Sunday, May 19, 2013

Alcuin of York


Alcuin of York (Latin: Alcuinus) or Ealhwine, nicknamed Albinus or Flaccus (730s or 740s – 19 May 804) was an English scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher from York, Northumbria. He was born around 735 and became the student of Archbishop Ecgbert at York. At the invitation of Charlemagne, he became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court, where he remained a figure in the 780s and 790s. He wrote many theological and dogmatic treatises, as well as a few grammatical works and a number of poems. He was made Abbot of Tours in 796, where he remained until his death. "The most learned man anywhere to be found" according to Einhard's Life of Charlemagne, he is considered among the most important architects of the Carolingian Renaissance. Among his pupils were many of the dominant intellectuals of the Carolingian era.

Saint Alcuin (Alcuin of York) is considered as a saint by all the main branches of Christianity: Roman Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches. He was one of the most scholarly Christian saints. Saint Alcuin had a long career as a teacher and scholar, first at the school at York, founded in AD 627 (now known as St Peter's School, York) and later as Charlemagne's leading advisor on ecclesiastical and educational matters. From 796 until his death he was Abbot of the great monastery of St. Martin of Tours where he founded a library by obtaining copies of books from libraries in his native England. He wrote the grammatical rules for the Vulgate Latin spoken by some illiterates in Europe at his time. Alcuin of York is the most influential teacher in Europe as he set the basis of the syllabus for European schools.
The majority of details on Alcuin's life come from his letters and poems. There are also autobiographical sections in Alcuin's poem on York and in the Vita Alcuini, a Life written for him at Ferrières in the 820s, possibly based in part on the memories of Sigwulf, one of Alcuin's pupils.

Alcuin was born in Northumbria, presumably sometime in the 740s. Virtually nothing is known of his parents, family background, or origin. In common hagiographical fashion, the Vita Alcuini asserts that Alcuin was 'of noble English stock,' and this statement has usually been accepted by scholars. Alcuin's own work only mentions such collateral kinsmen as Wilgils, father of the missionary saint Willibrord; and Beornred, abbot of Echternach and bishop of Sens, who was more distantly related. In his Life of St Willibrord, Alcuin writes that Wilgils, called a paterfamilias, had founded an oratory and church at the mouth of the Humber, which had fallen into Alcuin's possession by inheritance. Because in early Anglo-Latin writing, paterfamilias ("head of a family, householder") usually referred to a ceorl, Donald A. Bullough suggests that Alcuin's family was of cierlisc status: i.e., free but subordinate to a noble lord, and that Alcuin and other members of his family rose to prominence through beneficial connections with the aristocracy. If so, Alcuin's origins may lie in the southern part of what was formerly known as Deira.

The young Alcuin came to the cathedral church of York during the golden age of Archbishop Ecgbert and Northumbrian King Eadberht. Egbert had been a disciple of the Venerable Bede, who urged him to raise York to an archbishopric. King Eadbert and his brother Egbert oversaw the re-energising and re-organisation of the English church, with an emphasis on reforming the clergy and on the tradition of learning that Bede had begun. Egbert was devoted to Alcuin, who thrived under his tutelage. It was in York that Alcuin formed his love of classical poetry, though he was sometimes troubled by the fact that it was written by non-Christians.

The York school was renowned as a centre of learning, in the liberal arts, literature and science as well as in religious matters. It was from here that Alcuin drew inspiration for the school he would lead at the Frankish court. He revived the school with the trivium and quadrivium disciplines. He wrote a codex on the trivium and his student Hraban wrote one on the quadrivium.

Alcuin graduated to become a teacher during the 750s. His ascendancy to the headship of the York school, the ancestor of St Peter's School, began after Aelbert became Archbishop of York in 767. Around the same time Alcuin became a deacon in the church. He was never ordained as a priest and there is no real evidence that he became an actual monk, but he lived his life as one.

In 781, King Elfwald sent Alcuin to Rome to petition the Pope for official confirmation of York’s status as an archbishopric and to confirm the election of the new archbishop, Eanbald I. On his way home he again met Charlemagne, this time in the Italian city of Parma.

Alcuin's love of the church and his intellectual curiosity allowed him to be reluctantly persuaded to join Charlemagne's court. He joined an illustrious group of scholars that Charlemagne had gathered around him, the mainsprings of the Carolingian Renaissance: Peter of Pisa, Paulinus of Aquileia, Rado and Abbot Fulrad. Alcuin would later write that "the Lord was calling me to the service of King Charles."

He was welcomed at the Palace School of Charlemagne in Aachen (Urbs Regale) in 782. It had been founded by the king’s ancestors as a place for the education of the royal children (mostly in manners and the ways of the court). However, Charlemagne wanted to include the liberal arts and, most importantly, the study of the religion that he held sacred. He loved the thought of religion and it was so important to him that he decided to share it with his country and others. From 782 to 790, Alcuin taught Charlemagne himself, his sons Pepin and Louis, the young men sent to be educated at court and the young clerics attached to the palace chapel. Bringing with him from York his assistants Pyttel, Sigewulf and Joseph, Alcuin revolutionized the educational standards of the Palace School, introducing Charlemagne to the liberal arts and creating a personalised atmosphere of scholarship and learning, to the extent that the institution came to be known as the 'school of Master Albinus'.

In this role as adviser, he tackled the emperor over his policy of forcing pagans to be baptised on pain of death, arguing, "Faith is a free act of the will, not a forced act. We must appeal to the conscience, not compel it by violence. You can force people to be baptised, but you cannot force them to believe." His arguments seem to have prevailed – Charlemagne abolished the death penalty for paganism in 797.

Charlemagne was a master at gathering the best men of every land in his court. He himself became far more than just the king at the center. It seems that he made many of these men his closest friends and counsellors. They referred to him as 'David', a reference to the Biblical king David. Alcuin soon found himself on intimate terms with Charlemagne and the other men at court, where pupils and masters were known by affectionate and jesting nicknames. Alcuin himself was known as 'Albinus' or 'Flaccus'.

Alcuin’s friendships also extended to the ladies of the court, especially the queen mother and the king's daughters. His relationships with these women never reached the intense level of those of the men around him. Modern commentators, have identified the homo-erotic tone of some of Alcuin's poetry, emphasising the spiritual and idealistic aspects of his love for his friends and his young pupils. While at Aachen, his pupils were given pet names, derived from classical allusions (mainly from Virgil's Eclogues).

In 790 Alcuin returned from the court of Charlemagne to his own country, to which he had always been greatly attached. He dwelt there for some time, but Charlemagne then invited him back to help in the fight against the Adoptionist heresy which was at that time making great progress in Toledo, the old capital of the Visigoths and still a major city for the Christians under Islamic rule in Spain. He is believed to have had contacts with Beatus of Liébana, from the Kingdom of Asturias, who fought against Adoptionism. At the Council of Frankfurt in 794, Alcuin upheld the orthodox doctrine and obtained the condemnation of the heresiarch Felix of Urgel. Having failed during his stay in Northumbria to influence King Æthelred in the conduct of his reign, Alcuin never returned home.

He was back at Charlemagne's court by at least mid 792, writing a series of letters to Æthelred, to Hygbald, Bishop of Lindisfarne, and Æthelhard, Archbishop of Canterbury in the succeeding months, which dealt with the Viking attack on Lindisfarne in July 793. These letters and Alcuin's poem on the subject De clade Lindisfarnensis monasterii provide the only significant contemporary account of these events.

