Category Archives: Saint Stories

Muggle is Middle English

It turns out that “muggle” is a Middle English word for “mullet tail, or person with a fish tail,” and it seems to have been used both ways. There was also “mugling,” which was a descendant of such a tailed person.

It’s in freakin’ Layamon’s Brut, for goodness’ sake.

Here’s the link.

Other spellings included “moggles.” The tail itself is also spelled “mughel.” Other spellings of the fish name include “mugil” (that’s the mullet fish), and “migal/migale” (also the mullet fish).

The Fordun Scotichronicon tells the story of the town of Muglington as being a place where everyone was born with tails, and that therefore people in Kent were called Longtails. It was the result of a visit by St. Augustine of Canterbury, when the pagan Saxon people refused to listen to his preaching. Even worse, they twisted what he said, and then mocked him by sewing fish tails onto his clothing. So God cursed them and their posterity with a tail on their posteriors.

The author says that the village of Thanewyth in Mercia also supposedly mocked St. Augustine and got the same punishment. And that St. Thomas a Becket got mocked in the Middle Ages by having his horse’s tail docked, but then the people of that town got tail-cursed also.

There is a fun little article about this which enumerates all the mocking and repeating and references to these stories that people from Kent got, in an 1896 issue of the Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society.

Obviously this was not in Rowling’s mind, but it probably was part of why the name was so insulting, in her universe. Non-wizards are not just mudbloods; they are beasts, not even warmbloods, cursed with fishes’ tails.

Anyway, here’s a few more uses of the word “muggle” before Rowling.

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St. Luna?

Short answer: No. But it’s an okay name.

According to a list of the top twenty baby names from the UK baby name site Nameberry, “Luna” is the #1 baby name for girls in 2020, so far. In the US, the Social Security Administration says that in 2018, Luna was up to #23 for girls.

Of course we know why. It’s the character Luna Lovegood, from the Harry Potter books. (And possibly, just a little influence from Luna the cat in Sailor Moon.) Two popular UK celebrities apparently named their daughter Luna last year, and this pushed it over the top in the UK.

So let’s look on the bright side. It’s a real name, with history and everything, and it sounds pretty and feminine. But it’s also a name of the Roman goddess of the Moon. Is it a suitable baptismal name?

Weeeell, lots of early Christian saints and martyrs were converted pagans with pagan names. Their conversion made their names Christian. So there is precedent.

The funny thing is that, at the time of big Roman conversions, most of the Gentiles turned martyrs were either Roman women bearing Roman clan names, or slaves bearing fashionable Greek names. You do get some ethnic names (St. Monica’s name was Punic, ie, Phoenician/Carthaginian), but you don’t usually get “given names” like we have, until later Christian times. Also, the moon goddesses were pretty popular, so people may have avoided giving moon-related names.

But nowadays, there’s no real reason not to name your kid Luna, if you feel like it. Lu- names like Lucy and Louise are getting popular. Probably more of a middle name, though.

Lunicia is a name today, although an uncommon one. There’s a saint named that in North Africa, on June 7. Lunicie is another spelling. (And yeah, avoid your kid being called Lunacy.)

That said, there’s also a St. Luna Mista listed on April 6 in some old martyrologies, but she’s also listed as “Summista.” Either way, nobody knows more about her (or him) than that.

The more common name is Diana, or in France, Diane. Diana is an Italian name and just means “goddess.” She was originally a rural goddess of the hunt, but got tacked onto all the Greek stuff with Artemis, Selene, and Hecate.

Diana was not popular with early Christians for the same Roman reasons; but it came back big as a Christian name in the high Middle Ages.

Blessed Diana d’Andalo was a real character. She came from a rich family in Bologna, but wanted to join the Dominican order of nuns and build a convent. So she first made a private vow of virginity, witnessed by St. Dominic and other Dominicans. Then she took a field trip with friends to a Benedictine convent of nuns, who had agreed beforehand to keep her until the Dominicans could get a convent going, and help her learn the nun business.

But as with St. Clare, her family showed up. They kidnapped her away from the nuns. When she got away, she joined some Augustinian nuns with their prior permission (you have to admire this girl’s letterwriting and plotting skills), and got kidnapped again. The family broke her rib and she was confined to her bed, but she managed to write St. Dominic while he was on his deathbed. She escaped again to the Augustinians. Finally, Blessed Jordan of Saxony (and his 24 charisma points) visited her family, and persuaded them to build a Dominican convent close to their home, so that the family could just visit, like normal people. This worked out, and the convent also produced Bl. Cecilia and Bl. Amata of Bologna. She died on Jan. 9, 1236. Her day is June 10, or June 8, or June 9 (depending on the calendar).

