Category Archives: Saint Stories

Ever-Everything….

After Christmas Eve Mass, when all the young kids and parents had gone home, and only middle-aged people and college students were left chatting in the vestibule, it emerged that one young woman had never learned what it meant that our Blessed Mother is called “Ever-Virgin.”

Kiddies, this is your cue to click somewhere else on the Internet….

Ever-Virgin (“Aeiparthenos” in Greek) is an ancient title, and it means what it says. The Church has always believed, and always taught, that Mary was a virgin, physically and every other way, throughout her pregnancy, childbirth, and entire life. As a special sign from God, her hymen remained physically intact at all times. Most virgins have their hymens wither away in middle age or break by accident, at some point, if they do not break it by sex. This did not apply to Mary’s physical integrity. Since she was resurrected and carried off to Heaven bodily, she is still a physical virgin up in Heaven; and she will remain a physical virgin forever.

This is not a sign that God is obsessed with virginity, or hates women having sex. Obviously not… God invented sexual reproduction, and created humans to reproduce that way. If he wanted us to be totally asexual, we’d be budding things off or splitting in two like amoebas.

Mary is ever-virgin for several reasons. First, as a sign that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the son of a human woman, not a normal human being born to two normal human beings. He is true God and true man, and Mary’s continued virginity shows this strange and wonderful situation.

Second, we are told that in Heaven there is no marriage or giving in marriage. The same is true of eternal life after the general resurrection and Judgment. We will all be in a mystical union with God and each other, which will fulfill our emotional needs; and reproduction and sex will no longer be needed, because we will be immortal. Just as celibate priests and religious are supposed to live without sex as signs of this life to come, the same is true of Mary in her life.

There are other reasons and Biblical prophecies involved, but I won’t mention these right now. I’ll pass on towards what seems to be the crux of the problem with Mary, for a lot of modern women….

Mary is also the New Eve, the new mother of all the living, and the second person in the Bible with the honorable title “Woman.” She is not only an ever-virgin woman, but forever the “bride unwedded,” ever-Ark of the Covenant, ever-mother to Jesus and His mystical Body of believers. She has lived the life of a wife and a widow in a difficult time, and her hands were busy with weaving and work as the ever-Valiant Woman. But now she works in heaven as the ever-queen mother to the Son of David. All generations will call her blest.

But on the other side, remember that she was also the ever-insulted and ever-whispered about. Without having any of the fun, she must have suffered rumors and nastiness all her life. Even now, she gets to hear this crud; and it hurts and disappoints her, because she loves all of us. But she went through it all without sinning — somehow. With God’s help and grace.

Mary is the subject of some awfully strange ideas. Some people are threatened by the way God chose her to represent the troubles of all women: young and old, maidens and mommies, sinners and saints. We ladies have a tendency to try to keep up with the Mrs. Joneses, and we are unlikely to be able to keep up with Mary. She is the ultimate multitasker; and unlike Mary Poppins, she really is practically perfect in almost every way!

But everything Mary did, she did out of weakness and normalness. She was not a goddess. She was a human woman, although specially graced by not having to deal with original sin. But Eve had that. Mary only stayed sinless by trusting God, and asking Him for help when she was troubled. Since she was a human, that probably was all the time.

And yes, later on, God lived in her house and was her kid, but that would probably make it harder not to kick against God’s ways!

The other side is that other people think Mary was useless and not worth any notice, and should get no credit for anything she did. Clearly this is not so. Mary was not a doormat; she was a smart and independent woman. She thought and pondered; she made mistakes even without sinning. She was no puppet, or a mere container sitting on the shelf. When she thought she should do something, she moved fast.

So the moral of the story of Mary, especially for women, is that we need God every day, in every way, if we want to do all the things we need to do and be all the things we have to become.

But the other moral is that although we are weak and imperfect, God wants to give us graces and strengths. He wants to see us grow and become great ladies. He is on our side; and He will be our help always, if we let Him.

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Burying the Lead: Blessed Laura Vicuña

Laura Vicuña was a Peruvian-Argentinean girl who lived a saintly life and died in a heroically edifying way. The Salesian Brothers and Sisters in Argentina supported her cause for sainthood, and she was named a Venerable back in the early 1900’s, eventually being beatified by Pope John Paul II in the 1980’s.