In his description of the Viking attack, he wrote:- "Never before has such terror appeared in Britain. Behold the church of St Cuthbert, splattered with the blood of God's priests, robbed of its ornaments."

In 796 Alcuin was in his sixties. He hoped to be free from court duties and was given the chance upon the death of Abbot Itherius of Saint Martin at Tours, when Charlemagne put Marmoutier Abbey into Alcuin's care, with the understanding that he should be available if the king ever needed his counsel.
Alcuin died on 19 May 804, some ten years before the emperor, and was buried at St. Martin’s Church under an epitaph that partly read:
Dust, worms, and ashes now...
Alcuin my name, wisdom I always loved,
Pray, reader, for my soul.

Alcuin made the abbey school into a model of excellence and many students flocked to it. He had many manuscripts copied using outstandingly beautiful calligraphy, the Carolingian minuscule based on round and legible uncial letters. He wrote many letters to his English friends, to Arno, bishop of Salzburg and above all to Charlemagne. These letters (of which 311 are extant) are filled mainly with pious meditations, but they form an important source of information as to the literary and social conditions of the time and are the most reliable authority for the history of humanism during the Carolingian age. Alcuin trained the numerous monks of the abbey in piety and it was in the midst of these pursuits that he died.
Alcuin is the most prominent figure of the Carolingian Renaissance, in which three main periods have been distinguished: in the first of these, up to the arrival of Alcuin at the court, the Italians occupy a central place; in the second, Alcuin and the Anglo-Saxons are dominant; in the third (from 804), the influence of Theodulf, the Visigoth is preponderant.
We owe to him, too, manuals used in his educational work – a grammar and works on rhetoric and dialectics. They are written in the form of dialogues and in two of them the interlocutors are Charlemagne and Alcuin. He wrote several theological treatises: a De fide Trinitatis, commentaries on the Bible, etc.
Alcuin is credited with inventing the first known question mark, though it didn't resemble the modern symbol.
Alcuin transmitted to the Franks the knowledge of Latin culture which had existed in Anglo-Saxon England. A number of his works still exist. His letters and his poetry are equally interesting. Besides some graceful epistles in the style of Venantius Fortunatus, he wrote some long poems and notably he is the author of a history (in verse) of the church at York, Versus de patribus, regibus et sanctis Eboracensis ecclesiae.

The textbook Propositiones ad acuendos juvenes is usually attributed to Alcuin. It contains about 53 mathematical word problems (with solutions), in no particular pedagogical order. Among the most famous of these problems are: four that involve river crossings, including the problem of three jealous husbands, each of whom can't let another man be alone with his wife (Problem 17); the problem of the wolf, goat, and cabbage (Problem 18); and the problem of "the two adults and two children where the children weigh half as much as the adults" (Problem 19). Alcuin's sequence is the solution to one of the problems of that book.

In several churches of the Anglican Communion, Alcuin is celebrated on 20 May, the first available day after the day of his death (as Dunstan is celebrated on 19 May).
Alcuin College, one of the colleges of the University of York, England, is named after him.

"O quam dulcis vita fuit dum sedebamus in quieti . . . inter librorum copias."
'Oh how sweet life was when we sat quietly . . . midst all these books.'
"potius animam curare memento, quam carnem, quoniam haec manet, illa perit."
'Remember to care for the soul more than the body, since the former remains, the latter perishes.'
"Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit."
'And do not listen to those who keep saying, 'The voice of the people is the voice of God.' because the tumult of the crowd is always close to madness.'

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Saint Adalbert of Prague


Saint Adalbert, (c. 956 – April 23, 997), Czech Roman Catholic saint, a Bishop of Prague and a missionary, was martyred in his efforts to convert the Baltic Prussians. He evangelized Poles and Hungarians. St. Vojtěch was later made the patron saint of Bohemia, Poland, Hungary and Prussia.

Adalbert (Vojtěch) was born into a noble Czech family of Prince Slavník and his wife Střezislava in Libice nad Cidlinou, Bohemia. The Chambers Biographical Dictionary mistakenly gives his year of birth as 939. His father was a rich and independent ruler of the Zličan princedom that rivaled Prague (see Slavník's dynasty). Adalbert had five full brothers: Soběslav (Slavnik's heir), Spytimír, Pobraslav, Pořej, Čáslav and a half-brother Radim (Gaudentius) from his father's liaison with another woman. Radim chose a clerical career as did Adalbert, and took the name Gaudentius. Adalbert was a well-educated man, having studied for about ten years (970-80) in Magdeburg under Saint Adalbert of Magdeburg. Upon the death of his mentor, he took the name Adalbert. Gifted and industrious, Adalbert soon became well-known all over Europe.

In 980 Adalbert finished his studies at Magdeburg school and returned to Prague, where he became a priest. In 981 his father, Prince Slavnik, and both his mentors died.

In 982, still not yet thirty years old, Adalbert became the Bishop of Prague. Although Adalbert descended from a rich family and could afford comfort and luxury, he lived poorly of his own free will. He was noted for charity, austerity, and zealous service to the Church. His duty was difficult even in baptized Bohemia, as the pagan creed was deeply embedded in the peoples' minds. Adalbert complained of polygamy and idolatry, which still were not unusual among the Czechs. He also strongly resented the participation of baptized Christians in the slave trade.
In 989 he resigned from his bishop's cloth and left Prague. He went to Rome and lived as a hermit in St. Alexis Benedictine monastery.
Four years later, in 993, Pope John XV sent him back to Bohemia. Adalbert became the Bishop again. That time he founded a monastery in Břevnov, near Prague, the first one in the Czech lands. Nonetheless, the nobility there continued to oppose his ministry. Also, according to Cosmas' chronicle, high clerical office was a burden to Adalbert, and in 994 he offered it to Strachkvas who was Přemyslid and Duke Boleslav's brother. Strachkvas, nevertheless, refused.

In 995 Slavniks' former rivalry with the Přemyslids (allied with Vršovci) resulted in the storming of Libice led by Boleslaus II the Pious. During the struggle four (or five) of Adalbert's brothers were murdered. Thus the Zličan princedom became part of the Přemyslids' estate.
After the tragedy he could not stay in Bohemia and escaped from Prague, despite the Pope's call for him to return to his episcopal see. Strachkvas was eventually appointed to be his successor. However, when he was going to assume the Bishop office in Prague, he suddenly died during the ceremony itself. Circumstances of his death are still unclear.
As for Adalbert, he went to Hungary and baptized Géza of Hungary and his son Stephen in the city of Esztergom. Then he went to Poland where he was cordially welcomed by Bolesław I the Brave. After the short visit Adalbert went to Prussia with a Christian mission.

Adalbert of Prague had already in 977 entertained the idea of becoming a missionary in Prussia. After he had converted Hungary, he was sent by the Pope to convert the heathen Prussians. Boleslaus the Brave, duke of Poland (later king), sent soldiers with Adalbert. The bishop and his followers - including his half-brother Radim (Gaudentius) - entered Prussian territory and went along the Baltic Sea coast to Gdańsk.
It was a standard procedure of Christian missionaries to try to chop down sacred oak trees, which they had done in many other places, including Saxony. Because the trees were worshipped and the spirits who were believed to inhabit the trees were feared for their powers, this was done to demonstrate to the non-Christians that no supernatural powers protected the trees from the Christians.
When they did not heed warnings to stay away from the sacred oak groves, Adalbert was martyred in April 997 on the Baltic Sea coast east of Truso (currently Elbląg, Elbing), or near Tenkitten and Fischhausen  It is recorded that his body was bought back for its weight in gold by Boleslaus the Brave.