There’s also Bl. Diana, the first prioress of Sobrives in Provence. She was the aunt of St. Rosseline de Villeneuve, the patron saint of the Carthusians and the Order of Malta.

On the Greek name side, of course there is Phoebe from the Bible. Phoebe, “shining” or “bright one,” was one of the titles of Artemis. (And there’s a Phoebe in Harry Potter, too.)

There doesn’t appear to be any saint named Selene. There are several saints named Artemia, after Artemis. There’s the martyrs Ss. Artemia and Attica, on February 18, and the abbess of Cuteclara in Spain, St. Artemia.

The widow and abbess St. Artemia was not a martyr of Cordoba, but she taught one, St. Maria, in her convent. Maria was deeply impressed by St. Artemia’s description of how her sons were martyred by the Muslims, which was why she sought the religious life; and that’s part of St. Maria she went to Cordoba with St. Flora and formally denounced Islam in front of a qadi. They were executed on Nov. 24, 851.

(Another Cuteclara martyr nun was St. Aurea or Aura, who was born and raised Muslim but converted, and who stayed a nun for twenty years after being widowed. Her convert brothers, Ss. Adolphus and John, died martyrs on Sept. 27, 822. During the Cordoba persecutions, her relatives found her and dragged her out of the convent to face an Islamic judge. She renounced Christianity under duress and was stuck back in her relatives’ household. Secretly, she went back to practicing Christianity, but eventually the relatives found out. She refused to go back to Islam and was executed for apostasy on July 19, 856.)

(A few years later, another widow, St. Laura, was the abbess of Cuteclara, when she was martyred on October 19, 864 by being plunged into a cauldron of boiling pitch.)

The most famous St. Artemia was a misnomer for the Emperor Diocletian’s daughter, who was harried during his lifetime for being a Christian or Christian-friendly, and then was killed by a mob in Thessaloniki. (Her name was actually Valeria, after her dad’s clan name, and her married name was Galeria Valeria.) It’s not entirely clear whether she was technically killed as a martyr, or because she refused to marry, or because she was a convenient target. Either way, she went through plenty of hell on earth. Her bones are supposedly in Rome, in the Church of St. Sylvester, and her feast is August 8 or August 16. (Similarly, her Christian mother Prisca is sometimes miscalled Serena or Alexandra.)

There’s a town in Brittany named “Saint-Lunaire,” for St. Lunarius or Leonor, a male Breton saint who worked and was buried there.

There is a Castillo de Luna in Rota, Spain, and “Santa Luna” is a placename that occasionally comes up. De Luna was the name of a powerful Spanish family that conquered the town of Luna in Zaragoza. There’s also an Italian town named Luni, which was called Luna in Etruscan and Roman times. So in classical times, Carrara marble was called Luna marble. The town was once a notable port, but it got sacked by both Vikings and Muslims, until the port silted up. So the town was eventually abandoned, but has been excavated now.

The Moon gets mentioned in the Bible, of course, but Middle Eastern folks thought of the Moon as male, not female. The god of Ur of the Chaldaeans was Sin the moon god, and later the Babylonians worshipped him as Nebo or Nebu. Funnily enough, King Nectanebo, who was probably the Bible’s Nebuchadnezzar, was a commoner from Ur; and he notoriously put his god Nebo ahead of Babylon’s god Marduk. (Sometimes the Sun was thought of as female, but usually Shamash was pictured as also a guy.) So when you see the Beloved in the Song of Songs compared to the Sun, the Moon, and an army, it’s all masculine images. (Yeah, not very intuitive to us, but the Moon is also masculine in Japan.)

There was once a part of the Divine Office called the “Luna,” just like Lauds and Matins and Vespers. It came after Prime, and it was basically some readings from the martyrology. The little round window in a monstrance is also called a “luna.”

Lovegood or Love-God, btw, were Puritan names for girls. Love-Well was a boy’s name.

