.

Fearing that life on land was going to bring more of this sort of thing, Martinian removed to a rock in the ocean. A kindly sailor brought him food on a schedule, in return for baskets that Martinian wove. One day, there was a horrible storm, and who should wash ashore clinging to a chunk of boat but—please imagine a loud organ chord here—a woman! Martinian, flabbergasted, showed her his food stash, explained that a sailor would rescue her on such-and-such a date, and jumped into the sea. A pair of passing dolphins carried him ashore, where he lived as a wanderer until finally dying in a church in Athens. The Athenian bishop, fresh from a vision, knew who he was, and buried his body with honor.

Painting of Catherine de Ricci, date unknownThe Blessed Catherine de Ricci (1522–1590) went to live at her abbess aunt’s monastery when she was six, but when her father found out that she wanted to become a nun too, he called her home. (“I can’t imagine where she got that idea!”) Once home she became deathly ill, and only recovered when dad relented. She went back to her monastic calling, eventually becoming prioress of an abbey (at which she was skillful; see below).

Soon she began having visions, ecstasies, and instances of bilocation. Her fellow nuns were skeptical, largely because while she was having the visions she looked an awful lot like she was skiving off work. The skepticism ended at the monastery walls, though, and people came to see her in droves (actually they came to see her at the monastery, which is good because she wasn’t in droves, she was in the monastery). One of her ecstasies was a weekly occurrence for twelve years—in a vision she experienced the Passion of Christ from noon on Thursday to 4:00 p.m. on Friday (our sources are very precise here), and her back showed wounds as if from scourging. Her fellow nuns got so fed up with pilgrims coming to see her that they prayed for the wounds to become less visible, which they did. (We assume they had lost some of their earlier skepticism by this point.) Our sources also say that a ring would appear on her finger when she was deep in prayer or ecstasy, symbolizing her being “married” to Christ as a nun. Catherine saw the ring as gold; the sisters saw it as coral. I’m not going to make that call.

While not having visions or skillfully (sources insist on her skillfulness) administering the convent, Catherine also worked as an advisor and admonisher to various political and churchly personages, including three future popes (Marcellus II, Clement VIII, and Leo XI). Ultimately (like most 16th century figures) she died. Her remains are adjacent the monastery she skillfully administered. She was beatified in 1746 by Pope Benedict XIV, and her prayers are invoked against illness.


[1] Miraculously, he did not turn into a monastery.