August 26 – Adrian and Natalia; Jeanne-Elisabeth Bichier des Anges

Adrian and Natalia of Nicomedia (d. 406) were newlyweds when Maximian offered rewards for ratting out Christians. Twenty-three were found in a cave near Nicomedia and brought before Adrian to be tortured. When he asked them, “What exactly are you getting out of this god of yours that makes you endure this?” They replied, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and so forth, what he has in store for us” (1 Cor 2:9). “Well in that case, count me in!” said Adrian, having a sudden change of heart. He wrote his name down on the list of Christians, and was immediately arrested. The emperor, who happened to be in town that day (we make no comment on the probability of this), asked (this is a paraphrase), “Has the location of your mind become unknown to you?” Adrian replied, “Contrariwise, I just found it.”

Natalia, who was secretly a Christian herself, heard about this, rejoiced, dressed herself as a boy, and ran down to see Adrian in jail. “Keep up the good fight!” she said. “Don’t think about what you’re leaving behind—beauty, youth, riches, me—but what lies ahead.” Then she went home. When Adrian’s execution was scheduled, they gave him leave to go home and tell his wife. “I’ve come to tell you the date of my execution,” he said. “Oh good,” she said. “I thought you had chickened out and I was about to bar the door.” Having got that all worked out, he went back to jail.

When the day came, Natalia came down to help Adrian keep his courage up. “Also, when you come before God, pray they won’t forcibly marry me to some pagan,” she asked, reassuringly. She helpfully asked the torturers if Adrian might go first, so he wouldn’t get squeamish at somebody else’s torture and back out. When they indicated they wanted to smash his hands and feet on an anvil, she helpfully placed them there.

After the martyrs were dead, the authorities wanted to burn their bodies, but a storm came up and quenched the fires, so they were buried—except one of Adrian’s hands, which Natalia nabbed. When she caught wind of a plan to marry her off to a pagan, she fled to Byzantium, where she had a dream in which her husband told her she was coming soon to join him. And sure enough, she did. I couldn’t find a patronage for Natalia, but Adrian is the patron saint of “old soldiers” (which is odd since he was 28 when he died) and “communications phenomena” (cell phones? ham radio? no clue).

Jeanne-Elisabeth Bichier des Anges (1773–1838) was born in the Chateau des Anges, which few today can say. (I mean can claim. Anybody can say “Chateau des Anges,” with some coaching and a little practice) She was sent at ten to a convent school, where she excelled at building sand castles (I kid not). When she was nineteen, her father died, and she was forced to return to the family estate and fight the National Assembly to keep the family property in the family. She studied law (from prison? it’s unclear), acted as her own attorney, and won the case.

At twenty-three she moved with her mother to a Paris suburb. The Revolution was still in full swing, and priests were like poultry dentition, but Elisabeth gathered nightly with neighbors to read, pray, and sing. Speaking of poultry, she learned of a priest 25 miles away who was clandestinely saying Mass in a barn, having refused to pledge allegiance to the Revolution—(St.) Andrew Fournet. He became her spiritual advisor and close friend.

When her mother died, Elisabeth entered a convent, and three years later she and Andrew founded the Daughters of the Cross of Saint Andrew to care for the sick, poor, and uneducated of rural France. (Due to confusion between this order and several others of similar names, I was unable to determine if it still exists—it did in 1903, but that was some days ago.) She was canonized in 1947 by Pius XII.