During Puritan times, it was pretty common for Royalists or Catholics to give their kids classical Roman or Greek names, as a sort of protest. So there were lots of guys named Hercules, Paris, Neptune, etc., and a fair number of women named Venus, Cassandra, Diana….

Oh, and the surname Moon is usually the Norman surname De Mohun, which comes from the town of Moyon or Moion in Normandy.

UPDATE: Delia is Greek for “Delian, person from Delos.” Artemis and Apollo were twins and both born on Delos, so Delia and Delios are also their titles. “Phoebus” is one of Apollo’s titles, too.

I also forgot Cynthia (“person from Mount Kynthos”), which is a title of both Artemis and Aphrodite. Again, nobody thinks of it as a pagan name anymore.

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St. Asher?

The UK baby name website Nameberry just put out a list of the top twenty baby names from 2020 (so far). Obviously this is totally non-official, being a list of the most popular names used for babies of their website patrons! But it’s interesting, so let’s check it out.

The number 1 Nameberry boy’s name is Asher.

Asher is a traditional Jewish name. He was one of Jacob’s sons, his eighthborn. His mom was Leah’s handmaid Zilpah (or Zilpha, in Greek-influenced versions). He grew up to be the ancestor of one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

The Bible tells us Leah named him “Asher” because she was happy to beat out Rachel and her handmaid Bilhah’s son count, so the name means “happy.” But the actual Hebrew also means “blessed.” (Much as the Greek “makarios” means both “happy” and “blessed.”)

So let’s look at what is actually said in Genesis 30:13 —

And Leah said:

“Be ‘asseri ki ‘isseruni banowt.”
(“I am happy, because the daughters” (ie, the women) “will call me blessed.”)

So she called his name ‘Asher.

Interesting, huh? Who else do we know who was called “blessed among women” (Lk. 1:42) by Elizabeth, and who then replied that “Henceforth, all the generations will call me blessed”? The same woman who also called herself a “handmaid” in that poem. Yup, Mary says that she sees herself in both Zilpah and Leah, although there are also Biblical typologies of Mary with Rachel and Bilhah. (And pretty much every other Biblical matriarch, for that matter.)

Asher’s older full brother, Gad, had a name that means “lucky,” because Leah says she was feeling lucky to beat Rachel and Bilhah’s son count (Gen. 30:11).

In Jewish tradition, Asher is portrayed as having been a good guy and a peacemaker between his brothers. The people of Asher were prosperous and wise, and they had the most sons. The women of the tribe were remembered as exceptionally beautiful, and much courted by Jewish leaders and priests.

One of their ancestresses, Asher’s daughter or stepdaughter Serah (also spelled Serach), is noted by name twice in the Bible. There are interesting traditions about her kindly nature and good relationship with her dad Asher and her grandfather Jacob. On Jacob’s deathbed, he is said to have blessed her along with his sons and with his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. The traditional wording of this blessing was “May you live forever and never die,” and so she is supposed to have been taken up to Heaven like Elijah and Enoch. Serach is also supposed to have remained on earth until the time of Moses, and have been the only one who remembered where to find Joseph’s tomb with his bones. After being taken into Heaven, Serach occasionally returned to earth to help rabbis with their studies. When one later rabbi wondered about the crossing of the Red Sea, she poked her head in the window and told him about her memories of the event.

(But shyeah, Catholics are totally nutso and pagan in their ideas about Mary. Yup.)

The tribe of Asher ultimately were taken into captivity and not returned, and became of the “lost” Ten Tribes. However, some members of each tribe did remain in Judah. For example, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, the prophetess in Luke 2:36, is identified by Luke as a member of the tribe of Asher.

In Gen. 49:20, Jacob prophetically blesses Asher among the rest of his sons on his deathbed, saying, “From Asher shall be rich bread, and he shall yield royal delicacies.”

In Deut. 33:24, Moses blesses this tribe, saying, “Asher, most blessed of sons: let him be favored by his brothers, and let him dip his foot in oil.” The Jewish interpretation is sometimes rendered as “most blessed with sons,” ie, with descendants. “Foot dipped in oil” refers to the tribe’s lands assigned to them in Israel, which would be good for olive orchards and olive oil.

The controversial part is that the Asher and Gad tribes had their land in the areas that would become Phoenician and Gentile territory (in Galilee), and they might have been related to pagan groups too. There’s a Phoenician god of luck named Gad, and the god of the city of Assur was named Assur, which is really close to Asher. (Assyria is really “Assur.”) And the Egyptians mentioned people called “Asaru.” So people kinda wonder what that tribe was doing.

