July 7 – Kyriake; Pope Benedict XI

Kyriake of Nicomedia (d. 289) was born on a Sunday (her name means “Sunday”) to aging, godly, wealthy, barren parents in answer to their unceasing prayers. As is so often the case in these stories, she grew up devout and beautiful, wishing to dedicate her life to God, but was plagued with wealthy suitors, eager to marry her because she was beautiful and wealthy and doggone it, people liked her.

When she refused a certain magistrate’s son, the magistrate denounced the whole family straight to the emperor for being Christians. Her parents were tortured, then exiled, then tortured to death in exile. Kyriake meanwhile was enjoined to reconsider and not throw her life away. When she demurred, she was flogged, but the floggers got so tired they had to be replaced. Three times. Seeing this wasn’t working, the emperor sent her to the eparch of Bithynia, to whom Kyriake (really) said, “Do your worst.” He had her hung her by the hair and poked with torches, but when the pokers grew weary, she was placed in prison. There Christ met her and healed her wounds. When she arrived in the morning before the eparch, he enjoined her to thank the gods for healing her. “Well, I was healed by Christ,” she said, “but I’ll go up to the temple with you.”

I’m sure you see what is coming. Yep, she prayed to God, and an earthquake toppled the idols, shattering them into whatever the word for “smithereens” was in third-century Bithynia. The eparch cursed Kyriake’s God for this, and was smote by a lightning bolt. (Should be “smitten” but “smote” sounds cooler, and less romantic.) Some time passed, then the next eparch resumed the torture, throwing her into suddenly-quenched flames and among suddenly-tame beasts. Finally he ordered her head to be removed with a large, military scalpel, but before the blow fell, her soul was ushered to heaven by the angels.

Pope Benedict XI (1240–1304) was born either to a poor shepherd or an impoverished nobleman, and fostered by a priest uncle. Seeing he was a bright lad, Unc had him schooled in Latin “and other clerical subjects.” At ten he was tutoring noble children, and at fourteen he joined the Dominicans, where his education continued. He worked as a teacher in Venice and Bologna, and was described by (St.) Antonius (and would he lie?) as having “a vast store of knowledge, a prodigious memory, a penetrating genius.” He added that “everything about him endeared him to all” which is hardly ever said about all-knowing geniuses. After a short 41 years, he was awarded the Master of Theology.

Next he was made master general of the Dominicans, but within a year he was made a cardinal. Right about this time, things were getting ugly between the king of France (Philip the Fair) and the Pope (Boniface VIII), who was for a time besieged in a castle by French forces. He died not long after (one source suggests of a broken heart after his treatment by the French), and our man Benedict was chosen to succeed him. He lifted Boniface’s interdict on the French people, and did (nearly) all in his power to make peace. He held his office for less than a year when he died suddenly, allegedly poisoned by nobleman Nogaret, whom he had excommunicated for his part in the Boniface thing. In an interesting sidenote, Benedict X is now considered an antipope, so Benedict XI is actually the tenth pope of that name, and the numbering of Benedicts has been off by one ever since.

Finally, a story. One day his mother came to visit him, but his attendants decided she was too ragged, and dressed her up in finery. When she came before him, Benedict said, “I thought my mother was coming to visit? Where is the plainly-dressed peasant woman whom I love so well?” The attendants got the hint. (We’re not told if Mum got to keep the duds.)