A few years later Adalbert was canonized as Saint Adalbert of Prague. His life has been written about in Vita Sancti Adalberti Pragensis by various writers, the earliest being traced to imperial Aachen and Liège/Lüttich's bishop Notger von Lüttich, although it was assumed for many years that the Roman monk John Canaparius wrote the first Vita in 999. Another famous biographer of Adalbert was Saint Bruno of Querfurt who wrote his hagiography in 1001–1004.
Notably, Bohemian rulers (i.e., Přemyslids) initially refused to ransom Saint Adalbert's body from the Prussians who murdered him, so it was purchased by Poles. This fact may be explained by Saint Adalbert's belonging to the Slavniks family; it highlights the strength of the two clans' conflict. Thus Saint Adalbert's bones were stored in Gniezno and helped Boleslaus the Brave to improve Poland's position in Europe.
According to Bohemian accounts, in 1039 the Bohemian duke Břetislav I looted the bones of Saint Adalbert from Gniezno in a raid and moved them to Prague. According to Polish accounts he took the wrong relics, those of St Gaudensius, while Saint Adalbert's relics were hidden by the Poles and remain in Gniezo. In 1127 the decapitated head, which was not in the original purchase (according to Roczniki Polskie) was found and moved to Gniezno. In 1928, one of the arms of Saint Adalbert, which Bolesław I had given to Otto III in the year 1000, was added to the bones preserved in Gniezno. Today Saint Adalbert has two elaborate shrines claiming to contain his remains, in the cathedrals of Prague and Gniezno, and which bones are authentic is not clear. For example, the saint has two skulls - one in Prague, a second in Gniezno (stolen in 1923).
The massive bronze Gniezno Doors of Gniezno Cathedral, of about 1175, are decorated with 18 reliefs of scenes from the saint's life, the only Romanesque church doors in Europe to contain a cycle illustrating the life of a saint.
April 1997 was the thousandth anniversary of Saint Adalbert's martyrdom. It was commemorated in the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Russia and other countries. Representatives of Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Evangelical churches pilgrimaged to Gniezno, to the saint's tomb. John Paul II visited Gniezno and held a ceremonial divine service in which heads of seven European states and about a million believers took part.
In Kaliningrad Oblast, near Beregovoe village (former Tenkitten), where Adalbert's death hypothetically took place, a ten-meter cross was established.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Saint Acacius


Saint Acacius was Bishop of Amida, Mesopotamia (modern-day Turkey) in 400–425, during the reign of the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II.

At that time, there were seven thousand Persian prisoners who were captured by the Romans and held in Amida. Filled with the utmost compassion at the sight of these men perishing from hunger and misery, St. Acacius resolved to help them. He assembled his clergy and addressed them in this manner: "Our God, my brethren, needs neither dishes nor cups; for He neither eats nor drinks, nor is in want of anything. Since then, by the liberality of its faithful members the Church possesses many vessels both of gold and silver, it behooves us to sell them, that by the money thus raised, we may be able to redeem the prisoners and also supply them with food."

Bishop Acacius sold all the precious golden and silver sacred vessels of his church and ransomed, clothed and fed the seven thousand. He even supported them for a while and furnished them with all that they needed to return to Persia.

When the ransomed captives returned home to Persia, they told their ruler of the great deeds performed by Bishop Acacius. His actions so impressed the Sassanid Emperor Bahram V that he is reported to have ordered an end to the persecution of the Christians.

Emperor Bahram V also desired to see St. Acacius face-to-face. Permission to do just that was given to Acacius by Emperor Theodosius II. St. Acacius' kindness and charity led to the termination of hostilities between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanid Empire, and Christianity was able to flourish for a while in the areas then controlled by the Sassanid Persians.

Saint Acacius' feast day is celebrated on April 9 (Roman Martyrology).

Friday, March 8, 2013

Saint Colette, Patron Saint of Expecting Mothers, Sick Children and Conception


Saint Colette (13 January 1381 – 6 March 1447), born Nicole Boellet (or Boylet), was a French abbess and the foundress of the Colettine Poor Clares, a reform branch of the Order of Saint Clare, better known as the Poor Clares. Due to a number of miraculous events claimed during her life, she is venerated as the patron saint of women seeking to conceive, expectant mothers and sick children.
Nicole was born in Corbie in the Picardy region of France, in January 1381, to Robert Boellet, a poor carpenter at the noted Benedictine Abbey of Corbie, and to his wife, Marguerite Moyon. Her contemporary biographers say that her parents had grown old without having children, before praying to Saint Nicholas for help in having a child. Their prayers were answered when, at the age of 60, Marguerite gave birth to a daughter. Out of gratitude, they named the baby after the saint to whom they credited the miracle of her birth.
After her parents died in 1399, Nicole--henceforth known as Colette--joined the Beguines but found their manner of life unchallenging. She received the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis in 1402, and became a hermit under the direction of the Abbot of Corbie, living near the abbey church. After four years of following this ascetic way of life (1402–1406), through several dreams and visions she came to believe that she was being called to reform the Franciscan Second Order, and to return it to its original Franciscan ideals of absolute poverty and austerity.
In October 1406, she turned to the Antipope Benedict XIII of Avignon who was recognized in France as the rightful pope. Benedict received her in Nice, in southern France, and allowed her to transfer to the Order of Poor Clares. Additionally, he empowered her through several papal bulls, issued between 1406 and 1412, to found new monasteries and to complete the reform of the Order.
With the approval of the Countess of Geneva and the aid of the Franciscan itinerant preacher, Henry of Beaume (her confessor and spiritual director), Colette began her work at Beaune, in the diocese of Geneva. She remained there only a short time. In 1410, she opened her first monastery at Besançon, in an almost-abandoned house of Urbanist Poor Clares. From there, her reform spread to Auxonne (1412), to Poligny (1415), to Ghent (1412), to Heidelberg (1444), to Amiens, to Pont-à-Mousson in Lorraine and to other communities of Poor Clares. During her lifetime 18 monasteries of her reform were founded. For the monasteries which followed her reform, she prescribed extreme poverty, going barefoot, and the observance of perpetual fasting and abstinence.
During the Council of Constance she wrote to disavow Benedict, and during the Council of Basel she wrote to ask the bishops to withdraw.
In addition to the strict rules of the Poor Clares, the Colettines follow their special Constitutions, sanctioned in 1434 by the then-Minister General of the friars, William of Casale, and approved in 1448 by Pope Nicholas V, again in 1458 by Pope Pius II, and in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV.
Together with friar Henry of Beaume, Colette also inaugurated a reform among the Franciscan friars (who were known as the Coletans), not to be confounded with the Observants. These friars formed a unique branch of the Order of Friars Minor under Henry's authority, but remained obedient to the authority of the Minister Provincial of the Observant Franciscan friaries in France, and never attained much importance, even there.
In 1448 they had only thirteen friaries, all attached to monasteries of the Colettine nuns. Together with other small branches of the Order of Friars Minor, they were merged into the wider Observant branch in 1517 by Pope Leo X.
Colette died at Ghent in March 1447. She was beatified 23 January 1740, by Pope Clement XII (just a few weeks before his death) and was canonized 24 May 1807 by Pope Pius VII. Currently (2011) outside of France, the Colettine nuns are found in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Norway, the Philippines, Spain and throughout the United Kingdom and the United States
Miracles:
According to tradition, Colette's parents had grown old without being able to have children. In desperation, her mother-to-be prayed to Saint Nicholas, a patron saint of children, to intercede for her that she might be able to bear a child. Despite her advanced age (she was sixty, according to some accounts), she did indeed conceive, and a daughter was born to them. The child was baptized Nicolette in honor of the saint whom the parents credited with the miracle of her birth.
While traveling to Nice to meet the Pope, Colette stayed at the home of a friend. His wife was in labor at that time with their third child, and was having major difficulties in the childbirth, leaving her in danger of death. Colette immediately went to the local church to pray for her.
The mother gave birth successfully, and survived the ordeal. She credited Colette's prayers for this. The child born, a girl named Pierinne, later entered a monastery founded by Colette. She would become Colette's secretary and biographer.
After the Pope had authorized Colette to establish a regimen of strict poverty in the Poor Clare monasteries of France, she started with that of Besançon. The local populace was suspicious of her reform, with its total reliance on them for the sustenance of the monastery. One incident helped turn this around.
According to legend, a local peasant woman gave birth to a stillborn child. In desperation, out of fear for the child's soul, the father took the baby to the local parish priest for baptism. Seeing that the child was already dead, the priest refused to baptize the body. When the man became insistent, out of frustration, the priest told him to go to the nuns, which he did immediately. When he arrived at the monastery, Mother Colette was made aware of his situation by the portress. Her response was to take off the veil given to her by the Pope, when he gave her the habit of the Second Order, and told the portress to have the father wrap the child's body in it and for him to return to the priest. By the time he arrived at the parish church with his small bundle, the child was conscious and crying. The priest immediately baptized the baby