Here’s the problem. Laura lived a difficult life because her desperately poor widowed mother became the live-in girlfriend of a ranch owner, who then started to go after Laura as she got older. (She died at the age of 13, though, and the guy had been going after her for over six years. So obviously he was a sick puppy, and it’s not clear if he went after her younger sister, Julia, also.)

The ranch owner was also a violent man, when he was drunk and when he wasn’t. He beat up the mother, and he beat up Laura when she refused him. Finally, Laura’s mom fled with her two kids to another town, but the abuser followed, demanding to rape Laura. Laura tried to draw him off or prevent her mom from letting him in, by leaving the place they were staying by another door. Instead she received a crazy beating from the man in the middle of the street, in the middle of town. He almost rode off with her unconscious body, but townspeople intervened before he could. He finished his work by throwing her down in the middle of the street. Laura recovered consciousness, but died of her injuries, after making her mom promise not to go back to him and then forgiving her killer.

All this was covered up in the normal outlines of her life. They said that she had tuberculosis (which she did), and that she had offered God her life to get her mom and sister out of the bad situation (which she did). But they said that it was the tuberculosis that killed her, as opposed to her internal bleeding and injuries. And they said that the bad situation was her mom living an immoral life, not the whole family being subject to a crazy abusive would-be rapist.

(It’s a little weird, because the normal story about St. Maria Goretti, from about the same time, is perfectly clear about the man having rape and murder as his intentions.)

A minor point is that the normal story still emphasizes that Laura was a friend to everybody in school, loved by the teachers, and a leader in sports. Apparently the real story is that Laura worked hard, was devout, helped everyone, was a favorite with the teachers for her good qualities — and was absolutely despised by every other girl in school, except for her one best friend. She was poor, she was stubborn, she had normal looks, and she was showing everybody else up.

Here’s another point. Laura’s mom, Mercedes Pino, was treated pretty poorly by life. Her husband Domenico Vicuña came from a rich family, while hers was poor or middle class. When they married against his family’s wishes and he was disowned by his family, her family also disowned her. She kept the family going for six years after her family died, living an honest life as a dressmaker and hatmaker. But in 1899, thieves broke into her store and cleared out the whole inventory, plus the store appliances. Seeking a new start, she took her girls into the frontier lands of Argentina, where there was supposed to be plenty of opportunity. She was willing to work hard as a maid and cook. So nobody knows why she agreed to become Manuel Mora’s mistress as well as his housekeeper.

Like Mercedes’ dead husband, Manuel Mora came from a good family. Unlike her husband, he had a long list of prior convictions, and wasn’t shy about shooting or stabbing people. Thanks to his family’s influence, he got a good grant of cattle land along the frontier. To give him credit, he was good at running estancias and raising cattle, and he dressed well. However, he was known to treat his hands like slaves, the local natives like worse than slaves, and was in the habit of whipping anyone who displeased him. He was then in need of a mistress, because he had branded his previous one like a cow and then driven her off the ranch.

Apparently he was very charming to Mercedes in the beginning, and implied that he was planning to marry her. But that was all just lies. He did initially pay the kids’ tuition for boarding school, but eventually he refused to pay more because he wanted easy access to Laura. (To their credit, the sisters then awarded Laura and Julia scholarships.)

One sad point is this: Laura didn’t understand what was going on with her mom and the abuser until she was ten, and one of the sisters taught about marriage as a Sacrament. The poor kid fainted dead away, right in the middle of class. (No doubt some of her classmates had been hinting stuff that she hadn’t understood.) It’s just as well, though, because the abuser made his first move on her after the end of that school year, in 1902.

That wasn’t the end of her troubles, either. She wanted to join an order, both for religious reasons and to get out of the bad home situation. (Which would also have lightened the financial load on her mom and sister, although obviously her sister would have been up next for unwanted attention from the abuser.) But she was refused admission to the order of Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, not just because of her age (the standard outline’s explanation), but because her mother was living an irregular life, and they feared giving scandal. Yes, crappy things happen to the holy.

Piecing together her story from different English sources is not only difficult, but pretty horrifying. Obviously you can’t teach everything to kids, but come on, people!

Blessed Laura Vicuña has been named a patron saint of abuse victims.

