April 13 – Artemon the Hieromartyr; Margaret of Castello

Artemon the Hieromartyr (d. 303) was an old and venerable priest when he got together with some other Christians, broke into a temple of Artemis, and smashed and burned all the idols. When Patricius, the local military commander, went there to offer sacrifices and found the place in ruins, he set out in wrath to find who did it. Just then he caught a dreadful chill that left him near death. He called for Sisinius, the Christian bishop, and promised he would become a Christian if he were healed. He was, but he didn’t, and set out once more to find the temple-trashers.

He came upon Artemon in the company of some tame wild animals, and arrested him. One of the deer fled to Sisinius and said, “They’ve captured Artemon.” (My source actually tells me not to marvel at this, and consider Balaam’s ass. Be advised.) Patricius tossed Artemon into a temple filled with snakes, which he killed with his breath. (If you’re expecting a wisecrack about bad breath, forget it.) About then the doe turned up, laid down at Artemon’s feet, and calmly told Patricius he would be tossed by two birds into a cauldron of boiling pitch.

“Boiling pitch! What a great idea!” said Patricius foolishly. He ordered a cauldron of pitch (it’s not on the menu but you can ask for it), and no sooner had it come to a boil but two birds (angels in disguise—shhhh) picked him up and tossed him in. Artemon glorified God, and when a spring of water sprang up by his feet, he used it to baptize all those converted by the spectacle, including Vitalius, one of the pagan priests, who went on to become a bishop in Palestine. Artemon became a missionary in Asia Minor, and was finally martyred by pagans there, no doubt after many more colorful exploits.

Blessed Margaret of Castello (1287–1320) was born blind, lame, and deformed, to either a prominent noble or poor mountain family. She was either abandoned at five, or walled up inside a chapel at six and abandoned at either fourteen or twenty—at any rate, this was after prayers at a shrine failed to restore her sight. Our sources agree she was adopted by Grigia, a peasant woman whose brood hardly noticed the addition of one more. Or wouldn’t have, if Margaret hadn’t been so doggone sweet and holy. She could make any group of unruly children calm, reciting psalms to them and so on, to the extent that soon she was being loaned out to families with fighting kids to restore peace (I kid you not). Her reputation earned her an invitation to join a local convent, but they were such slackers that she put them to shame, and they sent her back home with prejudice. She later became a Dominican tertiary*.

Grigia’s home became a destination for perplexed pilgrims, and Margaret prayed for them all. She was favored with heavenly visions, and was known to say, “Oh, if only you knew what I have in my heart!” She was also associated with many miracles, both before and after her death. Once, when a fire broke out in the home, Grigia hollered to Margaret, who calmly suggested that if Grigia threw her cloak over the fire, it would go out. She did, and it did. Another time, she cured one of her stepsisters who looked likely to lose her eyesight.

When she died, the townspeople turned out in droves, and insisted that she be buried in the church. The priest at first refused, but when a crippled girl was healed at the funeral, he relented. Later, when her incorrupt relics were exhumed, an autopsy was performed (for reasons unstated), and it was discovered what she had in her heart—three pearls carved into “holy figures.” A movie of her life was made in 1986. Her canonization is pending; write to your representative on the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. She is the patroness of (among others) people rejected by religious orders.