June 26 – John of the Goths; Anthelm of Belley

John of the Goths (d. ca. 791) was a Goth from Crimea, born in answer to his parents’ fervent prayers and dedicated from a young age to a life of monastic asceticism (or ascetic monasticism). At some point he went to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, taking three years to visit all the holy sites (the bus kept breaking down). He then returned to Crimea, just as Emperor Constantine “Copronymous”[1] banished their bishop for not being an iconoclast. John high-tailed it to Georgia, where the long arm of the iconoclasts couldn’t reach. There, for reasons unrecorded, he was made a bishop, although of what diocese, our sources also do not say. He returned to Crimea and settled down to Metropolitaning in Doros (modern Mangup) for about thirty years.

Then he led a revolt against the Khazars, driving the garrison and Tudun (resident governor) from Doros, and seizing the mountain passes leading into the region. The Khazars however roared back within a year, and John was seized and imprisoned in Fullakh (modern Stary Krym, some 150 versts ENE of Doros on the H06 and P23). Fortunately he was able to escape, and took refuge in Amasra, just across the Black Sea in northern Anatolia, then still part of the Byzantine Empire, where he lived out the last year (or four) of his life.

When he heard of the death of the kagan (Khazar ruler), he accurately predicted he himself would die in forty days. His remains were taken to a church on the Ayu-Dag mountain near Partenit, twenty-six miles due east of Doros as the double-headed eagle flies. On a final humorous note, one of my sources says he was declared a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church “posthumously.” Unlike, um….

Anthelm of Belley (1105–1178) was a nobleman who became a priest, and spent some time cynically climbing the ecclesiastical ranks and seeking power. A visit to the Carthusians in Portes brought about a change of heart, and at age thirty he said goodbye to “all that,” and ran off to a monastery. Within two years he was abbot of the Carthusian mother ship in Chartreuse (originally “Tennis Ball Yellow,” renamed when it was pointed out that tennis balls in those days were more of a smudgy brown). Under his tutelage the monastery grew in “both numbers and holiness,” which can be a tricky combination to pull off. He also oversaw the transformation of the Carthusians from a loosely organized division of the Benedictines into their own full-fledged order.

At this point he resigned his post and went off to live as a hermit, which lasted just long enough for the Carthusians at Porte to find him and make him their abbot. While there he gave away the monastery’s “bounty” (paper towels? probably not) to the poor. Seeing that he wasn’t getting much hermiting done in Portes, he returned to Chartreuse, but unlike your average hermit, he got caught up in the politics surrounding the papal election, supporting the underdog Alexander III against the emperor’s favorite Victor IV. Alexander won, and made Anthelm bishop of Belley, where he became so popular the people changed the name of the town to Anthelmopolis, although it eventually got changed back.

There he was still unable to avoid politics, excommunicating Count Humbert III, who had imprisoned a priest. The pope overturned the excommunication, at which Anthelm retired to Porte in protest. He spent the remaining years of his life tending lepers and the poor. Humbert visited his death bed to ask forgiveness, so that feud was healed. Witnesses reported that as Anthelm’s casket was lowered into the ground, a lamp normally lit only for great festivals suddenly sprang into flame.

[1] An unfriendly nickname; literally “poopy name.” A disputed legend says he pooped in his baptismal font, presaging something bad. But this is not his story.