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Be Kind: Everyone Is Fighting a Great Battle

A few years back, I ran into a blog called Fencing Bear at Prayer. It was written by a medievalist who liked Mary, so of course I was interested. But the farther back I got into her blog, the more I got the impression that she liked Mary in a neopagan way. So I posted some argumentative stuff about it in the comments and on here somewhere, and went on.

Well, I was wrong about her. So I hope the lady didn’t take my comments to heart.

She was doing the conversion thing and was very new to starting it, so I should have been a lot gentler. And more, she was just at the beginning of fighting a great Internet battle.

Milo Yiannopoulos took an interest in this lady and helped her in her conversion to Catholicism. Yup, the original Peck’s Bad Boy had an eye for the slightly puzzled-looking lost sheep… and I didn’t. That is a prodigious failure on my part.

Yiannopoulos has written a big fat essay, fully researched and linked, about the online mobbing that has been suffered by this kindly lady professor for the last three years, from members of her own field, and why medieval studies is being attacked as a discipline. He calls it “Middle Rages: Why the Battle for Medieval Studies Matters to America,” and it is worth reading the whole thing.

And then, one of the mob leaders threatened to sue the university where the professor works… over the article that had nothing to do with the university… and before the article even came out.

OTOH, the essay also exposes the way a lot of nasty people on the Internet are happy to speak with forked tongue — writing gentle prose to one group of “friends” on the same day they are whipping up hatemobs against their “friends” in another closed group. No wonder such people like to employ sock puppets; it’s just an extension of their usual methods.

In other news, the Fencing Bear at Prayer has a second book out. Mary and the Art of Prayer, by Rachel Fulton Brown is a tad bit pricey, but where else are you going to get this kind of research and all these great sources? It takes the subject of prayer seriously, instead of treating it as some mysterious obscure practice done only in the dark of the moon in lemur holes, by aliens with five heads. But it is also a history of ideas book, which I love. Prayer has its tides that go in and out, and this is a book about older ways to think about prayer.

And it’s about Mary, who is a great person to get to know. Why do Catholics insist on praying with her and chatting to her? It’s hard for us to explain, because it’s like fish doing dissertations on water. Rachel Fulton Brown is the new fish on the reef, so she can still talk about it instead of just breathing it!

Mostly, though, we need to pray for Rachel Fulton Brown, aka Fencing Bear at Prayer. Because she is still fighting a great battle.

O Blessed Virgin Mary,
Queen to angels and men,
Hypermachos Strategos (Great General) of the hosts of Heaven,
please continue to pray for your fencer and her champions.
O beautiful as an army set for battle,
send your subject St. Michael to give them aid and counsel!

O Queen of poets and prophets,
As you spoke your mind freely to your Son and to angels,
teach us to speak boldly and with honesty —
even if it makes us seem foolish before the world,
and even if the world hates us for it —
for we are body parts of your Son, and cannot expect better than He got.
Help us learn to make suffering a path to heaven; and help us not despair.

We ask this in Christ Our Lord, Amen.

* I still think some of the modern academics that Fulton Brown was using as sources are whacked out beyond wacky. But the main ones are useful-wacky, and worth picking through and yelling at. I later saw a lot of super-orthodox folks referencing the same whackdoodles, and some of them trained under the same people! Theology and Bible studies can get pretty offbeat.

Also, it’s well-known that a prof can make really good points and really stupid points in the same book or article, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the same thing happening in theology history books. And to be fair, 90% of all new experiments and theories are bound to turn out to be wrong, if you are actually investigating anything new.

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St. Leonides, the Father of Origen

I was online, poking through Butler’s Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints (that’s the 12-volume original edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints), when I found an interesting guy.

As you may know, Origen was a great Biblical scholar and commentator, as well as a great theologian. But in later times, it was questioned whether his theological speculations were evidence of personal heresy; and there were also questions about his life (ie, obedience problems, not any crimes). Also, some of his students became saints (notably, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus), but some did become heretics. In fact, many heretical ideas were claimed to be from Origen when they were not, and there was tons of unrest and schism and such.

So later generations decided that it was safer to call Origen a famous guy than a saint, and he is considered an “ecclesiastical writer” rather than one of the Fathers. Every so often, fans of Origen complain about this and want to give him saintly honors. Unfortunately, some of his fans espouse heretical beliefs, or pull stupid things. (For example, one US Catholic hymnbook included an arrangement of the Litany of the Saints that included Origen… which is a no-no as well as being inaccurate to the song.)

