In the local Spanish calendars of saints, St. Beatus of Liebana has a memorial on February 19th, which (as usual) was also the traditional day of his death. He died full of years and honors, as abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Liebana (Lebanon) in Asturias, Spain. As everybody who hangs around here has had drummed into their head, he is best known as the author of his monumental Commentary on the Apocalypse.
Back then, Liebana was dedicated to St. Martin of Tours. These days, Liebana is San Toribio’s. Back then, it was a Benedictine monastery; now it is staffed by Franciscan friars. It still has a good library and a good-sized chunk of the True Cross.
This year, St. Beatus’ Day fell on a Friday in Lent, and in fact on an Ember Friday in the old calendar. I didn’t get to celebrate much, but this was because St. Beatus got me a couple of much-needed extra shifts at work. Yay for him!
On a more somber note, the author Umberto Eco passed away from cancer, a couple hours before midnight on February 19th.
Eco hated the Commentary on the Apocalypse because it included more than one interpretation of Revelation verses and images, and from more than one author. (It’s an aesthetic, logical thing that bugs the heck out of some people, although obviously not me.) So in his mystery novel, The Name of the Rose, he used it as a “bad guy book” that was the opposite of Aristotle’s Poetics, and hence responsible for much of the slaughter. But he also publicized the heck out of Beatus and Liebana – inadvertently, through its connections to The Name of the Rose. I’m pretty sure this got him prayers from the friars!
Obviously, as one of its translators, I disagree strongly with Eco’s opinion on the Commentary. (And amusingly, the two bits of Beatus stuff he gave as an example of stuff he hated were actually quotes from North African early Christian writers. Nyah, nyah!) I also disagree with Eco having fallen away from the Church and apparently having stayed fallen away.
But there’s a pious old Catholic tendency to look at the date of death of someone, and try to figure out what the Lord was saying with that sign. Dying in Lent is usually considered a good thing, because the dying person’s heart was likely to be moved to repentance, even at the last moment; and because people all around him are praying and fasting and giving alms, and this may be applied by God to the dying person’s soul. Eco is known to have been devout in his youth, and probably did things (like the First Saturdays) that may have helped him at the end. Heck, as long as he prayed regularly at some point in his life, he will have received a special indulgence at the hour of his death that could have helped a lot, if he were willing.
So when a lapsed Catholic dies on a Friday in Lent, on the day of a saint he was sorta-feuding with, I think we can piously hope that the good Lord was showing a sign of favor to a prodigal son.
Whether or not the day means anything, please pray for the soul of Umberto Eco and for all the souls of the faithful departed (especially since if they’re faithful, they’re praying for you!).
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
St. Beatus, pray for us!