Category Archives: Saint Names

St. Merida?

There are two names at issue here. One is Merida without an accent mark, as in the Disney/Pixar movie, Brave. The other is Mérida with an accent mark, as in the cities in Spain and Mexico.

So let’s look at them both. Are they okay as Christian baptismal names? Are there patron saints associated with them? What name day would you celebrate?

Let’s start with the newer one.

The Disney/Pixar Scottish princess, “Merida,” has (in some ways) a totally new name. Like Fiona and other names from literary sources, it’s not Scottish Gaelic (or it wasn’t, until now). If you give your daughter this name today, everybody is going to know that it’s a Disney princess name.

However. Disney/Pixar production sources have revealed that she was originally going to be named Mairghread, Mhairghread, or Mairead, all of which are Gaelic forms of the name “Margaret.” Staff decided that all those forms were too long, too hard to remember, or too weird to pronounce, so they coined the name “Merida” instead.

This is not a totally implausible form of Margaret for a native early medieval Gaelic speaker to come up with, especially as a diminutive form, baby mispronunciation, or nickname. Just as people got away with “Fiona” because it was similar to “Fionna,” it is likely that “Merida” will become a pretty normal form of “Margaret” in Scotland and around the world. So it’s not a bad name, and you can definitely use it as a baptismal name. (Might be better to call the girl Margaret and just use Merida as a nickname. Heck, she might turn out to be more of a a Meg or Peg or Margita, for all you know.)

You are spoiled for choice, when it comes to patron saints. There are a lot of St. Margarets, all around the world. The name means “pearl,” and is associated with the “pearl of great price” parable.

The most famous is the original St. Margaret, an early Christian martyr from Antioch in Pisidia (today’s Antakya, Turkey), who is also known as “St. Marina the Great” in the East. Legend shows her slaying a dragon with her Bible. Her feast is July 17 or July 20.

In Scotland, however, the most famous St. Margaret is St. Margaret of Scotland, the Scottish queen who helped the poor and raised good kings. She was a Saxon princess from England. Her branch of the family fled to Hungary to escape royal displeasure, and was later invited back by the saintly King Edward the Confessor. She was then sent north to Scotland to marry their king and bring peace, which she did. Unfortunately, William the Conqueror showed up pretty soon afterward… but hey, she did her part. Anyway, three of her sons were known for being good men and good kings, and that’s a pretty good record. But people really loved her because she helped the poor, acting as both a generous queen and a humble Catholic woman. Her feast day was June 10 (the translation of her relics and a nicer day for Scottish festivals), but has been moved to her death day of November 16 on the new calendar (so people can freeze instead of celebrating, I guess).

There must be something in the water in Hungary. A lot of pious queens have lived there.

Now for the Spanish Mérida!

Mérida with an accent mark is the name of the city of Mérida, Spain. It is also the name of a colonial city in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and a lot of folks with Mexican family are being named after that city.

“Mérida” comes from the old Latin name of the Spanish city, Emerita Augusta. The colonia city of Emerita Augusta was founded in 25 BC by the Emperor Augustus, as a home for retired (“emeriti”) legionaries. However, the feminine form of the name means that it is named for the Empress (“Augusta”) Livia Drusilla, aka Julia Augusta. In this context, and since she wasn’t retired, “Emerita” would mean something like “deserving woman” or “woman of merit.”

There were many land grant cities like this, typically created or enlarged, and with the soldiers given farmland all around in the surrounding countryside. Sometimes these were in undeveloped areas; sometimes they were an attempt to beef up Roman garrisons with a loyal and well-armed citizenry. Emerita Augusta was settled by members of the 10th Gemina and the 5th Alaude Legions, two legions which had done a lot of fighting in the area. (Guys from XX Valeria Victrix may have settled there, too.) Even today, Mérida boasts a huge Roman bridge and a really big Roman theater, as well as a lot of other Roman things.

Mérida in the Yucatan was settled by Spanish people from the Spanish Mérida, and it apparently is a very lovely and historic place.

So who is the patron saint for this kind of Mérida?