However… Origen’s dad Leonides (or Leonidas) was a martyr. His feast day is April 22.

St. Leonides was one of the many Greek philosophers living in Alexandria. He was a Christian too, which was increasingly common. He had seven sons; Origen was his eldest and his heir. He was very proud of Origen’s smarts and piety, and Origen’s fatherly care for his own students suggests that Leonides was a very good dad.

When Origen was 17, and in the 10th year of Emperor Septimius Severus’ reign, St. Leonides was arrested for the crime of being a Christian. Origen visited him in prison, and was crazy to get martyred along with his dad. His mom, who was obviously a match for her men, decided that the only way to stop Origen from doing anything stupid was to lock up his clothes. She did let Origen write his dad letters, and we have one that has come down to us, where Origen encourages his dad to have courage and joy in contemplating the crown of martyrdom that was being offered to him.

There is some evidence that St. Leonides was made a bishop at some point, but we don’t know much about it.

St. Leonides was beheaded in AD 202.

As refusing to worship the Emperor’s Genius was a capital crime, his estates and goods were all confiscated and became government property. Origen became the head of the family and the protector of his widowed mom. At first the family got along mostly by charity, with Origen receiving special help from a rich “church lady.” But when Origen refused to receive communion together with a heretical guy whom this lady also supported, things seem to have gotten uncomfortable. So Origen opened his own grammar school and took in pupils for money.

A year after that, he served in his church as a catechist to catechumens (but he didn’t get money for that). His catechetical skills impressed everybody so much that he was appointed by the bishop to work full time at Alexandria’s catechetical school, even though he was still only 18. (Yeah, a lot of stuff can happen in a year, if you’re somebody with the energy of an Origen.)

When Origen became a full-time catechist, he sold all his secular books to a benefactor, who paid him in installments of 4 obols a day. (That’s about five cents.) Origen lived very simply off this, and slept on the ground. But since he wouldn’t accept charity or pay, a lot of his rich friends sent their scribes to take his dictation. At one point, Origen was dictating seven books at once, one to each amanuensis. (St. Thomas Aquinas and a fair number of other prolific guys have had the same habit; they could talk and think a lot faster than they could write.) His family was also taken care of, in various ways.

Origen never managed to achieve martyrdom. He followed his pupil St. Plutarch to the execution ground, and was almost attacked by one of those Alexandrian mobs — but his friends got him away. Other martyred students of Origen included St. Serenus (Plutarch’s brother), the other St. Serenus, St. Heraclides, St. Heron, St. Herias (a female catechumen who was executed by burning, and thus was literally baptized by fire), St. Marcella of Alexandria (a slave who took Origen’s catechism classes), St. Potamioena the Elder (her young daughter who was also catechized by Origen, and who was reported as a Christian by her slavemaster, who wanted to have sex with her; this led to Marcella’s arrest too. She’s “elder” to a later Potamioena from Hermopolis.), and St. Basilides (a pagan soldier who served as a friendly guard at the martyrs’ prison, and who was converted by dreams of St. Potamioena for three nights after her death, in which she put a crown on his head and told him that she was praying for him from Heaven). Tons of his students also survived, of course!

Origen also ended up traveling and teaching other places, such as Antioch, Caesarea in Palestine, and Berytus (Beirut). He got into trouble for being ordained a priest in Caesarea, without consulting his home bishop in Alexandria. He also got into trouble for a brief period of teaching that maybe Hell’s torments wouldn’t last forever (he changed his mind) and that the Devil could repent. (Actually, this was inserted into copies of one of his books by heretics — what he actually taught was that, if the Devil could repent, then he could be saved. But demons can’t, so he wouldn’t.) But he was also a great one for bringing people out of heresy, both by his good explanations and his kindly, humble personality. He was actually sent to the Arabian bishop of Bostra to stop a new heresy about the divinity of Christ, and we have the bishop’s letters to Origen thanking him for bringing him out of heresy.

Origen was tortured and imprisoned for the faith under the reign of Decius, in the city of Tyre. He died soon after his release from prison, from the after-effects of the torture; so he really did achieve martyrdom in a way. He was 69, and the year was 253. His tomb could long be visited in Tyre’s cathedral.

