February 22 — Thalassius and Limnaeus; Margaret of Cortona

Thalassius (d. 440) (“maritime”), commemorated today with his disciple Limnaeus (“lake dweller”), became a hermit in Syria sometime in the fifth century, living either in the open or in a cave near either Cyr(rhus) or Targala for thirty-eight years. One of his special ascetic practices was silence, which he must have practiced when not instructing the inevitable disciples that spontaneously generate in the vicinity of wonderworking hermits (as we have seen and shall continue to see). He built them cells with his own hands, perhaps figuring that was the only way to keep them from building a monastery. He is noted for his humility, simplicity, and gentleness.

After Thalassius’ death (in 440), Limnaeus joined (St.) Maron, who died in either 410 or 423[1]. Limnaeus (we are assured) acquired all of Thalassius’ virtues, presumably including silence, although he did build a window in his cell through which he could talk to visitors. The building had no roof, so he could talk to birds, clouds, etc., as well. With the help of his “admirers” he built a home for the destitute and crippled, which was supplied with food by various pious neighbors, and with spiritual instruction by Limnaeus. He too was known as a healer, and even healed himself of a deadly snakebite. Whether the snake crawled into the house through the window, or over the top of the wall, we are not told.

Margaret of Cortona (1247–1297) had the misfortune to have the original wicked stepmother (or one of the early ones, anyway). Finding life at home intolerable, she fell in bed with the first nobleman who fancied her, living with him nine years and even bearing him a son, although he (the nobleman) refused to marry her[2].

One day his dog came home alone, and began tugging at Margaret’s skirts. She followed it, and came upon her lover’s body, dead and (children look away) rotting. She and Junior were summarily tossed out of the castle. Though she bathed her father’s feet in tears of repentance, her stepmother refused to take her back, and her father was unable to override his wife’s wishes[3]. A voice in her head said, “Franciscans. Cortona. Trust me.” She trusted, and set off Cortonawards. After one thing and another she joined the Franciscan tertiaries*, albeit over the complaints of some, due to her checkered past. (“Forgive sinners? What’s that about?”)

Once tertiaried, she imposed upon the city to create a hospital, hiring nurses to tend to the sick in body while she herself gave comfort and council to the sick in spirit. She sent those seeking confession to her own confessor, who eventually complained that she was making him clean too many stables in one day. She received a revelation saying, “Tell him he’s not cleaning stables, he’s preparing dwellings for God.” That shut him up. She also helped souls in Purgatory. In one story, two men appeared to her saying they could get out of Purgatory if she would go ask their relatives to pay back some money they had swindled. After she wrote down the address, they disappeared. (We aren’t told but assume she delivered the message, the relatives paid up, and so on. Really these sources can be so telegraphic[4].)

At the hour of her death, a holy man saw her escorted to heaven by the souls of the people she had rescued from Purgatory. From which we may conclude that if she had ever swindled anybody out of any money, she must have already paid it back.

[1] By my reckoning this means either Limnaeus was the first time-traveling saint, or there is some glitch in our sources. It is my custom to take the sources at face-value; draw your own conclusions.
[2] If you are expecting me to say something cutting about him in this footnote, you are right.
[3] What is it with the spineless fathers in these evil-stepmother tales? I mean, really?
[4] And yes, that’s anachronistic.