December 22 – Anastasia, Deliverer from Potions; Hunger of Utrecht

Greatmartyr Anastasia, Deliverer from Potions (d. ca. 304) (aka Anastasia of Sirmium), was a Christian given in marriage to a pagan. She maintained her virginity by feigning illness, then snuck out to visit and comfort prisoners. When her husband found out, he beat her and locked her up. She corresponded with her spiritual father Chrysogonus, who told her her husband would soon die at sea. Sure enough, he did, and Anastasia was freed.

Chrysogonus was martyred, and posthumously commissioned Anastasia to comfort about-to-be-martyrs. She went from city to city, bringing healing (especially from poisoning), comfort, and little Danish butter cookies to Christian prisoners. Ultimately she was caught, and asked why she had abandoned the gods of her fathers. “Oh we had gods,” she said. “They were covered in spider webs and birds’ nests, so I had them melted down, and gave the gold to the poor.” After various tortures, she was handed over to the pagan priest Ulpian, who was struck by Anastasia’s great beauty, by her resolution, and with blindness when he reached out a hand to defile her. He screamed in pain, complained about his head, and died.

Anastasia was freed, but within the space of a single paragraph (nay, sentence) she was captured again. After a failed attempt at starvation, she and others were set adrift in a leaky boat, but her former (sadly martyred) companion St. Theodota appeared, and brought the boat to land. Finally Anastasia was roasted spread-eagle above a fire. When the fire went out, she was dead, but her body was not burned. This was in Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia). Her relics were moved to Constantinople in the fifth century, and there her story ends in the East.

In the West, things got interesting. Her cultus reached Rome in the fifth century, and her feast day was set for December 25, the day of her death. Later, the Feast of the Nativity took over that day, but she is still commemorated in the second mass. She is also, however, mentioned in every Mass, in the First Eucharistic Prayer—one of only seven women (outside the Blessed Virgin) to be so honored. If I may be permitted to say so, wow!

Hunger of Utrecht (ca. 800–866) (aka Hungerus Frisus, “Hunger of Friesland” (not “hungry for fries,” pace certain McDonald’s commercials in Holland)) was born in Holland, and that is just the first of his many fine qualities. He is represented as being misshapen in figure, but of great piety, learning, and zeal. He was Canon of the cathedral in Utrecht when the Archbishop died. The see was offered to the bishop’s nephew, but he didn’t want to make himself a target for the Viking (Norman) raiders, so he turned it down. Hunger was chosen, although we are not told exactly what he thought about that. We are told he was lauded for not practicing nepotism, and that he managed to get along with (or without) the Normans (Vikings) for a time.

Eventually they invaded the city, however, and Hunger and the Utrecht Clergy (which sounds like a rockumentary about a very unusual band) fled. Hearing that King Lothair II of Lotharingia was in the monastery at Prüm (some 300 miles south on the 61 (Netherlands) and E29 (Germany)), the band removed thereunto. They told their tale, and Lothair offered them the use of a monastery in Saint-Odiliënberg (lots of lovely dots in Hunger’s story). Or they fled to Saint-Odiliënberg and Lothair offered them a monastery in Prüm. Or they fled to Deventer and then to Prüm. My sources are all over the map (get it?) concerning their itinerary.

Hunger dissented from the Council of Metz, which allowed Lothair to divorce his wife for lack of offspring. The council was later overturned by the Pope (we are not told Hunger snickered), and Lothair had to take back his first wife. Fortunately, he didn’t take back the monastery. Hunger’s final resting place is unknown.