(The name of the Phoenician goddess Asherah or Athirah, btw, is from a different word stem — the word “to walk, to stride.”)

As a patriarch of one of the Twelve Tribes, Asher is a saint. So it’s totally normal and appropriate to name a baby after him. You will find his name spelled “Aser” in Greek and Latin sources.

In the Latin/Roman Rite, the traditional feast day of St. Asher is February 5. This is also the feast of Ss. Abraham and Sarah, St. Melchizadek, St. Lot, Ss. Isaac and Rebecca, St. Jacob, Ss. Leah and Rachel, and all the other patriarchs of the Twelve Tribes.

On the Eastern side of things, the second Sunday before Christmas is called “the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ,” when all the patriarchs and matriarchs get celebrated. But they also have various saints’ days for individual Old Testament saints.

In the US, Asher has always been a Jewish name, but it seems to have been growing in popularity as a Christian name over the last five years. (In 2018, it was #47 in boys’ names.) In this unhappy time, one can see why people would want a name that means “happy” or “blessed.” It also sounds a lot like other popular names, such as Ash, Ashley, and Aislinn.

(But bear in mind the obvious mispronunciation of all Ash- names.)

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St. Chad?

St. Chad of Mercia. Yup. Totally legit bishop and missionary in Anglo-Saxon England. His Latin name was Ceadda.

His famous brother was St. Cedd (pronounced Keth, with a soft/voiceless “th” like in “width”) or Cedda (the same, with an “ah”). They were both educated at Lindisfarne, and became abbots of the monks of Lastingham. The other brothers were Cynibil and Caelin. (Bede tells us about all this.)

Chad stepped into history after the Synod of Whitby (AD 664). Shortly after the synod ended, many prominent bishops and churchmen who had been in attendance came down with the Yellow Plague (probably the same as Justinian’s Plague, but possibly a kind of yellow fever) and died. Chad’s brother Cedd, King Oswiu of Northumbria’s chaplain, was one of the dead, as was Bishop Tuda of Northumbria, and Archbishop Deusdedit of Canterbury.

King Oswiu of Northumbria decided that he needed a bishop of Northumbria. The bishop of Canterbury was dead, and no successor had been named in three years, so every king and abbey felt like they could and should do their own thing.

King Oswiu and his under-king, Alfrid of Deira, originally picked a guy named Wilfrid (St. Wilfritha, in fact) and sent him off to France for consecration (bishops being rather thin on the ground after the Yellow Plague/Synod), but Wilfrid didn’t come back. So Oswiu named Chad the bishop of Northumbria.

Chad protested his unworthiness, and then set out for Wessex to be consecrated by one Saxon and two British bishops. Then he traveled barefoot to visit all the parishes in his diocese, preaching the Gospel and giving the Sacraments.

Meanwhile, without knowing all this, Wilfrid was over in France, gathering support along with his mentor Agilbert. Agilbert and several other French bishops consecrated him a bishop for Northumbria, but Wilfrid did not go home right away. When he did, he was named bishop of York, and gathered allies but did not fight Chad’s bishoping. Much like Northumbria and Deira, they seem to have acted as allied bishops that shared territory.

At this point, stuff was happening in Rome. In 667, King Ecgberht of Kent decided he needed an archbishop of Canterbury. Local discussion among priests and the king seem to have hit on Wighard, a member of Archbishop Deusdedit’s household. So they sent him off to Rome. He seems to have gotten consecrated with papal approval, and then kicked the bucket. So Pope Vitalian picked one of the Greek refugees from the Muslim conquests of the East, a monk named Theodore of Tarsus. He was learned, experienced, holy, and from St. Paul’s hometown. What more could you want?

When St. Theodore arrived in Britain in 669, he was shocked to learn about Chad’s political appointment unapproved by Canterbury and hence felt it was a false consecration as bishop. Chad expressed all readiness to step down and hand the job to Theodore’s candidate. But when Theodore learned of all Chad’s hard work and holiness, Theodore decided he also wanted Chad to be bishop, and eventually named him bishop of Mercia!

(St. Theodore had almost twenty years of conflict with St. Wilfrid about the division of Northumbria into more bishoprics. But it worked out, and they’re all saints together.)

