July 15 – Vladimir the Great; Bonaventure

Vladimir the Great (ca. 958–1015) was the youngest and most illegitimate of the three sons of Prince Svyatoslav of Kiev, pagan son of Christian Princess Olga (Jul 11). After Svyasha’s death, his principality was split between his three sons. When middle son Oleg was killed by eldest son Yaropolk, Vlad slipped off to Norway and, with the help of its ruler, his umpteenth cousin Haakon Sigurdsson, raised an army of Vikings to wrest Kiev from Yaropolk. This proved unnecessary, as he was able to dispatch his half-brother through treachery. On the way home he sacked a city and slew its prince because the prince’s sister refused his marriage proposal, all on account of his being the illegitimate brat of a slave woman. Talk about picky. Vlad married her by force, being that sort of guy. If you read Olga’s story (Jul 11), you will see the apple didn’t fall far from the grandtree.

Once in charge, Vlad started collecting wives and concubines, erecting temples, harassing Christians, and in general playing your typical pagan Viking prince of tenth century Kiev. At some point, however (one source blames the martyrdom of Theodore and John (Jul 12)), he sent emissaries to check out Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Islam, and Judaism. He rejected Islam because as he said, “Russians could never give up drinking; it’s our greatest joy;” and Judaism because their loss of Jerusalem proved God no longer favored them. Between Catholicism and Orthodoxy he chose the latter because his emissaries saw no beauty in the German churches they visited (“Why couldn’t they have gone to Italy?” I hear the Catholics cry), but of their visit to Constantinople they said, “We couldn’t tell if we were in heaven or on earth, it was so beautiful.” (And this was 900 years before Rachmaninov!)

In the end Vlad got baptized in order to marry the emperor’s daughter Anna, whose hand he had earned by letting the emperor borrow some soldiers. He immediately started tearing down pagan temples and putting up churches with the same vigor with which he did the opposite earlier. He also decreed that on a certain date everybody in Kiev would get baptized “or be declared my enemy.” Knowing how he treated his enemies, the people were more than glad to get baptized. This traditionally marks the beginning of Orthodoxy in the Rus’, and earns Vlad the titles “Equal to the Apostles” and “Enlightener of the Rus’.” By all accounts, he took his new faith very seriously. Oh sure there were problems, but we’ll overlook those because our word count is already high, and end with this tidbit: he is the patron saint of reformed and penitent murderers.

Bonaventure (1221–1274) studied at the University of Paris, where he received his doctorate with classmate Thomas Aquinas (Jan 28). He was a Franciscan, and defended his order against the anti-mendicants, who were opposed to mendicants*. Upon graduation he became Master General of the Franciscans, who under his leadership became the premiere Order* in the church, at least until the rise of the Jesuits.

He is a Doctor of the Church, and one of the greatest medieval philosophers in the history of medieval philosophy. In the Scholastic endeavor to reconcile Plato, Aristotle, and the Christian faith, he is more mystical than the more Aristotelian Aquinas or the more scientific Bacon[1] (whom he had a run-in with; story for another day). He was present at the Second Council of Lyons, after which he died suddenly and “in suspicious circumstances” (some say it was poison—politics in the Franciscan order at the time were pretty politicky). Possibly unrelatedly, he is the patron saint of people with intestinal illnesses.

Hugenots burned his body in their raid upon Lyons, but his head was recovered, only to be lost during the French Revolution.

Today is also St. Swithun’s Day. See Swithun (Jul 2).


[1] Scientific bacon is the tastiest kind, I’m sure you’ll agree.