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Saint Agatha of Sicily, Patron Saint of Breast Cancer Patients


Saint Agatha of Sicily (died ca. 251) is a Christian saint. Her memorial is on 5 February. Agatha was born at Catania, Sicily, and she was martyred in approximately 251. She is one of seven women, excluding the Blessed Virgin Mary, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.
She is the patron saint of Catania, Molise, Malta, San Marino and Zamarramala, a municipality of the Province of Segovia in Spain. She is also the patron saint of breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna.
Agatha is buried at the Badia di Sant'Agata, Catania. Witnesses to her, aside from her mention in the Mass, are her inclusion in the late 6th-century Martyrologium Hieronymianum associated with the name of Jerome; the Synaxarion, the calendar of the church of Carthage, ca. 530; and in one of the carmina of Venantius Fortunatus. Two early churches were dedicated to her in Rome, notably the Church of Sant'Agata dei Goti in via Mazzarino, a titular church with apse mosaics of ca. 460 and traces of a fresco cycle, overpainted by Gismondo Cerrini in 1630. In the 6th century the church was adapted to Arian Christianity, hence its name "Saint Agatha of the Goths", and later reconsecrated by Gregory the Great, who confirmed her traditional sainthood. Agatha is also depicted in the mosaics of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, where she appears, richly dressed, in the procession of female martyrs along the north wall. Her image forms an initial I in the Sacramentary of Gellone, from the end of the 8th century.

Her written legend comprises "straightforward accounts of interrogation, torture, resistance, and triumph which constitute some of the earliest hagiographic literature", and are reflected in later recensions, the earliest surviving one being an illustrated late 10th-century passio bound into a composite volume in the Bibliothèque National, originating probably in Autun, Burgundy; in its margin illustrations Magdalena Carrasco detected Carolingian or Late Antique iconographic traditions. According to Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda Aurea of ca. 1288, having dedicated her virginity to God, Agatha, rich and noble, rejected the amorous advances of the low-born Roman prefect Quintianus; she was persecuted by him for her Christian faith. She was given to Aphrodisia, the keeper of a brothel, and her nine daughters, but in response to their threats and entreaties to sacrifice to the idols and submit to Quintianus, she responded:
"My courage and my thought be so firmly founded upon the firm stone of Jesus Christ, that for no pain it may not be changed; your words be but wind, your promises be but rain, and your menaces be as rivers that pass, and how well that all these things hurtle at the fundament of my courage, yet for that it shall not move."


The Martyrdom of Saint Agatha (1519) by Sebastiano del Piombo (Palazzo Pitti)
She attacked the Roman cult images as idols with philosophical arguments that paralleled Arnobius:
And S. Agatha answered that they were no gods, but were devils that were in the idols made of marble and of wood, and overgilt. Quintianus said: Choose one of two; or do sacrifice to our gods, or thou shalt suffer pain and torments. S. Agatha said: Thou sayst that they be gods because thy wife was such a one as was Venus, thy goddess, and thou thyself as Jupiter, which was a homicide and evil. Quintianus said: It appeareth well that thou wilt suffer torments, in that thou sayst to me villainy. S. Agatha said: I marvel much that so wise a man is become such a fool, that thou sayest of them to be thy gods, whose life thou ne thy wife will follow. If they be good I would that thy life were like unto theirs; and if thou refusest their life, then art thou of one accord with me. Say then that they be evil and so foul, and forsake their living, and be not of such life as thy gods were.
Among the tortures she underwent was the cutting off of her breasts. An apparition of Saint Peter cured her.
After further dramatic confrontations with Quintianus, represented in a sequence of dialogues in her passio that document her fortitude and steadfast devotion, her scorned admirer eventually sentenced her to death by being rolled naked on a bed of live coals, "and anon the ground where the holy virgin was rolled on, began to tremble like an earthquake, and a part of the wall fell down upon Silvain, counsellor of Quintianus, and upon Fastion his friend, by whose counsel she had been so tormented."


Saint Peter Healing Agatha, by the Caravaggio-follower Giovanni Lanfranco, ca 1614
Saint Agatha died in prison, according to the Legenda Aurea in "the year of our Lord two hundred and fifty-three in the time of Decius, the emperor of Rome."
Osbern Bokenham, A Legend of Holy Women, written in the 1440s, offers some further detail.
Saint Agatha is often depicted iconographically carrying her excised breasts on a platter, as by Bernardino Luini's Saint Agatha (1510–15) in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, in which Agatha sweetly contemplates the breasts on a standing salver held in her hand. The shape of her amputated breasts, especially as depicted in artistic renderings, gave rise to her attribution as the patron saint of bell-founders and of bakers, whose loaves were blessed at her feast day. More recently, she has been venerated as patron saint of breast cancer patients.

She is the patron saint of Catania, Sorihuela del Guadalimar (Spain), Molise, San Marino and Malta. In Malta tradition has it that she took refuge from persecution at the St Agatha Catacombs in Rabat and in 1551 her intercession through an apparition to a Benedictine nun is reported to have saved Malta from Turkish invasion.

Basques have a tradition of gathering on Saint Agatha's eve (Santa Ageda bezpera in Basque) and going round the village. Homeowners can choose to hear a song about her life, accompanied by the beats of their walking sticks on the floor or a prayer for those deceased in the house. After that, the homeowner donates food to the chorus. This song has varying lyrics according to the local tradition and the Basque language. An exceptional case was that of 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, when a version appeared that in the Spanish language praised the Soviet ship Komsomol, which had sunk while carrying Soviet weapons to the Second Spanish Republic.
An annual festival to commemorate the life of Saint Agatha takes place in Catania, Sicily, from February 3 to 5. The festival culminates in a great all-night procession through the city for which hundreds of thousands of the city's residents turn out.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Saints Cyril and Methodius


Saints Cyril and Methodius (Greek: Κύριλλος καὶ Μεθόδιος, Old Church Slavonic: Кѷриллъ и Меѳодїи) were Byzantine Greek brothers born in Thessaloniki in the 9th century who became Christian missionaries among the Slavic peoples of the Great Moravia and Pannonia.Through their work they influenced the cultural development of all Slavs, for which they received the title "Apostles to the Slavs". They are credited with devising the Glagolitic alphabet, the first alphabet used to transcribe Old Church Slavonic. After their deaths, their pupils continued their missionary work among other Slavs. Both brothers are venerated in the Orthodox Church as saints with the title of "equal-to-apostles". In 1880, Pope Leo XIII introduced their feast into the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1980, Pope John Paul II declared them co-patron saints of Europe, together with Benedict of Nursia.