Chad died in 672, after receiving a message from an angel that he would die in seven days. Chad warned his brother monks about his death, and referred to Death as “that friendly guest who often visits the brethren.” He died on March 2, and one man had a vision of angels and saints coming to fetch him, including Chad’s brother Cedd.

Of course, Chad is often used today in the US as a descriptive name for men who are strong and not too bright, although also for men who are strong and mean. This is not fair to its most famous bearer.

Funnily enough, the UK seems to have missed the Seventies and Eighties popularity of the name Chad. But it’s as UK a name as you can get. Chad was a Saxon, but his name is Welsh and means “battle.”

His brothers’ names mix Saxon and Welsh, much like Northumbria’s population did. You don’t find this situation often in world history, outside of the US!

Ss. Chad and Cedd, pray for us!

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The Real Reason Halloween is on October 31

Muslims, of course. And iconoclast emperors.

Okay, let’s recap the status of All Saints’ feasts.

Back in the day, the celebration of all the martyrs not otherwise celebrated, or all the saints not otherwise celebrated, usually took place in the spring. In Edessa, it was on May 13, from AD 320 on. In Lebanon and Syria, you have celebrations in Lent, or on the first Thursday after Easter from 411 on, a celebration of all martyrs. In Antioch (from the days of Ss. Ephrem and John Chrysostom) and in Wurzburg, All Saints (ton Hagion Panton) was the first Sunday after Pentecost. In the West, it was on April 20.

When the Pantheon in Rome was turned into the Church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres in 609, the building was dedicated on May 13, and Rome began celebrating All Saints’ Day on May 13. There was some spread of the new date, but it was all voluntary changes. Rome did not push it on other areas. Ireland, for one, still celebrated on April 20. But it was a big feast, and Pope Sergius I wrote a long litany in Greek for it in AD 690.

And then, in 731 in Rome, the date changed again.

It was a sad time in Church history. Emperor Leo III, Leo the Isaurian, was a skilled general and governor from Syria, who had overthrown Theodosius III with the help of other military officials. His strong governance had brought peace to the Empire and driven back the Bulgars and Muslims. But he had also brought in forcible Baptism of Jews and Montanists, and then decided that he could smoothe things over with the Muslims by scrubbing Christianity of images and saints. He declared icons illegal in a series of laws that came out from 726-729. Much of the aristocracy supported him, but most theologians, monks, and normal laypeople hated it.

Over in the West, people just ignored Emperor Leo’s dumb edicts. In the East, people who defied the new laws got punished — or they got the heck out, moving to places like Rome with less economy and more freedom. Ironically, one of the strongest voices against Emperor Leo was St. John of Damascus — who lived in Damascus and other places in the Muslim caliphate, and thus could not get silenced by Emperor Leo.

Emperor Leo III also had a feud going with Pope Gregory II. In 722 (the year of the forcible baptisms), the Emperor demanded more tax money and tax food from Rome and the papal estates, because there were war expenses. But Rome was having trouble feeding its own people, and had no surplus money or food to send. The imperial governor got insistent, and the Roman populace threw the rascal out. (And the Pope didn’t object or anything.) Since imperial forces in Ravenna were busy holding off the Lombards/Longobards, and since Emperor Leo was too busy to send troops from elsewhere, the Romans got away with it.

In 725, Emperor Leo sent a new guy, Marinus, to be Dux of his Roman lands. Things might have smoothed over, but Marinus made a serious attempt to put a hit on the Pope. He got recalled, another guy was made Exarch of Ravenna, and the plot continued. It got discovered, the plotters talked, and nobody in Rome loved Constantinople.

Then the iconoclasm laws came along. The East says that Gregory II excommunicated the Emperor. The West says that he sent some strongly worded letters telling the Emperor to butt out of religious matters, and that iconoclasm was evil and stupid. Emperor Leo sent a new Exarch, who started a new plot to kill the Pope and the major notables of Rome. This plot got discovered, too. The Exarch then made a deal with the Lombards to attack Rome as a joint force, but the Pope managed to get the Lombards to change their minds. Gregory stayed openly courteous to Exarch Eutychius, and helped him fight off a non-religious revolt. Eutychius was grateful, and things were looking up. Then Gregory II died on February 11, 731. He was later declared a saint; his feastday is on February 13.

