February 28 — Nicholas of Pskov; Romanus of Condat

Nicholas of Pskov (d. 1576) (aka Salos) is numbered among the Fools for Christ* (no, I don’t know what number he is). When Tsar Ivan the Terrible’s Oprichniki (“Guardians”)  had finished devastating Novgorod, Ivan went to Pskov, having heard rumors that the city was planning to go over to the Lithuanians (can you blame them?). Bread and salt[1] were left outside every door, but not a soul was in sight, save the brave mayor. The mayor held a tray with the traditional offering, but the Tsar dashed it from his hands (which is terrible). Nicholas rode up on a cock-horse and cried, “Ivanushka! Ivanushka![2] Eat our salt and bread, and stop eating Christian blood!” Ivan sent his troops to catch the holy fool, but he got away.

Ivan then went to a moleiben[3] service at the cathedral, and venerated the holy relics there. Nicholas again met him and told him to stop despoiling God’s churches, or his finest horse would die. Ivan stole the cathedral’s bell (well, not personally, but had it taken by his operatives). The horse died. Ivan went to the holy fool’s cell (no doubt to give him a stern talking-to), and Nicholas greeted him with a piece of raw meat, saying, “Ivanushka, eat!” The Tsar protested, “I am a Christian. I do not eat meat during Lent!” To which the saint replied, “No, you do something worse. You feed on the flesh and blood of men. You forget Lent and God.” The tyrant was actually taken aback (or afraid), and left the city unsacked. When the holy fool died, he was buried in the cathedral, an honor which up to that point had only been given to princes.

Romanus of Condat (ca. 390–ca. 460), born in Upper Bugey (no, that doesn’t mean “dance” in French), and 35 years later entered a monastery in Lyons. He wanted to be a hermit, so, taking The Lives of the Desert Fathers and Cassian’s Institutions (with permission, we hope), he sauntered off to find a likely spot. This was Saint-Claude, although since Claude wasn’t due to be born for at least another 175 years, the natives (of whom there were none) called it Condat. There like any hermit, he hoped to remain alone and untroubled. You know what’s coming. First his brother (St.) Lupicinus, then his sister Yole (if she became a saint, my sources do not mention it), moved in, and before they knew it, monasteries were sprouting up all over the neighborhood—Condat, Lauconne (ruled by Lupicinus), and La Beaume (ruled by Yole), all of which subsequently got renamed for famous people who died or were buried there.

Apparently Romanus and Lupicinus were quite different in temperament, the former as laid back as the latter was uptight. Lupinicus was always nagging Romanus to be pickier about his novices, and Romanus would reply that until God casted them out, he wasn’t about to. Romanus was made a priest by none other than Hilary of Arles (May 5). (You might not think that’s important, but as every one of my sources points it out, it must be.) He is said to have performed many miracles, and one actually is mentioned in my sources: two lepers were amazed that he didn’t stand back from them, but actually walked right up to them and embraced them. After they had parted company with the saint, they looked at each other and realized they had been healed.

Romanus died peacefully in the company of his siblings, and was buried at La Beaume.


[1]Traditional Russian gift for important visitors.
[2]An insulting double-diminutive to address a Tsar by; something not unlike “Sweet Little Ivan.”
[3]A supplicatory service that is not part of the regular rotation of services, but held on special occasions, such as the feast of a minor saint.