Obviously, St. Eulalia of Mérida (the patron saint of Mérida, Spain) has a pretty good claim, especially with all the Catholics naming kids “Siena” after St. Catherine of Siena. St. Eulalia was an early Christian virgin martyr, under the Emperor Diocletian. She was eager to be martyred and got her wish despite her youth, being burned alive. Her corpse was exposed to be eaten by birds, but a timely snowfall kept her body safe and uncorrupted until Christians could spirit it away. Her feast day is December 10.

However, there is also a very early St. Emerita or Emerentiana, who was the sister of an early Christian king in Britain, St. Lucius. She is listed in catalogs of Welsh saints. Some say she just lived out a holy life in Gloucester or Glastonbury. Others say that St. Lucius resigned his throne and went off with her as missionaries to Switzerland, where they became martyrs. (Diane Duane uses this story in her Rhaetian Tales.) Her feast day is May 26 or December 3.

The most famous St. Emerentiana is the one in Rome who was the foster sister of St. Agnes. She was a still-unbaptized catechumen when she was stoned to death by pagans, after being discovered in the act of praying at St. Agnes’ tomb. Her feast is January 23.

So if you want to use either “Merida” or “Mérida” as a baptismal name, you have a pretty good argument.

And if you are already named “Mérida,” you have some awesome patron saints and name days to choose from.

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Blessed Ela, Countess of Salisbury?

Ela de Vitre, aka Ela Fitzpatrick. She was Countess of Salisbury in her own right, devoted wife of William Longsword, served as High Sheriff of Wiltshire in her own right too, laid one of the foundation stones of Salisbury Cathedral as a big donor, and was generally a powerful medieval lady. There’s lots to read about her, and she even comes into canonization testimony for St. Edmund of Abingdon (aka St. Edmund Rich), because she was miraculously healed of fever at one point, albeit by a reliquary of the blood of St. Thomas a Becket. (Yeah, not very useful for canonizing St. Edmund.) She founded two religious houses in one day (partly as a memorial for her husband), and she did lots of good things.

But is she a blessed?

Well, frankly, I don’t know. Probably she counts, but it’s murky.

The Big Book of Women Saints by Sarah Gallick lists Blessed Ela on February 24. Her main source for Ela as a blessed (as opposed to a historical figure) is Agnes Dunbar‘s excellent Dictionary of Saintly Women, Volume I, and the Bibliotheca Sanctorum (1961-1964), aka the Enciclopedia dei Santi. It was put out by a Vatican-backed university, so there’s some officialness there.

I don’t know what the Bibliotheca Sanctorum‘s sources are. Dunbar’s sources are  A Menology of England and Wales by Richard Stanton (which just says there’s no “proof of cultus for Ela), and Bucelinus’ Menologium Benedictinum. Also, Bishop Challoner’s A Memorial of Ancient British Piety, or , a British Martyrology, which says in the Supplement for February 1 that Ela did have cultus: “At Lacock in Wiltshire, the memory of that venerable Servant of God Ela, countess of Salisbury, who was so devoted to religion, that she founded two monasteries in one day, viz. that of the Carthusians at Henton in Wiltshire, and that of the Canonesses of S. Austin, at Lacock. In this latter leaving the world and all its vanities, she took the habit of religion, Anno 1236, was made abbess Anno 1240; resigned her office Anno 1257; and went to our Lord in a good old age, Anno 1261. [Dugdale.]” He also says there was once a parish church in Chester dedicated to a St. Ella, but that’s probably not her. “Dugdale” is referring to the author of Monasticon Anglicanum, of which more will be said below.

Anyway, Bishop Challoner was a bishop making a calendar, so… yeah, probably things got official there. A “Servant of God” doesn’t have a memorial day, though, so that would usually mean she was a Venerable or a Blessed.

