December 16 – Theophano the Empress; Adelaide of Burgundy

Theophano the Empress (d. 893 or maybe 897) had ancestors, but her contemporary biographers didn’t know who they were (or if they knew, they were too polite to say). Her story is closely tied up with that of her husband, who was not a saint, as you shall see. Leo the Wise was the son of Eudokia Ingerina and Emperor Basil I, unless he was the son of Eudokia Ingerina and Emperor Michael III. Eudokia was Michael’s mistress and Basil’s wife, in roughly that order (with perhaps a little overlap), and Leo was born about nine months after the overlap.

Basil’s first son died, and Santavarinus, an evil wizard, wormed his way into Basil’s heart by inducing some kind of vision or hallucination in which Basil hugged his departed son. Leo suspected Santa (the wizard, not the Coca Cola salesman) was bad news and generally avoided him, which made Santa hate him. Still Leo didn’t exactly distrust him, so when Santavarinus suggested he hide a dagger in his boot the next time he and Basil went hunting to protect his father against some nefarious plot, Leo agreed to do so. Santavarinus then told Basil that Leo was planning to kill him with a dagger concealed in his boot. You see where this is going. Leo wound up in prison along with his wife, our saint, Theophano. Basil intended to put Leo’s eyes out (a popular punishment in medieval Constantinople) (you’ll see) (no pun intended), but his nobles (and the Patriarch) would not let him.

Some three years later, Basil’s pet parrot was being shown to dinner guests, when it said, “Woe! Woe for my lord Leo!” Everybody stopped eating. Silence filled the hall. The clock ticked. A dog in the distance barked. Finally, someone said, “Even a stupid bird knows Leo is innocent.” Basil remorsed, and freed his son and daughter-in-law. After Basil died, Leo had Santavarinus blinded (see?) and exiled.

Theophano retired to her chambers, made a pallet on the floor, and spent the rest of her days in prayer, repentance, almsgiving, and a hairshirt, giving whatever wealth came her way to support the poor. Leo was impressed by her saintliness, but not quite enough to not take a mistress. Theophano removed to a monastery. Either before or after she died, Leo proposed to build a church dedicated to her, but either she or his ministers (or both) nixed the idea. It was he, nevertheless, who dedicated the Sunday after Pentecost to All Saints, intending (according to some sources) that his first wife (eventually he had four) would be commemorated thereupon.

Adelaide of Burgundy (ca. 931–999), a Burgundian princess, was promised in marriage at age two to Lothair, eventual King of Italy, with whom she nuptialed at age sixteen (a long engagement, but understandable given circumstances). Lothair was poisoned (presumably) by his successor Berengarius. When Adelaide refused to marry Bery’s son, Bery imprisoned her. When Otto the Great (“Are you really great?” she asked him. “You Otto be”) defeated Berenny, he freed Adelaide from prison, and imprisoned her in marriage to himself. He was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, and managed to stay that way for twenty years.

Confused yet? Just wait! Otto I’s successor Otto II (Adelaide’s stepson) treated his stepmother abysmally (a grim tale that reversed the Grimm tale). O2 died when O3 was just a suckling, and O2’s wife Theophano (sic!), acting as regent, managed to get Adelaide kicked out of court. When Theophano died, Adelaide took over as regent, using the opportunity to help the poor, evangelize, build and restore monasteries and churches, and play Final Fantasy XIV. When Otto III came of age, Adelaide retired to a monastery and lived out her days in prayer, although never officially becoming a nun. She is the patron “against in-law problems.”