The two brothers were born in Thessaloniki – Cyril in 827–828 and Methodius in 815–820. Cyril was reputedly the youngest of seven brothers; he was born Constantine, but took the name Cyril upon becoming a monk shortly before his death, according to the "Vita Cyrilli" ("The Life of Cyril"). Their father was Leo, a droungarios of the Byzantine theme of Thessaloniki, and their mother was Maria, who may have been a Slav.

The two brothers lost their father when Cyril was only fourteen, and the powerful minister Theoktistos, who was logothetes tou dromou, one of the chief ministers of the Empire, became their protector. He was also responsible, along with the regent Bardas, for initiating a far-reaching educational program within the Empire which culminated in the establishment of the University of Magnaura, where Cyril was to teach.

Cyril's mastery of theology and command of both Arabic and Hebrew made him eligible for his first state mission. He was sent to the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mutawakkil to discuss the principle of the Holy Trinity with the Arab theologians, and to improve relations between the Caliphate and the Empire.
Cyril took an active role in relations with the other two monotheistic religions, Islam and Judaism. He penned fiercely anti-Jewish polemics, perhaps connected with his mission to the Khazar Khaganate, a state located near the Sea of Azov ruled by a Jewish king who allowed Jews, Muslims, and Christians to live peaceably side by side. He also undertook a mission to the Arabs with whom, according to the "Vita", he held discussions. He is said to have learned the Hebrew, Samaritan, and Arabic languages during this period.

The second mission (860), requested by the Byzantine Emperor Michael III and the Patriarch of Constantinople Photius (a professor of Cyril's at the University and his guiding light in earlier years), was a missionary expedition to the Khazar Khaganate in order to prevent the expansion of Judaism there. This mission was unsuccessful, as later the Khagan imposed Judaism on his people as the national religion. It has been claimed that Methodius accompanied Cyril on the mission to the Khazars, but this is probably a later invention. The account of his life presented in the Latin "Legenda" claims that he learned the Khazar language while in Chersonesos, in Taurica (today Crimea).

After his return to Constantinople, Cyril assumed the role of professor of philosophy at the University while his brother had by this time become a significant player in Byzantine political and administrative affairs, and an abbot of his monastery.

In 862, both brothers began the work which gives them their historical importance. That year the Prince Rastislav of Great Moravia requested that the Emperor Michael III and the Patriarch Photius send missionaries to evangelize his Slavic subjects. His motives in doing so were probably more political than religious. Rastislav had become king with the support of the Frankish ruler Louis the German, but subsequently sought to assert his independence from the Franks. It is a common misconception that Cyril and Methodius were the first to bring Christianity to Moravia, but the letter from Rastislav to Michael III states clearly that Rastislav's people "had already rejected paganism and adhere to the Christian law." Rastislav is said to have expelled missionaries of the Roman Church and instead turned to Constantinople for ecclesiastical assistance and, presumably, a degree of political support. The Emperor quickly chose to send Cyril, accompanied by his brother Methodius. The request provided a convenient opportunity to expand Byzantine influence. Their first work seems to have been the training of assistants. In 863, they began the task of translating the Bible into the language now known as Old Church Slavonic and travelled to Great Moravia to promote it. They enjoyed considerable success in this endeavour. However, they came into conflict with German ecclesiastics who opposed their efforts to create a specifically Slavic liturgy.
For the purpose of this mission, they devised the Glagolitic alphabet, the first alphabet to be used for Slavonic manuscripts. The Glagolitic alphabet was suited to match the specific features of the Slavic language. Its descendant script, the Cyrillic, is still used by many languages today.
They wrote the first Slavic Civil Code, which was used in Great Moravia. The language derived from Old Church Slavonic, known as Church Slavonic, is still used in liturgy by several Orthodox Churches and also in some Eastern Catholic churches.
It is impossible to determine with certainty what portions of the Bible the brothers translated. The New Testament and the Psalms seem to have been the first, followed by other lessons from the Old Testament. The "Translatio" speaks only of a version of the Gospels by Cyril, and the "Vita Methodii" only of the "evangelium Slovenicum," though other liturgical selections may also have been translated.
Nor is it known for sure which liturgy, that of Rome or that of Constantinople, they took as a source. They may well have used the Roman alphabet, as suggested by liturgical fragments which adhere closely to the Latin type. This view is confirmed by the "Prague Fragments" and by certain Old Glagolitic liturgical fragments brought from Jerusalem to Kiev and there discovered by Saresnewsky—probably the oldest document for the Slavonic tongue; these adhere closely to the Latin type, as is shown by the words "Mass," "Preface," and the name of one Felicitas. In any case, the circumstances were such that the brothers could hope for no permanent success without obtaining the authorization of Rome.
Journey to Rome



In 867, Pope Nicholas I invited the brothers to Rome. Their evangelizing mission in Moravia had by this time become the focus of a dispute with Theotmar, the Archbishop of Salzburg and bishop of Passau, who claimed ecclesiastical control of the same territory and wished to see it use the Latin liturgy exclusively. Travelling with the relics of Saint Clement and a retinue of disciples, and passing through Pannonia (the Balaton Principality), where they were well received by Prince Koceľ (Kocelj, Kozel), they arrived in Rome in 868, where they were warmly received. This was partly due to their bringing with them the relics of Saint Clement; the rivalry with Constantinople as to the jurisdiction over the territory of the Slavs would incline Rome to value the brothers and their influence.
The brothers were praised for their learning and cultivated for their influence in Constantinople. Anastasius Bibliothecarius would later call Cyril “a man of apostolic life” and “a man of great wisdom”. Their project in Moravia found support from Pope Adrian II, who formally authorized the use of the new Slavic liturgy. The ordination of the brothers' Slav disciples was performed by Formosus and Gauderic, two prominent bishops, and the newly-made priests officiated in their own tongue at the altars of some of the principal churches. Feeling his end approaching, Cyril put on the monastic habit and died fifty days later (14 February 869). There is practically no basis for the assertion of the Translatio (ix.) that he was made a bishop; and the name of Cyril seems to have been given to him only after his death.
Methodius alone