Gabriel Bucelinus, the author of Menologium Benedictinum, lists Blessed Ela on February 1, with Henriquez as his source. Chrysostomo Henriquez, the author of Menologium Cisterciensis, calls her Blessed Ela, and also lists her day as February 1. But he’s notorious for thinking all sorts of people were Cistercians who weren’t. (Like St. Dominic’s brother Mannes, who was not only a Dominican but one of the first guys to sign on.) He also talks about a source called Catalogus Principum Feminarum, which supposedly listed illustrious Cistercian ladies, and he quotes from it; but alas, I haven’t found this book even on Worldcat. (Heroides Marianae, a book about illustrious women of rank who were also known to be Marian devotees, lists Ela twice, once for each religious house, because the author doesn’t realize that “Sarum” and “Salisburiae” are the same place.)

In this case, history tells us that Ela was a Cistercian fan, but the guys at Citeaux had put the temporary kibosh on chartering any more Cistercian monasteries for women, by the year that Ela decided to found a monastery for women. So she ended up founding a house of Augustinian canonesses, and later became one of them and their abbess too.

Anyway, Sir William Dugsdale’s big compendium, Monasticon Anglicanum, has most of the cool info about the houses she founded as well as Ela, including the story that William Talbot went looking around Normandy for where she’d been stashed by the De Vitre family. You also find out that “Ela” was her grandmother’s name, and that several of her descendants also bore it. “Ela” was either a short form of “Adela” or a transmogrification of “Helie” (her grandmother’s mom’s name).

Lacock Abbey surrendered its rights to King Henry VIII and was despoiled of its lead and lands and goodies, then given to some poor noble sap who had to make it watertight again. A couple of the Harry Potter movies were filmed there. It was used for corridors and the Herbology class.

 

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St. Mason??

Yup, there’s even a Catholic reason to name a kid “Mason.”

“Mason” is one of the many English surnames based on profession – in this case, the profession of stonemason. Most Americans with the first name “Mason”  were either named for a family surname, or were historically named for George Mason: a Virginia patriot of the Revolutionary War, and one of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was one of the big adamant supporters of a Bill of Rights both for the US and for Virginia. At the Constitutional Convention and in his pamphlet, Objections to the Constitution, he also called for an immediate outlawing of the slave trade (on the grounds that importing slaves would make the nation more vulnerable to takeover, but at least he was trying). Even though his ideas lost at the time, everybody else finally ended up agreeing with him.

But I said there’s a Catholic reason to name a kid “Mason,” right?

Blessed John Mason was an ordinary Catholic layman, a servant in Oxfordshire, working at the house of a Mr. Owen. On November 7, 1791, he attended a Mass said at Swithin Well’s house (in Holborn, London) by St. Edmund Gennings, a Catholic convert who’d been ordained at Douay.

During Mass, a raid was led on the house by Richard Topcliffe, a “pursuivant” who was also an Elizabethan psychopath with a government funded murder house. Topcliffe tried to get into the room upstairs where Mass was being said. He and his people broke down the door. Bl. John Mason rushed Topcliffe, grabbed him, wrestled with him, and actually tumbled them both downstairs. It was a darned good try.

The rest of the male members of the congregation drew their weapons, and used their swords to hold off the raid until Mass was over. (It’s a Catholic theological point that a Mass that has gotten to the point where the Canon/Eucharistic prayers are said, must be finished by the priest or by another priest, if remotely possible.) Topcliffe got Mason off him and came back upstairs “with a broken head.” Fr. Plasden called out that they would surrender peacefully once Mass was over, and for once Topcliffe went along with it.

Then the guys with weapons kept Plasden’s word and surrendered peacefully (since there was no other way out, and they were extremely outnumbered). St. Swithin Wells was not there to be captured, but his wife Alice was. Others included the priest, St. Edmund Gennings, another priest (possibly named Gennings also), St. Polydore Plasden (also a priest; he was hung, drawn, and quartered for the crime of being one and then coming to England), and Mason’s fellow laymen: the lawyer Bl. Sidney Hodgson, and the gentleman Bl. Brian Lacey.

