October 19 – John of Rila; Philip Howard

The Apostle and Evangelist Luke (d. ca. 84) was a physician in first century Antioch, probably of Greek descent. He is credited by the Church with the authorship of both the Gospel According to St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, two books in the New Testament of the Christian Bible (over-explanation given for our friends who grew up in Bible-free homes). He is thought to have been a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul, and with good reason—the narrative in Acts abruptly switches from the third person to second person plural in 16:10, presumably indicating that the good doctor joined Paul in Troas and journeyed with him after that. Paul in his second letter to Timothy complains that all of his companions had abandoned him except Luke.

Tradition picks up where the Biblical record leaves off, as it will. After the deaths of Peter and Paul in Rome, Luke set off to preach in Egypt and Libya, unless it was Dalmatia and Macedonia, unless it was both. (As ever your intrepid hagiographer is not going to get into arguments about whose tradition trumps whose, although of course ours is infinitely superior to those other guys’.) Somewhere in there he had an audience with the Theotokos (that’s Mary, Jesus’ mum), during which he collected material for his gospel (Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and the “No Posada” incident in Bethlehem occur only in Luke) and painted her icon. The tradition of Luke being a painter goes back to at least the sixth century (in written form, I mean). A copy of said icon, dating to at least the ninth century, is at the Basilica of Maria Maggiore (“Major Mary”—I’m not asking) in Rome. Luke is thus, especially in the East, hailed as the first iconographer, and often depicted painting (or “writing” as some people insist) an icon of Our Lady, usually with Jesus in her arms, although it is unknown whose kid he used as a model for the Holy Infant.

Luke died either in Bithynia (in Asia Minor) or in Thebes (in Greece), either as a martyr or not. (Consider: When the greatest historian in the room dies, the people left behind to write his bio aren’t as good historians as he was. Stands to reason.) (Actually his historical accuracy has been questioned in recent decades, but that is (Deo gratis) beyond our scope.) Wherever he died, Jerome (Sep 30) said his relics were taken to Constantinople in about 359, and as Jerome was uncharacteristically calm when he said it, nobody quibbled.

Then sometime in the ninth, thirteenth, or fifteenth century the relics were moved to Padua, either to protect them from the wrath of the iconoclasts, or as booty of the Fourth Crusade, or as a purchase from Ottoman Sultan Murad II (which seems odd since it was Murad’s son Mehmed II who conquered Constantinople in 1453, by which time Murad had been dead two years. Children, never buy relics from a dead man). DNA and Carbon-14 tests in 2001 showed a tooth from the casket said to be Luke’s (in Padua) to be from near Antioch and from somewhere between the first and fifth centuries. That doesn’t prove it was Luke’s, or course, but it could be, which is cool enough. It also fit nicely into the skull in the Cathedral of St. Vitus in Prague said to be Luke’s. (The skull was Luke’s, not the cathedral.) After the dating thing, the Bishop of Padua graciously sent a rib (the one closest to the heart) to Thebes, where the remains of the apostle were originally entombed before they began their globetrotting. Unless he died in Bithynia. But let’s move on.

Luke’s symbol is the ox, because his Gospel starts with the story of Zachariah, John the B’s father, who was a priest in the temple, and priests killed oxen. (You can’t fight logic.) Luke is the patron saint of painters and butchers, as you might imagine, as well as glaziers, lacemakers, bachelors, and, of course, Hermersdorf, Germany.