May 12 – Epiphanius of Cyprus; Joanna of Portugal

Epiphanius of Cyprus (ca. 310–403) was a scholar who converted to Christianity when he saw a monk being kind to a poor man. He was monkified by St. Hilarion the Great (Oct 21), and after a time moved to the desert. There he was held captive by robbers for three months, but he spoke so well about repentance (and his need for a biographer) that one of the robbers repented (and became his biographer). Epiphanius and his new disciple (whom he baptized “John”) lived back at the monastery for a while, then returned to the desert as hermits. Soon, in time-honored custom, they were inundated with followers and a monastery sprang up.

In a rash and unfortunate incident, Epiphanius tore down a curtain at a church in Bethel because it had an icon painted upon it—he was a bit of an iconoclast. (The church has not held that against him, so we’re not going to either. And besides, he bought them a new curtain with his own money.) One day he was accosted by an emissary from Lycia asking him to accept the bishopric of that city. Horrified, he and John went back to Hilarion, who sent them to the island of Cyprus. They were met on the dock by an elderly bishop who said, “Great timing! We’ve just elected you bishop of Salamis. Come on, I’ll introduce you to the lads.” And that’s how Epiphanius became bishop of Salamis. (Moral: when the episcopal bug bites, resistance is futile.)

At the end of his life he went to Constantinople for a synod, but when he realized its purpose was to depose (St.) John Chrysostom, he made an upsilon-turn and caught the next boat back. Sadly, he died before the ship reached Cyprus.

We end with a miracle story. It is said that Epiphanius could see the Holy Spirit descending on the Gifts every time he prayed the Epiclesis. Except one time—he said the prayer, and did not see the Spirit. He looked around, and one of the priests celebrating with him looked kind of iffy. “You’ll have to leave, son,” he told him. “Today’s not your day.” After the priest left, the Spirit came down as usual.

Blessed* Joanna, Princess of Portugal (1452–1490), was the presumptive heir of a western Iberian country (hinted at in her title) until her brother was born. Still, little Juan was a sickly lad, and their father hoped to marry Joanna off to (his) political advantage, so he refused to let her join the Dominicans as she desired. Several matches were proposed, but she managed to extricate herself from all of them. How, we are not told—I’m mentally picturing Catherine Called Birdy. (When her father died, her brother took it upon himself to find her a politically-advantageous (to himself) bridegroom, but still she prevailed. But that came later.)

She served as regent when the men were off in Tangier fighting the Moors, and when they returned victorious, her father finally granted her permission to make her vows. He insisted, however, that she join the nearby Benedictine convent instead of the Dominicans. There she was subjected to an endless parade of obnoxious relatives railing against her choice, and was soon forced to return to court. Moving into the convent and back to the court became the pattern for the rest of her life. (Clearly not a pattern made by Simplicity™.)

Between her weathervane father, her selfish brother (who at one point actually tore her veil from her head), her obnoxious bishops (who at one point forced her to sign an agreement to forsake nunning), and her quack doctors (who at every point made her sicker than she was before their treatment), her life was far from easy. She bore this all like a blessed saint, however, which is why she’s blessed*, if not yet a (full-fledged) saint. Eventually she was poisoned by a woman whose sinful lifestyle she had once called a sinful lifestyle, and died in great pain, but also with great dignity and peace.