April 29 – Endelienta of Cornwall; Catherine of Siena

Endelienta of Cornwall (V or VI cent.) lived as a hermit in Cornwall. Her father was King Brychan of Brecknock, and her brother was (St.) Nectan of Hartland (Devonshire). Now, Edelienta had a beloved cow, whose milk provided her only food. One day the cow (whose name is not remembered) strayed onto a nobleman’s property, and the nobleman, Lord Trentinney or Tregony or something, killed it. He paid for it with his life when Edelienta’s godfather (who may have been King Arthur) found out. Edelienta was so upset to hear that a man was killed on behalf of her cow that she restored them both to life.

When she knew her death was approaching, she asked that her body be placed on an ox-cart, and buried wherever the oxen stopped. The Church of St. Endellion (a variant of her name) stands on that spot, and the village of St. Endellion (50.573° North 4.83° West) surrounds it.

Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) grew up a happy and prayerful child subject to divine visions. Oddly one source describes her as having delicate features, exquisite coloring, and long, thick golden hair, but says she wasn’t pretty. Maybe delicate features weren’t popular back then, and they preferred people with big teeth or outsized ears or something. Anyway, in a now-familiar pattern, her parents wanted to marry her off, and she wanted to dedicate her life to God. Saying so didn’t work, so when things started to look serious, she cut off all her luxuriant, golden (yet somehow ugly) hair. Her mother was livid, and dragged her off to a spa for beauty treatments, but Catherine scalded herself in the water in an effort to make herself even less attractive. She also got smallpox but that may not have been intentional. Mom promised to ask the local Dominican convent if Catherine could join, and after a tussle about minimum age requirements, she was accepted.

Catherine would have been content to stay locked up in her cell, if she had not had a vision in which Jesus told her to get out into the world. Not one to do anything halfway, she threw herself into serving the sick, the poor, and the spiritually adrift, and was rewarded with the gift of miraculous healing. She always had time for those who sought her advice, and she never refused to treat any patient—even those with leprosy or other “untouchable” diseases.

She also was a force majeure in politics, both secular and ecclesial. Through visits and letters, she convinced Gregory XI to return the papacy to Rome (from Avignon) in 1376. When Gregory died and a new antipope arose, she supported the duly-elected pope (Urban VI), while at the same time chewing him out for his harsh demeanor. Urban was so impressed he invited her to come to Rome to help him, and she did. She also helped heal a breach between Florence and the Papal States through her diplomacy. Throughout all of this she maintained a fierce self-discipline, going years eating nothing but the blessed Sacrament. She wrote reams of letters and books of theology, and is one of only four women to be declared a Doctor of the Church.

She died at the age of thirty-three, and her body rests in Rome—or at least, most of it. Some people felt her relics belonged in Siena, but realizing they didn’t stand much chance getting them there, they settled on nabbing her head. This was done, but the headnabber was stopped by Roman guards and asked what was in the sack. “Catherine,” he prayed silently, “if you want your head to go to Siena, you gotta help me here.” The sack was opened, but it contained nothing but rose petals. “Sorry to trouble you,” said the guard. “No blame to you,” said the thief. Of course, when the sack was opened again in Siena, there was Catherine’s skull—and there it remains (in Siena, I mean, not in the sack).