October 26 – Demetrius of Thessaloniki; Eata of Hexham

Greatmartyr Demetrius of Thessaloniki (ca. 270–306) was a noble Macedonian who rose to high rank in the Roman army. He was a Christian right off the bat (no bats were harmed in the writing of this hagiography), and his preaching won many a pagan to the faith. Maximian, Caesar of the East but not Augustus (it’s complicated) threw a gala one day (after returning to Thessaloniki from a successful military campaign), including games and sacrifices and (doubtless) gyro vendors. Demetrius’ lack of participation was noted and reported.

While he languished in prison (a guarded bath-house), possibly in Sirmium (in modern day Serbia), Demetrius was visited by a young Christian named Nestor, who sought his blessing for a mano-a-mano with a giant named Lyæus. Nestor went on to slay the giant (“just like David and Goliath!” one source gushes), and was beheaded for it when the emperor discovered (okay, who blabbed?) he had had help from Demetrius. Demetrius was impaled, and his servant Lupus was beheaded when he was caught working miracles with Demetrius’ robe.

All of this might have been forgotten outside of Thessaloniki (where for centuries they didn’t even have his relics, just a ciborium that acted as a cenotaph) (look ’em up; I had to), had Demetrius not appeared during a battle in 586 to help defend Thessaloniki from the incursing Slavs. His bones were soon discovered (how they got there from Sirmium, no one will say), gushing myrrh, and he went on to become one of the most famous and beloved military martyr saints of the middle ages. He is often depicted in icons with St. George, even, and how many can claim that? Besides the dragon, I mean. Bits of Demetrius’ relics also reside on Athos, and in Astoria, Queens.

Eata of Hexham (d. 686), monk, was one of twelve Anglo-Saxon boys picked by (St.) Aidan (Aug 31) as missionaries to the north of England. These were times, as you well know, of some tension between the Celts and the English, the former somewhat resenting the way the latter invaded their island and pushed them around (imagine!), then tried to change their religious practices as well. Your intrepid hagiographer refuses to choose sides between the God-pleasing Celts and the dirty stinking rotten filthy Anglo-Saxons, largely because of wonderful saints such as Eata.

After the Synod of Whitby*, Aidan’s successor Colmán (Feb 18) returned to Ireland in disgust (or in a coracle; accounts vary), and Eata, then abbot of the monastery at that Melrose place, was picked to head the abbey at (on) Lindisfarne*. Cuthbert (Mar 20) was prior (that’s the noun, not the adjective), but when Eata was pegged by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Theodore) to preside over the newly-formed Diocese of Bernicia (that’s the north half of Northumbria), he (Cuthbert) became abbot. (Confused yet? Just you wait.) When Bernicia was split into the dioceses of Lindisfarne and Hexham, Eata got Lindisfarne, and Cuthbert got Hexham (“six cured pig thighs”). (Dioceses in that place and time seem to have undergone fission and fusion faster than 1960s folk rock bands.)

Eata and Cuthbert remained thick as thieves, travelling about their sees together to evangelize the pagans. Eventually, for reasons I couldn’t discern, they traded bishoprics. Eata lived two more years, died of dysentery, and was buried at Hexham Abbey. He was proclaimed a saint by popular acclaim by the many Northumbrians he had evangelized, who had seen his sanctity of life at close hand (and foot and arm and head, etc.). In 1113, when plans were made to move his remains to York, Eata appeared to the archbishop thereof in a dream, saying, “Don’t do that.” So they didn’t.