April 2 – Theodora the Martyr; Francis of Paola

Theodora the Martyr (d. ca. 303) (or “virginmartyr” as one source puts it) was brought before the prefect of Alexandria during one of the times Diocletian was thinning the Christian herd. Eustratius (for that was his name), on hearing that she had “dedicated [her]self to God,” declared he would put her in a brothel if she didn’t renounce her faith, and gave her three days in prison to think about it. She thought about it, and again professed her faith, and was taken to the iniquitous den. The johns began to fight about who would be her first, um, customer, when in walked Didymus (a Christian), dressed as a soldier, and cleared them out. (If you can’t hear a blast on a small trumpet, you have no imagination at all.) He gave Theodora his duds and she snuck out the back. Hearing of this, Eustratius had Didymus, who confessed the whole thing, sentenced to death. As he was being led to the axeman, Theodora showed up and insisted on being killed too. She was, of course, obliged. In 1749, Handel wrote an oratorio based on her story.

Francis of Paola (1416–1507) was a miracle baby born to elderly parents and named after their favorite intercessor. Francis unsurprisingly joined the Franciscans at 13. After a year at the monastery, he removed to a solitary cave by the sea in order to start a new order. He was soon joined by two other hermits, and the neighbors built them three cells and a chapel (as memorialized in song by the Four Aces). They called themselves the “Minimi Fratres” (“Least brothers” and not “Mini-Me Frat Boys” as some have styled it) and after a mere 17 years won over the neighbors, who built them a monastery and a church (as not memorialized in song by anybody). After a few personnel and name changes they ended up as the Minim Friars.

They kept a “perpetual Lent,” abstaining from all animal products, in part out of charity for the animals. Indeed there are many stories about Francis’ compassion for animals. In one, his pet trout (!) Antonella was caught by a visiting priest and taken home and cooked. Francis missed the fish, and knowing where it went, had one of his friars go fetch it. The priest was flabbergasted, and threw the fish onto the ground, where it broke into filets, cutlets, and croquettes. The friar gathered the pieces and brought them back to Francis, who threw them into the pond, saying, “Antonella, come back!” The fish was restored to life and swam around happily as if nothing had ever happened (although it never did like pepper after that) (kidding).

Francis’ reputation as a miracle worker came to the dying King Louis XI of France, who got the pope to send Francis to him will he or no. Louis fell on his knees before the saint and begged to be healed, but, “Dying kings are more than my job’s worth,” Francis said. The king had a change of heart (and this was centuries before Jarvik), and after many long chats in his final days, he died in Francis’ arms. The next king liked him too, and kept him around—in fact he never left France after that. He is credited (in part) for the peace between France and both Brittany and Spain (the famous Brittany Spaniel accords).

After Francis died the brothers buried him in a flood plain, and when they realized their error and dug him up, his body was incorrupt. It was later burned by the Huguenots, who apparently had a thing for desecrating bodies. Because of a time he sailed on his cloak to Sicily, he is the patron of sailors, navigators, naval officers, and other salty dogs.