On getting home, Swithin Wells found his house shut up and all the people gone. His neighbors told him about the arrest of his wife, along with all the others. He was an old man, but had no fear. St. Swithin went to the examining judge, complained, and bravely demanded his wife and his housekeys. He was then arrested and thrown into Newgate too, in shackles. When examined the next day, he testified that he hadn’t been at Mass but wished he’d been able to come. He loved the example of St. Thomas More, and joked a lot during his imprisonment. He was eventually charged and executed for having acted as a server at a Mass a few days before the raid.

Topcliffe knew that Bl. Brian Lacey had been traveling around England with another priest, Bl. Montford Scott, before Scott was captured and executed. So Topcliffe tortured Lacey severely to try to get the locations of the priest-friendly houses where they’d stayed. He gave them nothing. He was a tough guy, who had already been imprisoned in Newgate for Catholic activities. (Unfortunately, it was his own brother, Richard Lacey of Brockdish, Norfolk, had given information to the government about Lacey’s carrying Catholic letters and helping Fr. Scott.)

On December 6, 1591, Bl. John Mason was arraigned and tried before the King’s Bench at the Old Bailey, along with Gennings, Wells, Plasden, Hodgson, and a guy who’d been captured during the summer, Bl. Edmund White.

Bl. John Mason was originally charged with having known the whereabouts of a Catholic priest and not reporting it within three days. Mason pointed out that he’d only known the priest’s whereabouts for one day. “I was taken in his company, and therefore you know not what I would have done, if I had had longer time.” (Catholics who got captured liked to point out the stupidity of the persecution laws.) They couldn’t get past this logic, so he was tried and condemned as an “aider and abettor of priests.” They asked him if he were sorry for having rushed Topcliffe.

He said, “No; if it were to do again, I would resist the wicked, that they should not have God’s priests. Yea, although I were to be punished with twenty deaths.”

He was sentenced to be hung until he was dead at Tyburn, London on December 10, 1591, as were Sydney Hodgson and Brian Lacey. Their executions took place along with those of White, Plasden, and Lacey. Moved by Plasden’s statement of loyalty to England and the queen, Sir Walter Raleigh intervened for Plasden, first arguing with Topcliffe that Plasden should not be executed, and then making sure he was hung until completely dead and then having the drawing and quartering done on his corpse. This didn’t happen for White, whom they kept alive for quite a while. Mason and the other men sentenced to hanging were buried at the side of the road. The drawn and quartered men had their quarters sent to various parts of the city, as was the custom for “traitors.”

St. Swithin Wells and St. Edmund Gennings were hung on December 10, 1591, from a gallows that was erected in Grays’ Inn Fields on the north side of Holborn, practically right outside St. Swithun Wells’ house. Nothing like a little terror in the neighborhood. At Topcliffe’s order, Jennings was hanged so quickly, and then cut down again so quickly, that when they cut him down from the noose, he was able to stand up by himself. The hangman tripped him, in order to get his head on the block, and then they proceeded to draw and quarter him. Gennings loudly cried out, “Oh, it smarts.” After being ripped up and having his guts thrown into a fire (that’s the drawing part of “drawing and quartering”), and with the executioner having cut out his heart and held it up, Gennings was heard to say in Latin, “Sancte Gregori, ora pro me.” (St. Gregory, pray for me.)

St. Swithin Wells was hung until he was dead. He was allowed to be buried by his friends in the churchyard of St. Andrew’s, Holborn.

Alice Wells was spared from being executed, but instead was kept in prison until she died in 1602. Yay! So merciful!

Being Catholic isn’t for sissies. We have to take up our crosses and follow Jesus, and we never know where that will lead. But we can trust that it will bring us to eternal life.

Blessed John Mason, pray for us!

You can read more about Fr. Jennings/Genings/Gennings, Swithun Wells, and the raid on his house in this book from the time, The Life and Death of Mr. Edmund Genings, Priest.

You can also read Acts of English Martyrs Hitherto Unpublished by John Hungerford Pollen, S.J. It includes copies of primary documents. Most of the above came from the Relation of Fr. Andrew Young.