Statue of Saint Methodius at the Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc in Moravia in the Czech Republic
Methodius now continued the work among the Slavs alone; not at first in Great Moravia, but in Pannonia (in the Balaton Principality), owing to the political circumstances of the former country, where Rastislav had been taken captive by his nephew Svatopluk, then delivered over to Carloman, and condemned in a diet of the empire at the end of 870.
Friendly relations had been established with Koceľ on the journey to Rome. This activity in Pannonia made a conflict inevitable with the German episcopate, and especially with the bishop of Salzburg, to whose jurisdiction Pannonia had belonged for seventy-five years. In 865 Bishop Adalwin is found exercising all Episcopal rights there, and the administration under him was in the hands of the archpriest Riehbald. The latter was obliged to retire to Salzburg, but his superior was naturally disinclined to abandon his claims. Methodius sought support from Rome; the Vita asserts that Koceľ sent him thither with an honorable escort to receive Episcopal consecration.
The letter given as Adrian's in chap. viii., with its approval of the Slavonic mass, is a pure invention. The pope named Methodius archbishop of Sirmium with jurisdiction over Great Moravia and Pannonia, thus superseding the claims of Salzburg by an older title. The statement of the "Vita" that Methodius was made bishop in 870 and not raised to the dignity of an archbishop until 873 is contradicted by the brief of Pope John VIII, written in June 879, according to which Adrian consecrated him archbishop; John includes in his jurisdiction not only Great Moravia and Pannonia, but Serbia as well.
Methodius' final years
The archiepiscopal claims of Methodius were considered such an injury to the rights of Salzburg that he was forced to answer for them at a synod held at Regensburg in the presence of King Louis. The assembly, after a heated discussion, declared the deposition of the intruder, and ordered him to be sent to Germany, where he was kept prisoner for two and a half years. In spite of the strong representations of the Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum, written in 871 to influence the pope, though not avowing this purpose, Rome declared emphatically for Methodius, and sent a bishop, Paul of Ancons, to reinstate him and punish his enemies, after which both parties were commanded to appear in Rome with the legate.



The papal will prevailed, and Methodius secured his freedom and his archiepiscopal authority over both Great Moravia and Pannonia, though the use of Slavonic for the mass was still denied to him. His authority was restricted in Pannonia when after Koceľ's death the principality was administered by German nobles; but Svatopluk now ruled with practical independence in Great Moravia, and expelled the German clergy. This apparently secured an undisturbed field of operation for Methodius; and the Vita (x.) depicts the next few years (873–879) as a period of fruitful progress. Methodius seems to have disregarded, wholly or in part, the prohibition of the Slavonic liturgy; and when Frankish clerics again found their way into the country, and the archbishop's strictness had displeased the licentious Svatopluk, this was made a cause of complaint against him at Rome, coupled with charges regarding the Filioque.
Methodius vindicated his orthodoxy at Rome, the more easily as the creed was still recited there without the Filioque, and promised to obey in regard to the liturgy. The other party was conciliated by giving him a Swabian, Wiching, as his coadjutor. When relations were strained between the two, John VIII steadfastly supported Methodius; but after his death (December 882) the archbishop's position became insecure, and his need of support induced Goetz to accept the statement of the Vita (xiii.) that he went to visit the Eastern emperor.
It was not, until after Methodius' death, which is placed, though not with certainty, on 8 April 885, that the animosity erupted into an open conflict. Gorazd, whom Methodius had designated as his successor, was not recognised by Pope Stephen V. The same Pope forbade the use of the Slavic liturgy and placed the infamous Wiching as Methodius' successor. The latter exiled the disciples of the two brothers from Great Moravia in 885. They fled to the First Bulgarian Empire, where they were welcomed and commissioned to establish theological schools. There they devised the Cyrillic script on the basis of the Glagolitic. Cyrillic gradually replaced Glagolitic as the alphabet of the Old Church Slavonic language, which became the official language of the Bulgarian Empire and later spread to the Eastern Slav lands of Kievan Rus'. Cyrillic eventually spread throughout most of the Slavic world to become the standard alphabet in the Orthodox Slavic countries. Hence, Cyril and Methodius' efforts also paved the way for the spread of Christianity throughout Eastern Europe.

The Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets, based primarily on the Greek uncial writing of the 9th century, are the oldest known Slavic alphabets and were created by the two brothers and their students, in order to translate the Bible and other texts into the Slavic languages. The early Glagolitic alphabet was then used in Great Moravia between 863 (with the arrival of Cyril and Methodius) and 885 (with the expulsion of their students) for government and religious documents and books, and at the Great Moravian Academy (Veľkomoravské učilište) founded by Cyril, where followers of Cyril and Methodius were educated, by Methodius himself among others. The alphabet has been traditionally attributed to Cyril. That fact has been confirmed explicitly by the papal letter Industriae tuae (880) approving the use of Old Church Slavonic, which says that the alphabet was "invented by Constantine the Philosopher". The term invention need not exclude the possibility of the brothers having made use of earlier letters, but implies only that before that time the Slavic languages had no distinct script of their own.
The early Cyrillic alphabet was developed in the First Bulgarian Empire as a simplification of the Glagolitic alphabet which more closely resembled the Greek alphabet. It has been developed by the disciples of Saints Cyril and Methodius at the Preslav Literary School at the end of the 9th century.
After the death of Cyril, Clement accompanied Methodius from Rome to Pannonia and Great Moravia. After the death of Methodius himself in 885, Clement headed the struggle against the German clergy in Great Moravia along with Gorazd. After spending some time in jail, he was expelled from Great Moravia and in 885 or 886 reached the borders of the Bulgarian Empire together with Naum of Preslav, Angelarius, and possibly Gorazd (according to other sources, Gorazd was already dead by that time). The four of them were afterwards sent to the Bulgarian capital of Pliska, where they were commissioned by Tsar Boris I of Bulgaria to instruct the future clergy of the state in the Slavonic language.
After the adoption of Christianity in 865, religious ceremonies in Bulgaria were conducted in Greek by clergy sent from the Byzantine Empire. Fearing growing Byzantine influence and weakening of the state, Boris viewed the adoption of the Old Slavonic language as a way to preserve the political independence and stability of Bulgaria. With a view thereto, Boris made arrangements for the establishment of two literary schools (academies) where theology was to be taught in the Slavonic language. The first of the schools was to be founded in Pliska, and the second in Ohrid. While Naum of Preslav stayed in Pliska working on the foundation of the Pliska Literary School, Clement was commissioned by Boris I to organise the teaching of theology to future clergymen in Old Church Slavonic in Ohrid Literary School. For a period of seven years — between 886 and 893 — Clement taught some 3,500 disciples in the Slavonic language and the Glagolitic alphabet.

The Canonization process was much more relaxed in the decades following Cyril's death than today. Cyril was regarded by his disciples as a saint soon after his death. His following spread among the nations he evangelized and subsequently to the wider Christian Church, resulting in the renown of his holiness, along with that of his brother Methodius. There were calls for Cyril's canonization by the crowds lining the Roman streets during his funeral procession. Their first appearance in a papal document is Grande Munus by Leo XIII in 1880. The brothers are known as the "Apostles of the Slavs" and are still highly regarded by both Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Sts Cyril and Methodius' feast day is currently celebrated on 14 February in the Roman Catholic Church (to coincide with the date of St Cyril's death); on 11 May in the Eastern Orthodox Church (though note that for Eastern Orthodox Churches still on the Julian Calendar or 'old calendar' this is 24 May according to the Gregorian calendar); and on 7 July according to the old sanctoral calendar that existed before the revisions of the Second Vatican Council. The celebration also commemorates the introduction of literacy and the preaching of the gospels in the Slavonic language by the brothers. The brothers were declared "Patrons of Europe" in 1980.
According to old Bulgarian chronicles, the day of the holy brothers used to be celebrated ecclesiastically as early as the 11th century. The first recorded secular celebration of the Saints Cyril and Methodius Day as the "Day of the Bulgarian script", as it is traditionally accepted by Bulgarian history, was held in the town of Plovdiv on 11 May 1851, when a local Bulgarian school was named "Saints Cyril and Methodius", both acts on the initiative of the prominent Bulgarian educator Nayden Gerov, although an Armenian traveller mentioned his visit at the "celebration of the Bulgarian script" in the town of Shumen on 22 May 1803.
The day is now celebrated as a public holiday in the following countries:
In Bulgaria it is celebrated on 24 May and is known as the "Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Literature Day" (Bulgarian: Ден на българската просвета и култура и на славянската писменост), a national holiday celebrating Bulgarian culture and literature as well as the alphabet. It is also known as "Alphabet, Culture, and Education Day" (Bulgarian: Ден на азбуката, културата и просвещението). Saints Cyril and Methodius are patrons of the National Library of Bulgaria. A monument of them is present in front of the library. Saints Cyril and Methodius are the most celebrated saints in the Bulgarian Orthodox church, and icons of the two brothers can be found in every church.
In the Republic of Macedonia, it is celebrated on 24 May and is known as the "Saints Cyril and Methodius, Slavonic Enlighteners' Day" (Macedonian: Св. Кирил и Методиј, Ден на словенските просветители), a national holiday. The Government of the Republic of Macedonia enacted a statute of the national holiday in October 2006 and the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia passed a corresponding law at the beginning of 2007. Previously it had only been celebrated in the schools. It is also known as the day of the "Solun Brothers" (Macedonian: Солунските браќа).


