December 30 – Zoticus, Feeder of Orphans; Egwin of Worcester

Zoticus, Feeder of Orphans (IV cent.) worked for Constantine the Great during the conversion of Byzantium into Constantinople. When leprosy broke out (a breakout of leprosy is a lot worse than a breakout of acne, although our teenaged readers may not believe me), Constantine ordered the lepers to be driven from the city or drowned in the sea. Reckoning that this was inhumane both to the lepers and to the fish, Zoticus went to Constantine and said, “I need to buy a bunch of pearls and gems and stuff to decorate around town. Can I have some gold?” Constantine gave him the gold, which he used to redeem the lepers, and create a leper colony for them across the Bosporus.

When Constantine’s Arian son Constantius came to the throne, one of Zoticus’ enemies ratted Zoticus to the emperor for misappropriation of public funds. Hearing of this, Zoticus dandied himself up and took Constantius to the hill overlooking the colony, saying, “Behold the gems and pearls that your money bought!” The lepers greeted them with praises and candles (not necessarily in that order), and thanked Constantius for funding their colony. “They have been praying for your salvation,” Zoticus explained.

Constantius was enraged (he was an Arian), and ordered Zoticus to be dragged behind wild mules. They dragged him to the bottom of the hill, then back to the top, by which time he was dead. Then like Balaam’s ass, they spoke, saying, “Bury him here.” After recovering from his shock (apparently talking mules weren’t as common then as they are nowadays), Constantius had Zoticus buried with honor, and funded a shiny new leprosarium on the site. An orphanage was later added to the complex, which is how Zoticus got his title. His full title is, “Zoticus, Person for Whom a Leprosarium Was Built Which Latter Added an Orphanage,” but it usually gets clipped for all but the most formal uses.

Egwin of Worcester (d. 717) was a descendent of Mercian kings, albeit not in the line of succession himself. (Perhaps from the spindle side of the family. Distaff. Whatever.) He was dedicated to God as a youth (by whom? his parents? the cleaning lady? the crazy neighbor? our sources do not say; drat the passive voice), and became in turns a monk and the Bishop of Worcester. Everybody loved his care for widows and orphans, but his calls for Christian marriage and clerical celibacy were a harder sell. One source suggests he went a little overboard. Perhaps instead of mandating that every other priest be celibate, he mandated two out of every three? Okay, I’ll admit, I’m not sure what “overboard” means here.

At any rate, he was denounced to the king and the Archbishop of Canterbury. To vindicate himself, he locked his ankles in shackles, threw the key into the Avon, and set off on a pilgrimage to Rome. Upon arrival in the Eternal City, Egwin went to pray in the Church of the Apostles, while one of his entourage went to buy them something to eat, returning with a key that he had found in the belly of a fish he bought in the marketplace. You’ll never guess what it unlocked. Go on, guess. That’s right, Egwin’s bike lock! Sorry, leg shackles! The pope found this miracle convincing, and ruled in Egwin’s favor.

Vindicated, Egwin returned to England and founded the Evesham Monastery (Benedictine) on the site where the Blessed Virgin appeared to a shepherd named Eof (“We stopped looking once we looked on Eof.”) The monastery became one of the greatest in medieval Europe. When in the eleventh century the monks needed funds to enlarge the church, they loaded Egwin’s relics on a wagon and made a fundraising tour throughout the south of England. It worked, and the new church was procured, as was Egwin’s lasting fame.