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Equivalent Naming: “Moses” in Eastern Ireland

Fr. Matthew Kelly’s book, Calendar of Irish Saints, has an interesting example of the Irish habit of using Anglicized or Roman-calendar-ized versions of local names as baptismal names, particularly in the 1700’s and 1800’s:

“….the Christian name Moses, not uncommon in a few Eastern counties [of Ireland] is none other than Aidan or Aedh, patron of Ferns [in County Wexford], which by an ordinary custom of the Irish became Moedhog or Mogue… Moses being substituted in its place.”

As Kelly explains, it was normal to express affection for a saint by either adding a possessive prefix (“mo,” meaning “my” or “do,” meaning “thy”, like “your man Patrick”), or a diminutive suffix (“og,” meaning “young” or just a noun spinning out, as well as “in” meaning “little”, or “an” which is just a noun thing). Some saints got added stuff on both sides.

So “mo” + “Aedh” + “og” turns into “Moedhog” — which through the magic of Irish elision and vowels, is pronounced “Mogue.”

But with the new Trent regulations on baptismal names, the young Catholic priests weren’t sure what was going on with a non-Roman calendar saint like St. Aedh. So the baby Moedhogs of the area suddenly got baptized as “Moses.” (Which of course is a perfectly good name, but rather startling to have show up all of a sudden in great numbers, in southeast Ireland.)

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St. Instagram?

Or, “Can an Instagram-inspired baby name be a baptismal name?”

Yep, the new trend is for Instagram users to look at their photo filters and think, “Hey, that’d be a great name for my baby!”

Well, I don’t know that I’d say that’s the best inspiration, but if you gotta do it, let’s see what you can do about doing it right.

So let’s look at the names mentioned in the article.

First: Ludwig. That’s a perfectly normal Christian name. Chlodovech (or Latin Clovis) was the first Frankish king to be baptized. So many French and German kings, nobles, and ordinary men continued to bear the name, or those derived from the same roots: Hlodovig, Louis, Lewis, and Ludwig. Among them was St. Louis, aka King Louis IX, a man of great chivalry and humility.

Frankish names, like most Germanic names, were composed by putting together two name-roots. Often the prefix root would run in the family. (Other guys in Chlodovech’s family were named Chlothar and Chlodomer, and he had a famous ancestor named Chlodio.) Chlodo-/Hlod-/Lud- means “renowned, famous” and “-wig” means “war.” So Ludwig means “renowned for war.”

Second: Juno. This was the Roman name for Jupiter’s wife, generally held to be the same as Hera, but much more stable in Roman legend than in Greek. The name simply means “young” (with the connotation of “fertile”) and was originally spelled “Uni” by the Etruscans. There was a Roman family named “Junius” (“young” or “belonging to Juno”), and since Roman female names were usually derived from their family’s name, there ended up being martyrs named “Junilla” and “Junula” (“little Junia”). The Junia who is mentioned by St. Paul was traditionally said by some to be a lady married to the also-mentioned Andronicus, and in the East she bears the title of “Equal to the Apostles;” her feast day is May 17.

Of course, the name is best known today for its use as a name for the protagonist of the pro-life film Juno.

Third: Valencia. This is the name of a beautiful region of Spain best known for its oranges, and for its big city. The city of Valencia was founded by ancient Rome as part of its land grants for retired soldiers. So the city was named “Valentia,” meaning “vigorous, strong.” (More common names from the same stem are “Valens” (a Roman emperor) and “Valentine.” There’s also a French city named “Valence” and a region of Brittany called “La Valentia” for similar reasons.) But this name has been used in the US before, under the old spelling “Valency” or “Valancy,” though mostly as a surname.

There are a lot of martyrs and saints named Valentina, and the old lady whose feastday was October 26, and who was martyred with Marcus and Soterichus, is particularly called “Valentia” at times. One of the ancient catacombs of Rome along the Flaminian Way was once called “St. Valentia” by some, but it was really St. Valentine’s. (There was a town in Quebec named “St. Valentia,” too.) But the official St. Valentia de Bretagne was a Carmelite nun (from Brittany) who died in 1728. Her feast is on September 26.

