April 20 – Alexander of Oshevensk; Agnes of Montepulciano

Alexander of Oshevensk (d. 1479) was the founder of the Oshevensk Dormition Monastery, and the enlightener of Kargopol (“Cargo pool”). Our story starts some 200 years after he died, that is, sometime in the XVII century. (St.) Diodorus (no, not “having two odors”) was abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery when it ran out of food. The monks were getting downright uppity and Diodorus was at his wits’ end. Suddenly Alexander appeared to him in a dream, reminded him that the Lord fed five thousand in the wilderness, and told him to go fishing. Fearing this might be demonic activity or the results of long nights on short commons, Diodorus ignored the vision. Alexander appeared to him a second time and told him to get his boat in gear and go fishing. Diodorus again ignored him. Alexander appeared a third time. Diodorus devised a cunning test. He said, “Look, I need to know you’re not a demon. Say a prayer.” Alexander sighed and recited “It is Truly Meet,” beaming a little from the face, not to be showy but because he was holy. Diodorus finally saw the light[1]; he went fishing, and of course caught many fish. The monastery was saved.

Agnes of Montepulciano (1268–1317) was heralded at birth with UFOs[2] flying around her family’s home, which is pretty cool. When she turned six, she started pestering her parents to let her join a convent. When they refused, she asked if they could at least move to Montepulciano, where a wonderful convent was conveniently located, but shaky politics made dad unable to relocate (although they let her visit). Not long after, she was traveling past a bordello in Montepulciano when a flock of crows swooped down on her, screaming and scratching. The witnesses reasoned that the crows were demons who resented her purity. I don’t have a better explanation.

At nine she finally prevailed upon her parents to let her go. She joined the Franciscans in Montepulciano, where she spent five wonderful and pressure-free years. While there, she had a beautiful dream in which she was visited by the blessed Virgin, and was allowed to hold the Christ Child. When it came time to give Him back, though, she was reluctant, and held onto him tightly. When she awoke, she was holding the golden cross he had worn in the dream. In another vision our Lady gave her three pebbles to build a convent with, which she did, as you’ll see.

At fifteen she was quite unwillingly elected abbess of a new convent in Procena. This required special papal permission on account of her age and all. She was a good abbess of course, a wonderworker and visionary and a bread-and-water ascetic (with a stone for a pillow, even). She was just getting settled in, when (after about twenty years) she was called back to Montepulciano. There she received a vision telling her to join the Dominicans and build a convent on the site of the old brothel. A period of brouhaha followed, but eventually the land was purchased, the monastery was built, and the Dominicans coughed up a chaplain. Immediately one of the walls fell down. As it turned out the non-union contractors had skimped on the building materials, and the whole place had to be torn down and rebuilt.

At this point Agnes made a quick pilgrimage to Rome, then a hopeful swing to Chianciano for the healing baths due to her rapidly-failing health. It didn’t work, alas. She came home to Montepulciano to die and become a pilgrimage destination, both of which she did. Years later, (St.) Catherine of Siena (Apr 29) came to venerate Agnes’ incorrupt body, stooping to kiss her foot. Agnes courteously raised her foot so Catherine wouldn’t have to bend over so far. Now that is politesse.

[1] Heh.
[2] In the form of lights of unknown origin.