April 16 – Agapia, Chionia, and Irene; Bernadette of Lourdes

Agapia, Chionia & Irene (d. 304) are virgin-sister-martyrs whose story starts at their trial before the emperor Diocletian, who urged them to renounce Christ and marry three courtiers to be named later. “Uh, no,” they said, adding that idols were made by human hands, they were betrothed to Christ, and the like. He sent them to Macedonia to be tried by the governor Dulcititus, who was aroused to “impure passion” by their beauty, and promised to set them free if they would—you know. “Uh, no,” they said. Dulcititus tried to break into where they were being kept that night, but was unable to get into their cell, or indeed out of the building—he ended up sleeping in an ash heap in the kitchen. The next day he ordered the women stripped, but their clothes would not come off. Oddly he fell asleep at the trial, and only awoke when they carried him home. He sent the women to Sisinius for further trial.

Sisinius started by pestering Irene, the youngest, and when that failed he sent her back to prison and started in on Agapia and Chionia. Unable to persuade them to renounce their faith, he ordered them burned alive. But when the fire went out, their bodies were retrieved whole from the ashes, and even their clothing went untouched by the fire. The next day he had Irene hauled off to a brothel to be defiled, but the soldiers leading her to Brothelville were overtaken by two men (angels in disguise) who said, “New plan—Sisinius says take her to such-and-such a mountain.” Upon their return to Sisinius, they realized they had been tricked. Everybody ran to the mountain, but they couldn’t approach Irene. Finally one of them shot her with an arrow, and as she died she yelled, “I mock your impotent malice!” which I’m sure you’ll agree brings it right home to a guy. Kick him in his pride! We can only approve. Greatmartyr Anastasia (Dec 22) later came and buried all three.

Bernadette of Lourdes (1844–1879) was a poor and sickly girl. She was gathering sticks one day when she saw a vision of a beautiful woman enhaloed with light[1]. This was near a cave in a cliff on the banks of the river that flowed through the town of Lourdes. In sum she had 18 visions, although witnesses saw and heard nothing other than Bernadette herself, so skepticism abounded. The Lady told her to pray for sinners, to tell the priests to build a chapel there, and to invite people to visit the grotto. Bernadette asked for the Lady’s name on March 25, and the Lady replied, three times, “I am the immaculate conception.” (Not in English of course, but in the local dialect, Gascon Occitan, which apparently is like French but isn’t.)

People of course began coming to the place in droves, semidroves, and demihemisemi-droves, and tales of miracles began to multiply so rapidly that a medical bureau was set up there to document healings (“Ah, yes, healed of rheumatism; you want form 1214–C”). Bernadette, disturbed both by the tactless naysayers and the tacky yaysayers, ultimately removed herself to a convent in Nevers, some 700 km north on the A20. The nuns there treated her harshly, calling her a “stupid, good-for-nothing little thing,” but she counted it all as part of her salvation, and called herself happy right up to her last breath. Lourdes of course went on to become a huge pilgrimage destination, basilica, and gift shop, but that was all after Bernadette was gone. She is the patroness of, among others, people ridiculed for their piety.

[1]Isn’t “enhaloed” a lovely word? It was in my source.