April 24 – Elizabeth the Wonderworker; Fidelis of Sigmaringen

Elizabeth the Wonderworker of Constantinople  (V, VI, VII, VIII, or IX cent.) matriculated, after a pious childhood, at either the Cosmos & Damian or St. George Monastery in Constantinople, and later became abbess of same (or same). The former (monastery) would be fitting because she was a wonderworker, able to heal all manner of physical and spiritual infirmities. The latter would be fitting because she was a dragon-slayer. Her personal manner of life was very strict—she ate very little (and not at all during Lent), always went barefoot, and constantly wore a hair-shirt that didn’t keep her warm (the sources take pains to point out its inferior insulating properties).

Now for the dragon. Said dragon was on a piece of land that the emperor (Leo I according to one source) had given the monastery, and was the reason he let it go at such a fire-sale price. This dragon had spread sorrow and despair throughout the capital, but Elizabeth knew neither, nor fear, neither. (Read that again if you need to). Once the ink was dry on the deed, she went to the property with a cross in her hand. She prayed for God’s aid, then called out, “Hey dragon, front and center.” The beast slunk out of his lair and over to where she stood, with a surly, “Yes, ma’am.” Elizabeth made the sign of the cross over him, spat on him, grabbed his head, and stomped on his back with her foot, and he immediately expired. She, on the other hand, lived to a ripe old age, intentionally holding out until the day after St. George’s Day.

Fidelis of Sigmaringen (1577–1622) was born in Hohenzollern as Mark Rey, and after a whirlwind six-year study tour through the chief cities of Europe (during which he won great esteem among his companions for his piety and generosity to the poor—sometimes he literally gave them the clothes off his back), he went to law school. After graduation he practiced law in Alsace, where he became known as “the Poor Man’s Lawyer” for his generosity. He refused to use the lawyery dirty tricks popular in that place and time (thankfully unethical lawyers are a thing of the past), and finally the unscrupulosity around him got to be too much. He gave all his money to the poor, took the name Fidelis (not sure who from) and joined the Capuchins, who were saving him a spot next to his brother. While in seminary he proved a wonderworker, and later healed many people (especially soldiers) during an epidemic.

After heading a few monasteries, he was sent to the Grisons in Switzerland to preach to Zwinglians (no, I wouldn’t do it either), which earned him plaudits and death threats, depending upon the source (I mean the source of the plaudit or death threat, not the hagiographical source) (I’m guessing you figured that). He won many Protestants back to the Catholic fold, both through his preaching and the various pamphlets he published anonymously (alas none have survived). He became a representative for (and the first martyr of) the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, which was formed to apply a trowel where just decades before a butter knife might have been sufficient. The counter-reformation was “hotting up,” as the kids say.

As was Fidelis’ life—he was fired at while preaching on the subject “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.” The irony was not wasted on him, but the musket ball was. It missed him and lodged in the wall, just below the writing that said his martyrdom was near. A Calvinist offered to hide him, but he demurred, saying his life was in God’s hands. On the way to his next gig he was attacked by a pack of feral Protestants, who demanded he recant his faith. When he replied, “I came to annihilate heresy, not embrace it[1],” they stabbed him to death. He died asking God to forgive them. His body was returned to his former monastery at Feldkirch, except his head and left arm, which went to the cathedral at Coire.


[1] Could this be the source of the famous quip Shakespeare put in Brutus’ mouth? Nah, the play was 23 years old at this time. Wait, could Brutus’ quip be … well, let’s not go there.