Poor St. Cyprian

As mentioned in the previous entry, apparently in the Hispanic world, St. Cyprian of Carthage is known as a patron saint of magic. This is a fine position for a saint, martyr, and Doctor of the Church to be in!

There’s some kind of legend I’ve never seen before that he was a brilliant young mage (dedicated by his parents to the service of demons, no less) who ended up converting to Christianity. (There’s also two contending pagan boyfriends and a girl who’d decided to become a vowed virgin, which as you know tends to end messily.) Impressed by the courage of the magicless Christian girl, he burned his books and gave up his power (sorta like Prospero) to become a servant of the downtrodden. This is a very good legend, but nobody seems to know how it got attached to St. Cyprian! (Maybe somebody just figured a Carthaginian was bound to be doing Nameless Things for Cruel Ancient Gods.)

Anyway, the legend originally encouraged people to ask for St. Cyprian’s intercession against demons and bewitchment, which seems logical and harmless enough. (Especially since your North African martyrs are a tough and demon-rasslin’ breed, as witness St. Perpetua’s dream.)

But naturally, nobody can let this kind of stuff alone, and Univision (yes, the TV channel!) apparently has some kind of white witch lectures on how St. Cyprian obviously takes an interest in her kind of crup. (*roll eyes* Man, this is right up there with the evangelical Lebanese Christian syndicated public access show I saw, that was interviewing a woman whose geezer husband was supposedly actually a demon.)

There’s also apparently some kind of Libro de San Cipriano, which I’m sure is just as authentic to the saint’s thought as the Great Albert and Of the Secrets of Women are to poor St. Albert. (Which is to say, not at all.) There’s also apparently some arcane association with St. Justina, of all people.

Sheesh, people, this is really reaching. You’d be better off learning from him about the Our Father or what to do about the lapsed, than putting trust in some kind of fake magic crup.

UPDATE: Yes, the good old Catholic Encyclopedia knows all, if you only know where to look. Apparently, “the unreliable Symeon Metaphrastes” collected a riproaring legend which had collected around two martyrs nobody knows much about, St. Cyprian of Antioch and St. Justina. (Said Cyprian was allegedly also a bishop, though he wasn’t in the Antioch bishop succession lists, so that’s kinda doubtful). Empress Eudocia II of Byzantium apparently liked the cool story enough to write a poem about it.

But back in the rest of the world, nobody had ever heard of the Antiochene martyr Cyprian, whereas St. Cyprian of Carthage was very famous. Said legend hooked onto the more famous Cyprian.

And that’s why poor ol’ St. Cyprian of Carthage is associated with treasure-hunters and spells in Portugal and Galicia, and why emigrants carried the story to Brazil, Mexico, and other old Portuguese and Spanish territories. It’s even gotten more elaborate; some versions claim now that his martyrdom was burning at the stake for witchcraft (No, the pagan Romans didn’t burn people at the stake for witchcraft. For a fun spectacle in the arena or Nero’s garden, maybe.) and that it was only a later magic-user Pope who dared rehabilitate him and name him a saint. (Sigh. Maybe he should sue for defamation of character.)

On the bright side, Calderon de la Barca did a really nifty play, El Magico Prodigioso, drawing from several different versions of the story. But it’s definitely set in Antioch! Also, he’s the one who invented the pagan boyfriend love triangle, instead of having just one frustrated would-be suitor. You can read it in English translation as The Wonder-Working Magician.

1 Comment

Filed under Church, History

One response to “Poor St. Cyprian

  1. I just found your blog today. It’s very cool. I have a lot to read and catch up!

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