March 23 – Nikon of Sicily; Gwinear

Nikon of Sicily (d. ca. 250) grew up unbaptized but secretly instructed in the Christian faith by his mother. He was still a pagan, though, when his army company were surrounded by enemies. Remembering his mother’s teachings, he crossed himself and promised God he’d get baptized if only he got out of this predicament alive. Suddenly he was filled with strength from on high, and (without even the jawbone of an ass) slew enough of the enemy that his company was saved. Naturally he returned home to tell his mother about this triumph (the mails were notoriously untrustworthy), and she suggested he find a priest and fulfill his vow. Sadly there were none in the vicinity, so he sailed to nearby Chios (some 650 miles SE), where he climbed a mountain and spent a week in fasting and prayer, begging God to help him find where the priests were—or at least one of them.

After eight days an angel from Rand McNally appeared and led him to Mount Ganos (some 190 miles NE), where Bishop Theodosius and 199 monks were hiding from the government. They greeted Nikon with joy, baptized him, and monkified him. After three years an angel came to the bishop, saying Nikon should be made bishop, and take all the monks to Sicily. Theodosius explained his vision, made Nikon a bishop, and promptly died. Nikon and the monks (great name for a rock group or what?) sailed away, stopping to say Hi to Nikon’s mom in Naples. She greeted him with tears of joy at his being both a monk and a bishop, then died.

Once in Sicily, they had some years of peace before the governor decided that the island’s Christian-to-Pagan ratio needed lowering. He berefted 199 of them of their heads, keeping Nikon aside for torturing. That worked as well as it ever does in this kind of story. They tried to burn him, but the flames wouldn’t touch him. They tried to drag him behind horses, but the horses wouldn’t move. They threw him from a high cliff, but he was unharmed. The yoozh. Eventually they beheaded him, and left his several parts to feed carrion. Just then a shepherd possessed by an evil spirit happened by. Coming upon Nikon’s body, he fell to the ground, and the evil spirit came out of him, shrieking about being in the presence of a saint, being tormented, etc.—very unoriginal. The shepherd told his tale in town, and when the bishop of Messina heard of it, he and his clergy went out and buried the martyrs.

Gwinear (d. 460), son of (pagan) King Clito of Ireland, met Patrick when he visited their court, and later converted while hunting on horseback (however that might work). He let the horse (which had no name) run free, and took up living as a hermit. When Clito died he went back to the palace, rounded up 770 people (including his sister Piala), and sailed to Wales and Brittany (consecutively? in separate vessels?) to do missionary work. One day, whilst near Pluvigner in Brittany, he ran out of water. No doubt cognizant of the time-honored method of producing water out of nowhere, he struck the ground, and not one, not two, but three springs gushed forth—one for him, one for his horse, and one for his dog.

Gwinear was martyred by King Teudar of Cornwall, who had a penchant for throwing Christians into a reptile pit. Gwinear was, fortunately for him, merely beheaded, and spared being gator (or whatever was in that pit) chow. A basilica was built on the site of his grave, and there is a town in Cornwall named after him (which is more than you can say for Teudar). In Pluvigner he is known as Saint Guigner, and a well there bears his name. Oh, and for you Tolkien fans: one of his companions was named Meriadoc.