There’s a lot more to say about Origen… but anyway, his humility is probably pleased by his dad having a saint’s day, and him not having one at all.

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Messing with the Blessed EVEN MORE

Yup, there’s quotes from the Quran on an obelisk in the middle of the Creation Garden courtyard, in the Solanus Casey Center. Just a few yards away from the holy tomb of a man who lived his life for Christ.

I’m sure that all the Chaldean Catholics who fled Muslim oppression in Iraq are soooo happy to see this act of officiousness — commissioning and showing an artwork of somebody else’s religious literature — greeting them at a Catholic holy place. The Creation Garden is supposed to include symbols of all the natural creatures referenced in St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun.” So there is a whole array of harmless semi-decorative modern art. The Quran thing is the only offensive and blasphemous part. Nobody at the Center seems to know which verses are even quoted, which makes it even stupider.

Quran obelisk picture one.

Picture two.

Picture three.

Picture four.

Picture of the top of the obelisk, from the artist’s website.

There are some verses in the Quran which sort of copy Genesis, but claim that all things were created out of water instead of out of nothing. (I guess by a misinterpretation of “without form and void.”) There are others which say that people will be raised from the dead as a dead land is raised to life by rain.

If those are the quotes, they would seem okay; but of course, there are a lot of bad theological implications to the Quran which aren’t obvious to the first glance. (Here’s a webpage talking about the context of such verses.) The big one is that all the early Muslim commentators said that things being created out of “water” was a euphemism for “semen” — which goes together with a lot of pagan Middle Eastern creation myths, but is not what Jews and Christians believe at all!

Mostly, though, it’s claiming a communion of religious beliefs with people who aren’t going to feel the same way. To claim that differences don’t matter, when they actually do, is to claim that people’s thoughts and beliefs don’t matter. Having a real community means knowing what other people care about and why, even if you don’t agree.

Anyway, the stated idea is that the water quote obelisk represents both the passage of water in nature, and St. Francis being given free passage through his lands by the Sultan.

It doesn’t represent all the Franciscans who’ve been martyred by Muslims. Here’s a selection of the ones we know about:

The Franciscan Protomartyrs: Berard of Carbio and his companions, Peter, Otho, Accursius, and Adjutus. Martyred in Morocco for preaching the Gospel. They didn’t even know the language, so that is actually all they did. Contemporaries of St. Francis who were personally sent out by him. When St. Francis heard of their beheading by Morocco’s own king, he exclaimed, “At last, now I have true Friars Minor!” St. Anthony of Padua was inspired to join the Franciscans upon seeing the procession carrying home their bodies. Their feastday is January 16.

Nicholas Tavelic and Companions: Deodatus Aribert of Rodez, Peter of Narbonne and Stephen of Cuneo.. They preached the Gospel in the presence of the Qadi of Jerusalem, and were executed for their pains on November 14, 1391. Tavelic was the first canonized Croatian saint.

Blessed Francesco Zirano: Sent by the Pope to North Africa, purely to deliver ransoms for kidnapped and enslaved Christians and those held as hostages. He traveled under the guise of a merchant, but was captured and imprisoned by soldiers after a coup in one of the Muslim kingdoms. Martyred for refusing to convert to Islam, by being flayed alive on January 25, 1603. His skin was then stuffed with straw and put on display. Eventually, an enslaved cousin of his managed to get free, get his remains, and get them home for burial. Beatified on October 12, 2014.

The Servant of God Leonard Melki, Capuchin. A contemporary of Blessed Solanus Casey, martyred in 1915 by soldiers of the Ottoman Empire.

So yeah, tell me again how Muslims let Franciscans walk free and do what they like. Sure.

But yeah, it is really lucky for the idiots behind this, that Blessed Solanus Casey isn’t the smiting kind of Irish saint, or they’d be walking around with their feet turned backwards.

UPDATE: The liberal cruft that has been grafted onto the Solanus Casey Center is really ridiculous. Here’s a story from January describing it:

The center showcases the message of Casey, containing life-size statues of activists from Central America, Japan, America and Detroit, including noted figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, Dorothy Day and Dr. Takashi Nagai, a victim of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Outside in a courtyard are pieces of art depicting nature’s elements, including a ceramic pillar from a Muslim artist that has verses from the Quran, an African wind chime and a monument to Mother Earth by an American Indian artist from California.

