April 11 – Antipas of Pergamum; Guthlac of Croyland

Antipas of Pergamum (d. 92) is mentioned by John the Revelator (2:13) as having been martyred in Pergamum “where Satan’s throne is.” Pergamum (also Pergamon) was a Greek city in western Anatolia about sixteen miles inland from the Aegean Sea. Apparently at one time it was the capital of a kingdom named after itself, but not much was happening there by Apostolic times, and the experts seem unable to agree what exactly was satanic about it.

Antipas, bishopified by the Apostle John himself, was an outspoken opponent of idol worship. He had made some inroads against the practice in Satan’s fair city when the pagan priests, for reasons that perhaps will never be known, decided they didn’t like him, and seized him. They dragged him to the temple of Artemis, where they had a bull-shaped copper pot they were wont to throw sacrifices into. This they heated until it was red-hot, and into it went poor Antipas. He seemed unaffected, however, and gave up his soul as peacefully as if he were going to sleep. After the fire went out and the pagan priests had gone home for tea, Christians came and took the body, quite untouched by the heat, and buried it in a place where (had they but known it), a font would soon spring up which had healing powers, particularly over toothache (I kid you not). Thus it is that Antipas’ prayers are sought by those with diseases of the teeth.

Guthlac of Croyland (ca. 673–714) decided, after a stint in Ethelred’s army (not the unready one, some other Ethelred), to study war no more, and became a monk at a double monastery in Repton under abbess Elfrida. (Saxon names are almost as good as Frankish ones, don’t you think?) After two years of making everybody mad for being too gung-ho about his asceticism, Guthlac decided the monastery was too soft, and retired to a hermitage on an island in the Fens, back when the Fens were actually fenny. There he finally got some real asceticism going—he was attacked by wild men, robbed by ravens, and then there’s the mosquitos. His particular corner of the Fens was rumored to be inhabited by monsters and demons and things that go bump in the night, and in his dreams, we are told, he was visited by angels and demons and St. Bartholomew (Aug 24). Guthlac was a devotée of Bartholomew, and is sometimes depicted receiving a scourge from him for use on demons[1].

When a certain Wilfrid visited him after he’d been in the swamps for a while, he was amazed to see wild birds landing on Guthlac and hopping all over him. “It’s because I live alone,” said Guthlac. “If you live away from other humans, animals and angels come and visit you.” No sooner had these words left his lips but disciples arrived and began building cells nearby, a wandering bishop priested him and blessed his cell into a chapel, and an exiled prince started visiting from time to time for advice and bits of prophecy. (Okay so I compress the time scale here for poetic effect. But you knew that. Right?)

Years later, knowing he was dying, he sent for his sister (St.) Pega, a hermitess living nearby, who of course came to comfort him. Then he died. A monastery was built on the site of his cell, which grew into the great Croyland Abbey, whose name got attached to Guthlac after his shrine there got particularly popular. His fame spread throughout the medieval period, helped by multiple Old English prose and verse “lives” and the patronage of people like Archbishop Ceolnoth of Canterbury, whom Guthlac cured of the ague some 200 years after his death. (Guthlac’s death, not Ceolnoth’s. Dead people don’t get ague[2]</a>.) He was one of England’s most popular pre-Conquest saints, although today his cultus is largely restricted to Lincolnshire. Still, one could do worse.

[1]Google, if you dare, the “Guthlac Roll.”