Since he was such a saintly guy and had led the fight against iconoclasm, a lot of people showed up for Gregory II’s funeral. One of them was a Syrian priest, Gregory son of John. He seems to have been something of a scholar and a holy type of guy, but he must have really made an impression.

Because on February 22, 731, this visitor to Rome got elected Pope. By acclamation of the people of Rome.

He was so flabbergasted that he followed an old custom, and asked permission from the Exarch of Ravenna. (Because he was from the East, where bishop was more of a government bureaucratic position.) It was granted, and he was consecrated bishop and Pope on March 18. (No telling what his old bishop thought about it.) He was the last pope until Pope Francis to have origins outside of Europe.

Pope Gregory III started things off with a bang, by sending nice letters to the exiled/deposed Patriarch of Constantinople, and nastygrams about iconoclasm to Emperor Leo III. The emperor put the pope’s messenger in prison.

Pope Gregory III doubled down. He put up a full ikonostasis at the base of the two-story main altar structure of the old St. Peter’s Basilica. He called a synod against iconoclasm and for devotion to Mary and the saints, to be held in November 731. And he also ordered a new oratory to be built in the main nave, all the way down front, and just to the left of the doors going to the main altar. The oratory featured two altars (one honoring Mary, the other St. Gabinius) with a big arch covering them, and a consolidation of saints’ bodies and relics, buried all around the floor and under the altars. And with images and statues, of course!

On November 1, 731, just before the start of the synod against iconoclasm, the new oratory was dedicated. Pope Gregory III announced that from now on, the feast of All Saints in Rome would be celebrated on November 1. (Which of course made the eve of the feast a time for fasting, prayer vigils, and whatever stuff you do to stay awake during fasting and prayer vigils.)

Emperor Leo III sent a fleet to punish Rome, but it was wrecked.

The new date of the feast was still promulgated by free choice; but a lot of kings and missionaries were interested in it because it was a blow against iconoclasm. (And overbearing Byzantine emperors.) Ireland doesn’t seem to have picked up the new date for a long time.

Pope Gregory III reigned until his death on November 28, 741. (He and Emperor Leo III died in the same year.) He was buried in his oratory of Mary and the saints. Unlike Leo, Pope Gregory III was later declared a saint, and his day is December 10.

So there’s no Celtic pagan holiday. The reason we have Halloween is an emperor who was soft on Muslims and hard on icons, and a Pope who fought back.

Everything else is just decorations and candy.

* Other achievements by Pope St. Gregory III — Appointed St. Boniface the archbishop of Germany, and a papal legate, in order to support missionary work among German pagans and lapsed Christians. Founded and perpetually funded a hospital for the poor, dedicated to the Eastern Ss. Sergius and Bacchus. Founded a monastery in Rome named St. Chrysogonus. Restored Rome’s walls. Built, restored, re-roofed, and decorated many churches in Rome. Put a lead roof back on the Pantheon. Helped recapture Ravenna from the Lombards.

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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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Here’s an Interesting Historical Figure.

St. Joseph of Palestine.

No, not St. Joseph the Carpenter. No, this is a different guy.

Among the notable Christians of Emperor Constantine’s time was an ex-disciple of Rabbi Hillel II (?). He was named Joseph, and was left the guardianship of Hillel’s son, Judah, after the rabbi died. He was a member of the Sanhedrin and also worked as an envoy for them.

Joseph alleged that in his last days, Hillel sent for a “physician” who was actually the local bishop, and received a “bath for his health” that was actually Baptism. Joseph kept silent about this, but he did get interested in reading the Gospels. At one point, he had a vision of Jesus. So he decided to become a Christian, but hadn’t done anything about it when he was caught with his suspicious Christian books, all the way out in Cilicia, where he was being an envoy. He was saved from being drowned in the river by the public arrival of s Cilician bishop, who took Joseph off to safety.

Emperor Constantine got very interested in the story and made Joseph a high officia in AD 323. During his time in office, he dealt with opposition by both Jews and Arian Christians, as he tried to build a church in his headquarters city, Tiberias. He also built churches in several Galilean towns important to the Gospels, including Sepphoris, Nazareth, and Capernaum. (There’s a lot of question as to whether any Christians lived there, or if he was just trying to create pilgrimage centers, or what. Apparently these were big centers of unrest during the Jewish revolt against Constantius Gallus.)