Fourth: Reyes. This means “kings,” and as a given name it refers to the Magi. El Dia de los Reyes is one of the Spanish names for Epiphany, so it’s a great name for kids born on January 6th.

Fifth: Amaro. This means “bitter.” There are two saints associated with this name. One is St. Amarus or Amaro, a Galician saint who legendarily sailed across the Atlantic and found the earthly paradise. He has a namesake who was known for his pilgrimage to Compostela. There’s also St. Amarinus of Clermont, aka St. Amarian or St. Amaro, who chose this as his monastic name. It was probably meant as a masculine Latinization of “Miriam,” which Naomi said in the Book of Ruth meant “bitter” or “salty.”

Sixth: Willow. There is a Cornish St. Wyllow, Vylloc, or Willow, who gave his name to a bridge. He was a hermit born in Ireland who was beheaded by the pagan Melyn’s kinfolk (ys kynrede), in Lanteglos (near Fowey). The parish commemmorated him and his two martyred companions, Mybbard aka Calrogus, and Mancus; their feastday was June 3. (But of course, “willows” show up in the Bible, too.)

Seventh: Lux. That means “light” in Latin. It’s a feminine noun, but not a traditional name. (“Lucia” or “Lucy” would be the usual feminine name, and it would be “Lucius” for a boy.) But it is a Biblical name, because Jesus is the Light of the World (“Lux mundi”) in John 8:12 and John 9:5, and He tells the disciples, “You are the light of the world” in Mt. 5:14. So I suppose you could use it for a boy as well as for a girl.

(Bad side – It will remind your older relatives of brands of soap and vacuum cleaners.)

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St. Venetia?

The woman who touched Christ’s hem and was healed of the issue of blood that had lasted twelve years (Mt. 9:20-22; Lk. 8:43-48) was traditionally called “St. Veneca” or “St. Venetia” in the West. She was particularly venerated at Bois Guillaume near Rouen, France; and at Valenciennes, France.

I don’t think this has any bearing on the Heyer heroine, though it might be relevant for Heyer fans naming their kids!

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Landscape with Two Saints, by Lisa M. Bitel

Lisa M. Bitel is a pretty well-known scholar. She focuses on the women’s side of medieval Irish history, but she’s not so feminist that her brain falls out. In Landscape with Two Saints, she compares St. Genovefa (better known as Genevieve), a Gaulish patron saint of Paris from the earliest days of the Frankish kings, with St. Brigid, the Irish abbess who founded the vast but now vanished monastic community of Kildare. We don’t have much left of the relics or community of either saintly lady, thanks to the rigors of history; and yet, they are still important to the faithful. Bitel follows both their history and the devotion to them, down to the present day.

It’s one of those books where it’s really worthwhile to check out the bibliography of primary sources, and there are some very nice maps and diagrams. She’s not Catholic or Christian (her foreword wryly notes that her kids say they’ve visited more churches than any other Jewish kids alive), but she doesn’t take a hostile or twisted view of saints and devotees. She also presents some very iconoclastic, but not crazy, research by other medieval/Irish/French scholars.

1. There is some evidence that St. Brigit’s popularity led to various minor pre-Christian human heroes named “Brig” and “Brigit” being given much more attention in medieval poetry about pre-Christian Ireland. We don’t hear anything about any goddesses named Brigit until the 9th century, and some scholars now think she may have been made up, or derived from some of the wilder saint fairy tales going around. So actually, we hear about the goddess Brigit today because of the saint, not the other way around.

2. There is a lot of evidence that the circling paths, etc. taken by Irish devotees at Irish holy wells and shrines are not derived from pagan custom. Rather, they are an imitation of the prayer-paths and processional ways used by pilgrims and church visitors when visiting various altars, pictures, statues, graves, etc., both on the way to and within local or basilica churches. (Much as one follows the Stations of the Cross in imitation of the Stations of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.) When shrine churches and parish churches were knocked down, people found an alternate Christian way to do things.