Let’s count this out, shall we?

There’s no problem with having a statue of Blessed Oscar Romero in a Catholic building with a religious context, once he was beatified in 2015. However, it doesn’t sound like this is a new statue. That could easily have been taken as a violation of “de non cultu,” and have prevented him being beatified.

The Servant of God Dorothy Day hasn’t been beatified yet, so “de non cultu” should still be applying to her. She shouldn’t be in there. Same thing with the Servant of God Takashi Nagai. Why do they hate these folks and want to keep them from being raised to the altars?

Obviously, a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King has to be put in a purely political context in any Catholic building. And if it’s in a political context, why is it sitting next to Bl. Solanus Casey’s tomb? Seriously, these things matter. But compared to the Quran plus phallic symbol (here’s hoping it’s accidental), MLK is hardly a problem. At least he’s Christian.

The Mother Earth metal sculpture is by a gentleman named Johnny Bear Contreras. He’s from the San Diego area. He’s apparently Catholic and Kumeyaay (Native Americans from California), and he’s done some more classically styled pieces that you can see on the Internet. Looks cool.

I have no problems with wind chimes, although I’m sure the wind off the lake can get them going pretty noisily!

The “ceramic pillar” is the work of a local Detroit artist, Dr. Hashim Al Tawil. This is what he has to say about it. Apparently the first set of tiles were broken down by the weather, which nobody took as a hint.

Anyway, Dr. Al Tawil is apparently the only person on the Internet who actually cares enough to keep visible some explanatory materials about the Garden, so I give him props for that!

He says that the pillar’s blue tiles represent the four rivers of Paradise (as found in Genesis, but also mentioned in the Quran in several places). He doesn’t say what the verses on the pillar are. He does reference a specific verse of Surah Muhammad (47:15). The preceding verses talk about how disbelievers are going to Hell, basically.

“Is the description of Paradise, which the righteous are promised, wherein are rivers of water unaltered, rivers of milk the taste of which never changes, rivers of wine delicious to those who drink, and rivers of purified honey, in which they will have from all [kinds of] fruits and forgiveness from their Lord — like [that of] those who abide eternally in the Fire and are given scalding water to drink, that will sever their intestines?”

So that wouldn’t actually be much about water as part of Creation, per se.

I would say that Al Tawil has some nice pieces, but it’s also clear that the relationship between Arabic script and art is important to his entire aesthetic. So if people can’t read his work, they are missing the whole point. This means that his work includes people who may not want it (Chaldeans) and excludes people who laid down the money to buy it (English-speaking people of Detroit, who donated the money to build the center in the first place).

And then on top of that, you have two groups whose religious beliefs are such that one being right must mean that the other is wrong. If you are quoting the Quran as right, you have to believe that Christ was never on the Cross, was not the Son of God, and that Solanus Casey was a nice guy but wasted his life. If you are quoting the Bible as right and worshipping Christ, Muhammad was dead wrong about everything and the Quran is a book of lies or delusions. No man can serve two masters.

The Creation Garden was designed by Michael Callen, of the New York design firm DCMD.

This genius guy has set out an artwork by a Kumeyaay, with the Canticle of the Sun verse written in Dakota. Yes. Well, that’s certainly multicultural… because it’s an entirely different language family! That’s like describing a Russian statue by using a verse in Japanese! These people are so busy messing with Bl. Solanus that they totally mess up everybody!!!!

Other than all that… the garden seems to be very pretty. It’s humans that end up looking stupid.

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By the Bones of St. Nicholas!

Back in the day, the Greek colony of Myra was a prosperous port town in Asia Minor, at the mouth of the Myros River. The town stretched along the river for quite a ways. There were some suburbs further from the sea and the river, but they were unimportant.

Somewhere around Emperor Constantine’s time, it had a bishop named “Nicholas” who was famed for generosity. Sailors made him their patron, and they made pilgrimages to his basilica in the main town, close to the harbor. There were also legends of how St. Nicholas saved young boys and maidens from terrible fates. As time went on, his feast day, December 6, became the focus of some fun things for kids in the midst of that time of pre-Christmas fasting, Advent.