The good life ended when Emperor Constantine started to favor Arian bishops and persecute orthodox ones. Joseph moved to a nice place in Scythopolis, which had the advantage of being away from both Jewish and Christian factions. He used his place as a safe house for orthodox folks in trouble, including St. Eusebius of Vercelli and St. Epiphanius (who recorded his story in his book on heresies, the Panarion, in Lib. 30, c. 4).

Joseph died in AD 356. His feastday is July 22, and it is on the calendars of both East and West. He’s also known as Joseph of Tiberias.

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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. Ammonius and the Unwed Pregnant Girl

One time, they brought an unwed pregnant girl to Father Amun and his monks in the desert, and they said, “Give her a penance.”

But he blessed her womb with the Sign of the Cross, and ordered that pieces of cloth be given to her, to serve as a shroud in case the mother or her baby died.

And they asked, “What are you doing? Put a penance on her!”

But Father Amun said, “But my brothers, you see that she is in danger of death. What can I do?”

Amun felt unworthy to judge others. He was merciful and full of goodness toward people.

— Adapted from Anthony Alcock’s translation of the Syrian “Apothegmata of Amun.”

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St. Erin?

Or, Why Do Good Catholics Think This Is a Good Baptismal Name?

Yes, Irish-American Catholics tend to assume that anything they like is pre-approved by the Pope. But why did American Catholics start naming their girls Erin? Why is it such a thing? Why? Why? Why?

— First off, Erin is really “Eirinn.” It’s the Gaelic dative form of Eire, or its Old Irish form, Eriu. Eire is the name of Ireland, or the island upon which Ireland and Northern Ireland are found; and Eriu is the name of its personification, the goddess Eriu. (Which in Proto-Celtic meant something like “land, fat land, abundant land.”)

So are people naming their kids “for Ireland” or “to Ireland”? Or are they really using the genitive form “Eireann,” and thus naming them “of Ireland”?

Maybe, maybe not. There are actually two dialects of Irish where the dative form Eirinn can be used as a nominative form, instead of using Eire. Obviously, these dialects were influential, since they show up in sayings like “Erin go bragh.”

— Okay. So… what does it mean to name your kid after a country? Why does the Social Security Administration show all these “Erins” showing up in 1947? I don’t know. There may have been an influential movie or novel character, but that’s just a guess, or it may have just been a general consensus that “Erin go bragh” sounds pretty.

From a Catholic point of view, though, the name “Erin” is kind of weird. Yes, Ireland is the land of saints and scholars, but it is not itself holy. (As the vote for legalized abortion has abundantly proved.)

— So there are a couple of different options. It could be referring to Our Lady’s title “Queen of Ireland,” if it were actually using the genitive form Eireann. The title “Queen of Ireland” was connected with the 19th century apparitions at Knock, where Mary appeared to a good chunk of a village, and it appears in several popular prayers and songs praising Our Lady of Knock.

There’s also a wonderworking painting of Mary in Gyor, Hungary, called “Our Lady of Ireland,” because it had originally hung in Clonfert Cathedral, and had been rescued by the exiled Bishop Lynch (who left it to the Bishop of Gyor). Calvinists, Lutherans, and even a rabbi signed a deposition talking about how the painting shed real tears of blood on March 17, 1697. Here’s an article in Hungarian, with pictures of it in the cathedral.

There is a copy of this painting in St. Stephen’s Church in Toledo, Ohio, which was given in 1913 by Toledo’s bishop to his Hungarian parish; but unfortunately I’ve never seen it. The copy was touched to the actual painting, and is thus a relic itself.

Here’s an article with pictures of the Toledo copy and the original painting, by the amazing Jeffrey Smith! And here’s a closer view of the original. Was it by an Irish painter?

So yup, a shorter version of “Rian Eireann” or “Muire na hEireann” (“Mary of Ireland,” which is the translation used in Ireland for “Our Lady, Queen of Ireland”) is a real possibility. I think all of you Erins have a lovely patroness!

— However, there’s also a very famous title of St. Brigid that comes to mind. She was called “the Mary of the Gaels” (Muire na Gael).

— The other possibility is that it’s yet another version of the Greek “Irene,” peace, and the various St. Irenes. This name is sometimes written “Erina,” “Erena,” or “Herena.”

— “Erinna” is also an ancient Greek name, associated with a pagan Greek poetess of that name, Erinna of Telos.

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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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