Inauguration of the monument to Saints Cyril and Methodius in Saratov on Slavonic Literature and Culture Day
In Czech Republic and Slovakia, the two brothers were originally commemorated on 9 March, but Pope Pius IX changed this date to 5 July for several reasons. Today, Saints Cyril and Methodius are revered there as national saints and their name day (5 July), "Sts Cyril and Methodius Day" is a national holiday in Czech Republic and Slovakia. In the Czech Republic it is celebrated on 5 July as "Slavic Missionaries Cyril and Methodius Day" (Czech: Den slovanských věrozvěstů Cyrila a Metoděje), in Slovakia it is celebrated on 5 July as "St. Cyril and Metod Day" (Slovak: Sviatok svätého Cyrila a Metoda).
In Russia, it is celebrated on 24 May and is known as the "Slavonic Literature and Culture Day" (Russian: День славянской письменности и культуры), celebrating Slavonic culture and literature as well as the alphabet. Its celebration is ecclesiastical (11 May on the Church's Julian calendar). It is not a public holiday in Russia.
The saints' feast day is celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church on 11 May and by the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion on 14 February as "Saints Cyril and Methodius Day". The Lutheran Churches commemorate the two saints either on 14 February or 11 May.

The national library of Bulgaria in Sofia, Ss. Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje in the Republic of Macedonia, St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria and in Trnava, Slovakia, bear the name of the two saints. In the United States, SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan, bears their name.
St. Cyril Peak and St. Methodius Peak in the Tangra Mountains on Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands, in Antarctica are named for the brothers.
Saint Cyril's remains are interred in a shrine-chapel within the Basilica di San Clemente in Rome. The chapel holds a Madonna by Sassoferrato.
The Basilica of SS. Cyril and Methodius in Danville, Pennsylvania, (the only Roman Catholic basilica dedicated to SS. Cyril and Methodius in the world) is the motherhouse chapel of the Sisters of SS. Cyril and Methodius, a Roman Catholic women's religious community of pontifical rite dedicated to apostolic works of ecumenism, education, evangelization, and elder care

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Saint Eormenhild, Ermenilda of Ely


Saint Eormenhild (or Ermenilda, Ermenildis, Ermengild) (d. about 700/703) is a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon saint. Later hagiography makes her the daughter of King Eorcenberht of Kent and St. Seaxburh of Ely, and wife to Wulfhere of Mercia, with whom she had a daughter, St. Wærburh, and a son, Coenred. Eormenhild became a nun after her husband died in 675, and eventually became abbess of Minster and Ely consecutively.
There are almost no contemporary records for her life. When discussing Wulfhere, Bede mentions neither her nor her daughter Wærburh. However, her name is mentioned for an abbess in a (copy of a) charter of King Wihtred of Kent, dated 699, along with three other abbesses present at the occasion when the charter was issued: "Irminburga, Aeaba et Nerienda".
Her feast day is 13 February.

Anonymous Old English Life of St. Mildrith (Caligula), ed. and tr. Oswald Cockayne, Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England, vol. 3. London, 1866. 422-9 (Caligula), 428-32 (MS Lambeth Palace). Caligula text partially transcribed by Alaric Hall and Cockayne's volume available as PDF from Google Books.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Saint George


Saint George (c. 275/281 – 23 April 303) was a Greek who became an officer in the Roman army. His father was the Greek Gerondios from Cappadocia Asia Minor and his mother was the Greek Polychronia from the city Lyda. Lyda was a Greek city from the times of the conquest of Alexander the Great (333 BC), now in Israel. He became an officer in the Roman army in the Guard of Diocletian. He is venerated as a Christian martyr. In hagiography, Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic (Western and Eastern Rites), Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox churches. He is immortalized in the tale of Saint George and the Dragon and is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. His memorial is celebrated on 23 April, and he is regarded as one of the most prominent military saints.
Many Patronages of Saint George exist around the world, including: Georgia, England, Egypt, Bulgaria, Aragon, Catalonia, Romania, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Iraq, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia, Ukraine and Russia, as well as the cities of Genoa, Amersfoort, Beirut, Botoşani, Drobeta Turnu-Severin, Timişoara, Fakiha, Bteghrine, Cáceres, Ferrara, Freiburg, Kragujevac, Kumanovo, Ljubljana, Pérouges, Pomorie, Preston, Qormi, Rio de Janeiro, Lod, Lviv, Barcelona, Moscow and Victoria, as well as of the Scout Movement and a wide range of professions, organizations and disease sufferers.

Historians have debated the exact details of the birth of Saint George for over a century, although the approximate date of his death is subject to little debate. The Catholic Encyclopedia takes the position that there seems to be no ground for doubting the historical existence of Saint George, but that little faith can be placed in some of the fanciful stories about him.
The work of the Bollandists Danile Paperbroch, Jean Bolland and Godfrey Henschen in the 17th century was one of the first pieces of scholarly research to establish the historicity of the saint's existence via their publications in Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca and paved the way for other scholars to dismiss the medieval legends. Pope Gelasius stated that George was among those saints "whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are known only to God."
The traditional legends have offered a historicised narration of George's encounter with a dragon: see "St. George and the Dragon" below. The modern legend that follows below is synthesised from early and late hagiographical sources, omitting the more fantastical episodes, to narrate a purely human military career in closer harmony with modern expectations of reality. Chief among the legendary sources about the saint is the Golden Legend, which remains the most familiar version in English owing to William Caxton's 15th-century translation.
It is likely that Saint George was born to a Greek Christian noble family in Lyda [Lod], now in Israel, during the late third century between about 275 AD and 285 AD, and he died in the Greek city Nicomedia, Asia Minor. His father, Gerontios, was a Greek, from Cappadocia, Asia Minor, officer in the Roman army and his mother, Polychronia, was a Greek from the city Lyda (Lod) Palestine-Israel. They were both Christians and from noble families of Anici, so the child was raised with Christian beliefs. They decided to call him Georgios(Greek), meaning "worker of the land". At the age of 14, George lost his father; a few years later, George's mother, Polychronia, died. Eastern accounts give the names of his parents as Anastasius and Theobaste.