In the early Middle Ages, the port silted up. Then there was a huge river flood which buried the riverside parts of the town in silt and mud. The basilica was dug out again, but most of the town was abandoned. (What remained, in the high rocks around the old harbor, was renamed Andriake.) The people who stuck around moved to the suburbs, which became the rural farming town of Myra. Another shrine church was built for St. Nicholas in the new town, and his bones were moved there.

And then… there was another flood, an earthquake with a river tsunami. The old Myra, including the basilica, was buried twenty feet deep in goo. Farmers eventually made their fields over the roofs of a great ancient city.

It was about this time that the Turks invaded. A bunch of worried sailors from Bari, Italy showed up and stole the more solid bones of St. Nicholas, taking them home to preserve them from the Muslim Turks, but leaving behind the smaller bone fragments so as not to be greedy. A new shrine church was built at Bari, but was made defensible for use as a fortress against the fleets of the Ottoman Empire. A

s is true of many Eastern saints and quite a few Western ones, St. Nicholas’ bones are said to exude a myrrh-like substance. In St. Nicholas’ case, it consists of a transparent water condensate with a sweet smell, which the Italians call “manna.” (Which is fitting, because of course that’s Hebrew for “What is it?”) On the feast day of his bones’ arrival in Bari, St. Nicholas’ casket is opened in the presence of many dignitaries, the liquid is collected, and (after dilution with normal water), it is given out in vials to the faithful who need healing.

A few years after Bari built their church, a bunch of Venetian sailors showed up in Myra and attempted to steal the bones of St. Nicholas by threatening to kill everyone, but apparently got the bones of a later Nicholas — St. Nicholas of Sion, bishop of Pinara, who was a local monk in Emperor Justinian’s time — as well as a few other sets of local bones from nice-looking sepulchres in the church, like those of St. Nicholas of Sion’s uncle. But they also took the bone fragments that they had initially rejected as obviously not St. Nicholas’ bones. Just in case. Back home in Venice, though, the local hierarchy realized that the bone fragments were indeed the most valuable of the relics, and they enshrined them. The other sets of bones seem to have been entombed honorably, but of course there’s no telling which one is who.

Venetians. What you gonna do?

So there’s a church of St. Nicholas in Venice, too — San Nicolo al Lido. It’s from this church where the Doge used to sail for Venice’s “Wedding with the Sea” ceremony. The Venetians say their bone fragments also exude “manna.”

Myra still had other, non-bone relics of their great saint, so they weren’t totally deprived while under the Ottoman Empire’s Muslim rule. But they stopped being a pilgrimage spot — not that anybody was going to travel there much during a time of Mediterranean Muslim piracy, of course. But yup, this is One Of Those Things that is a grievance between East and West.

(Although there was also a lot of relic-stealing and royal appropriation in the East by folks of various Eastern churches. But this you don’t hear much about.)

The new Myra remained a Greek Christian town until the twentieth century, when Turkey expelled all Greek Christians to Greece. A new population of Turkish farmers moved into the existing town, taking over the locals’ buildings and farms. The current name of the new Myra is “Demre.”

The Turkish government and local organizations from Demre (“The Santa Claus Peace Council,” run by local Muslim boosters such as the Muslim guy who has the keys to the church) have periodically pressured Italy and the Vatican to have the bones of St. Nicholas repatriated from Bari. But since it’s still a Muslim country, and since only a tiny number of Orthodox Christians have been allowed to move into Myra and have very occasional Masses at the shrine, nobody is very interested in depriving Bari of St. Nick.

OTOH, the rivalry between Venice and Bari came to a surprise ending in the twentieth century, when it was discovered and confirmed by various tests that the bones and bone fragments all belonged to the same guy.

Over the last decade or so, archaeologists have been digging out the buried city of Myra, focusing on the old basilica. The archaeologists recently sent out a press release, announcing that with ground-penetrating radar, they have found the area which was once St. Nicholas’ shrine. Good job!

However, they have allegedly announced that they have found St. Nicholas’ bones, which seems… unlikely.

Probably what they have is yet another set of local bones in a nice sarcophagus, probably of some local dignitary who wanted to be buried close to St. Nicholas. When the locals deconsecrated the church, they didn’t deconsecrate the crypt burial areas; so they didn’t feel the need to pull out every set of sarcophagi and bones.