3. Customs like offering St. Brigid milk by leaving it outside on her feastday, or having things blessed by her or other saints by leaving them out on their feastdays or the evening of them, are apparently also a case of “no church to go to, no priest that can get here.” Again, the only reason they “look pagan” is because the English had outlawed the priests and knocked down the parish church. It is a lay spirituality of necessity, trusting that God and the saints will overcome the malice of man. (And of course, inside towns, people did start asking priests for blessings for the same things, or offering the same things as offertory gifts or tithes, when the priests were able to come back. But it took a while for Ireland to have enough parish priests to handle country parishes, and some priests were too “modern” to be comfortable with giving blessings or taking alms in such an old-fashioned style. So often people just kept doing it the old way.)

4. St. Genevieve kicked butt. Basically she was a minor noblewoman, not particularly rich, but known to be both pious and a prophetess. She built the first church of St. Denis and successfully prayed that the Huns wouldn’t get to Paris, among other things. In the dangers of the time and in the absence of anybody more charismatic (in either sense) among the local bishops, she seems to have run a lot of stuff in her capacity as church lady extraordinaire. The only time she was a shepherdess was when she was a little kid living with her minor noble family in Nanterre.

5. We just passed the day of one of her feasts (in Paris), the Feast of the Miracle of the Ardents (or Burning Ones, Feverish Ones). Back in 1130, Parisians suffered an epidemic of a terrible fever, which at the time was called Sacred Fire. (It may have been ergotism from bad rye.) Nothing helped and many died, until the relics of St. Genevieve were brought across the river to a church of the Virgin Mary on November 26. Suddenly all but two or three of the sufferers were healed. Pope Innocent II instituted the feast in 1131 during a papal visit, although it was initially under the title “The Excellence of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Locals grumbled about this, and the name soon changed to give credit to the local girl. 😉

6. St. Genevieve’s prayers saved Paris from the Huns, from the fever, and from a great flood of the Seine. That’s why a lot of river towns are named St. Genevieve. She was also the Bourbons’ favorite patron when family members were sick, which was why the French revolutionaries tried and convicted her as a counter-revolutionary. (And that’s why most of her relics are at the bottom of the Seine.) She is still a patron saint of both Paris and all of France, and has fallen into undeserved obscurity among us moderns. (Although there’s a nice French webpage about her.) Her feastday is January 3.

7. There were a lot of interesting tidbits about the Gaulish language and the naming of French places. Given how much crazy stuff gets said about anything vaguely Celt-related, it’s nice to have some safe references to rely on. (And btw, “Genovefa” is Germanic/Frankish for “kin/kind/race” + “woman”, and means something like “clanswoman.” The French spelling “Genevieve” was the subject of much medieval French wordplay that took the name to mean something like “living spirit” or “spirit of life.”)

8. Bitel lists some Roman-government itineraries and maps that we have from the “Dark Ages.” She also talks about a useful list of all the government offices that were still being assigned to people in Gaul at that time (Notitia Dignitatum in translation, and Seeck’s edition in Latin along with links of interest). Bitel says a lot of interesting stuff about Christian “Romanitas” and how it was preserved in the new decentralized Europe, as well as how it was carried to places like Ireland that had never been Roman or Christian.

9. “Vowess” was the descriptive word for any woman living under vows of chastity/celibacy but living at home (her own home, her family’s, whatever). Since they were vowed not to marry, this provided protection from family pressure that even canonesses and nuns didn’t always get. The old idea of consecrated widows and virgins who weren’t nuns seems to have been folded into the vocation of vowess. Here’s an article with a nice tomb rubbing.

10. The subtitle of the book is “How Genovefa of Paris and Brigid of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe.” Um. Yeah. That’s about the only thing that this book doesn’t tell you. I blame the publishers.

11. There’s actually a recent historical novel that was written about all the stuff happening in the France of St. Genovefa and King Clovis/Chlodovech. It’s called Centurion’s Daughter, and it’s by Justin Swanton. Don’t know if it’s any good, but it sure looks interesting.

St. Genevieve, pray for Paris!

St. Brigid, pray for us!

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