In fact, Turkish archaeologists didn’t even announce what the newspeople are saying they announced. All they said was that they found a crypt under the old Byzantine basilica floor in the old Myra, and that they want to get in there carefully, without damaging the mosaics on the floor. Everything else they said was labeled as pure speculation. So once again, you can’t believe what you read without checking a lot of other sources.

The situation is complicated further, because although some Muslim sects (like the Wahhabist Sunni of Saudi Arabia) think that the graves of saintly people should be destroyed as a distraction from Islam, a lot of other Sunni and Shia Muslims believe that graves of saintly people should be visited and given honor. And mosques, because obviously anybody saintly who wasn’t a Muslim must have really been a Muslim anyway. Further, some sects are totally okay with sharing a holy site with Jews and Christians, but the general tendency is to stop Jews and Christians from getting anywhere near the graves of patriarchs and saints that are revered by Muslims.

So with the “Santa Claus Peace Council,” the locals in Demre and in their province of Antalya have a big plan to make a new development, the Santa Claus Peace Village, where people of all nationalities and religions can live in peace and honor St. Nicholas. And this is where they wanted St. Nicholas’ bones to be put. But in today’s atmosphere of Muslim radicalism and Erdogan’s anti-everything, this is an extremely idealistic plan.

The group also gives out an annual “Santa Claus Peace Prize” (actually, “Noel Baba”, which is the equivalent of the French “Papa Noel”) with a highly unusual list of recipients. (The Google Translate version of Sr. Jeanine Gramick’s speech is interesting, to say the least….)

The other dumb thing that media people are saying is that “Ooh, don’t tell the kids that Santa Claus is dead!”

Well, I admit that this is a hazard if your kids aren’t from a tradition that believes in the souls of saints being alive and active in the Body of Christ, and perfectly capable of performing infinite amounts of miracles and good deeds from beyond the grave. (Which is why the stuff about Santa being a Time Lord or a jolly elf is supposed to be a joke, not an explanation.) But most Catholic and Orthodox kids are perfectly aware that Santa has bones, and that said bones are in a specific church in Italy. Even the Orthodox celebrate the translation of his bones to Bari as a feast day. “St. Nicholas’ bones!” was a pretty common medieval way to cuss.

But since St. Nicholas never married in any of his legends, Mrs. Santa Claus is Right Out.

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Our Lady of Walsingham Hymn!

EWTN televised Mass today from the Catholic cathedral at Walsingham, England’s great Marian pilgrimage site. There in 1061, a local noblewoman widow, Richeldis de Saverches, saw a vision of the Virgin Mary instructing her to build the Holy House, a replica of Mary’s childhood home with her parents.

(Yes, right before the Norman Invasion. It’s pretty common for Marian apparitions to occur during or right before wars and other bad stuff, perhaps as a sort of spiritual vitamin.)

This homely site was destroyed by the greed of Henry VIII. But the English still make pilgrimage there, and today is the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Anglican shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham is on approximately the site of the old shrine. The Catholic one is at the site of the old “Slipper Chapel” on the outskirts of town, where pilgrims would remove their traveling shoes, so as to approach Mary’s shrine barefoot.

The opening hymn was very striking. It’s sung to the good old hymn tune ELLACOMBE.

Hail Mary, ever blessed,
Of Walsingham the Queen!
Through vision of Richeldis,
Thy favors there were seen.
When England was thy dowry,
There pilgrims bowed the knee.
At morn and noon and even,
They knelt to honor thee.

Hail Mary, ever blessed.
Thy children still delight
To tell abroad thy praises,
Thy miracles, thy might.
Still pilgrim feet are treading
Along the holy way.
Hostess of England’s Nazareth,
Receive us home today!

Hail Mary, ever blessed.
The wells of water pure
Which mark thy holy places
Are signs that God doth cure
For sick of soul and body.
E’er since Richeldis’ day,
They spring in benediction
Beside the Pilgrims’ Way.

Hail Mary, ever blessed.
Thy name is great indeed;
For Jesus Christ our Savior
Was in thy womb conceived.
Thy name be ever prai-sed,
Increasing in this place,
And loud the angel’s greeting:
“Hail Mary, full of grace!”

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