Then George decided to go to Nicomedia, the imperial city of that time, and present himself to Emperor Diocletian to apply for a career as a soldier. Diocletian welcomed him with open arms, as he had known his father, Gerontius — one of his finest soldiers. By his late 20s, George was promoted to the rank of Tribunus and stationed as an imperial guard of the Emperor at Nicomedia.
In the year AD 302, Diocletian (influenced by Galerius) issued an edict that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested and every other soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods of the time. However George objected and with the courage of his faith approached the Emperor and ruler. Diocletian was upset, not wanting to lose his best tribune and the son of his best official, Gerontius. George loudly renounced the Emperor's edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and Tribunes he claimed himself to be a Christian and declared his worship of Jesus Christ. Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the Roman gods. The Emperor made many offers, but George never accepted.
Recognizing the futility of his efforts, Diocletian was left with no choice but to have him executed for his refusal. Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself. After various torture sessions, including laceration on a wheel of swords in which he was resuscitated three times, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia's city wall, on April 23, 303. A witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda in Palestine for burial, where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr.
Although the above distillation of the legend of George connects him to the conversion of Athanasius, who according to Rufinus was brought up by Christian ecclesiastical authorities from a very early age, Edward Gibbon argued that George, or at least the legend from which the above is distilled, is based on George of Cappadocia, a notorious Arian bishop who was Athanasius' most bitter rival, who in time became Saint George of England. According to Professor Bury, Gibbon's latest editor, "this theory of Gibbon's has nothing to be said for it". He adds that: "the connection of St. George with a dragon-slaying legend does not relegate him to the region of the myth".
In 1856 Ralph Waldo Emerson published a book of essays entitled "English Traits". In it, he wrote a paragraph on the history of Saint George. Emerson compared the legend of Saint George to the legend of Amerigo Vespucci, calling the former "an impostor" and the latter "a thief". The editorial notes appended to the 1904 edition of Emerson's complete works state that Emerson based his account on the work of Gibbon, and that current evidence seems to show that real St. George was not George the Arian of Cappadocia. Merton M. Sealts also quotes Edward Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson's youngest son as stating that he believed his father's account was derived from Gibbon and that the real St. George "was apparently another who died two generations earlier"
Eastern Orthodox depictions of Saint George slaying a dragon often include the image of the young maiden who looks on from a distance. The standard iconographic interpretation of the image icon is that the dragon represents both Satan (Rev. 12:3) and the Roman Empire. The young maiden is none other than the wife of Diocletian, Alexandra. Thus, the image as interpreted through the language of Byzantine Iconography, is an image of the martyrdom of the saint.
The episode of St. George and the Dragon was a legend brought back with the Crusaders and retold with the courtly appurtenances belonging to the genre of Romance. The earliest known depiction of the legend is from early eleventh-century Cappadocia (in the iconography of the Eastern Orthodox Church, George had been depicted as a soldier since at least the seventh century); the earliest known surviving narrative text is an eleventh-century Georgian text.

In the fully developed Western version, which developed as part of the Golden Legend, a dragon or crocodile makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of "Silene" (perhaps modern Cyrene in Libya or the city of Lydda in the Holy Land, depending on the source). Consequently, the citizens have to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time, to collect water. To do so, each day they offer the dragon at first a sheep, and if no sheep can be found, then a maiden must go instead of the sheep. The victim is chosen by drawing lots. One day, this happens to be the princess. The monarch begs for her life to be spared, but to no avail. She is offered to the dragon, but there appears Saint George on his travels. He faces the dragon, protects himself with the sign of the Cross, slays the dragon, and rescues the princess. The citizens abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.
The dragon motif was first combined with the standardised Passio Georgii in Vincent of Beauvais' encyclopaedic Speculum Historiale and then in Jacobus de Voragine's "Golden Legend", which guaranteed its popularity in the later Middle Ages as a literary and pictorial subject.
The parallels with Perseus and Andromeda are inescapable. In the allegorical reading, the dragon embodies a suppressed pagan cult. The story has other roots that predate Christianity. Examples such as Sabazios, the sky father, who was usually depicted riding on horseback, and Zeus's defeat of Typhon the Titan in Greek mythology, along with examples from Germanic and Vedic traditions, have led a number of historians, such as Loomis, to suggest that George is a Christianized version of older deities in Indo-European culture.
In the medieval romances, the lance with which St George slew the dragon was called Ascalon, named after the city of Ashkelon in the Levant.
A church built in Lydda during the reign of Constantine I (reigned 306–37), was consecrated to "a man of the highest distinction", according to the church history of Eusebius of Caesarea; the name of the patron was not disclosed, but later he was asserted to have been George.
By the time of the Muslim conquest in the seventh century, a basilica dedicated to the saint in Lydda existed. The church was destroyed in 1010 but was later rebuilt and dedicated to Saint George by the Crusaders. In 1191 and during the conflict known as the Third Crusade (1189–92), the church was again destroyed by the forces of Saladin, Sultan of the Ayyubid dynasty (reigned 1171–93). A new church was erected in 1872 and is still standing.
During the fourth century the veneration of George spread from Palestine through Lebanon to the rest of the Eastern Roman Empire – though the martyr is not mentioned in the Syriac Breviarium – and Georgia. In Georgia the feast day on November 23 is credited to St Nino of Cappadocia, who in Georgian hagiography is a relative of St George, credited with bringing Christianity to the Georgians in the fourth century. By the fifth century, the cult of Saint George had reached the Western Roman Empire as well: in 494, George was canonized as a saint by Pope Gelasius I, among those "whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to [God]."
In England the earliest dedication to George, who was mentioned among the martyrs by Bede, is a church at Fordington, Dorset, that is mentioned in the wars of Alfred the Great. "Saint George and his feast day began to gain more widespread fame among all Europeans, however, from the time of the Crusades." The St. George's flag, a red cross on a white field, was adopted by England and the City of London in 1190 for their ships entering the Mediterranean to benefit from the protection of the Genoese fleet during the Crusades, and the English Monarch paid an annual tribute to the Doge of Genoa for this privilege. An apparition of George heartened the Franks at the siege of Antioch, 1098, and made a similar appearance the following year at Jerusalem. Chivalric military Order of St. George were established in Aragon (1201), Genoa, Hungary, and by Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, and in England the Synod of Oxford, 1222 declared St George's Day a feast day in the kingdom of England. Edward III put his Order of the Garter under the banner of St. George, probably in 1348. The chronicler Froissart observed the English invoking St. George as a battle cry on several occasions during the Hundred Years' War. In his rise as a national saint George was aided by the very fact that the saint had no legendary connection with England, and no specifically localized shrine, as of Thomas Becket at Canterbury: "Consequently, numerous shrines were established during the late fifteenth century," Muriel C. McClendon has written, "and his did not become closely identified with a particular occupation or with the cure of a specific malady."
The establishment of George as a popular saint and protective giant in the West that had captured the medieval imagination was codified by the official elevation of his feast to a festum duplex at a church council in 1415, on the date that had become associated with his martyrdom, 23 April. There was wide latitude from community to community in celebration of the day across late medieval and early modern England, and no uniform "national" celebration elsewhere, a token of the popular and vernacular nature of George's cultus and its local horizons, supported by a local guild or confraternity under George's protection, or the dedication of a local church. When the Reformation in England severely curtailed the saints' days in the calendar, St. George's Day was among the holidays that continued to be observed.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Desiderius of Vienne


Desiderius of Vienne (died 607) was archbishop of Vienne and a chronicler.

In conflict with Brunhilda of Austrasia, the legitimacy of whose children he had attacked, he was deposed in 603 when she combined forces with Aridius, bishop of Lyon. He was stoned to death, some years later, at the order of King Theuderic II of Burgundy.
He was rebuked by Gregory the Great for his interest in the pagan classics, in a letter provoked by the schooling he was providing for his clergy.
He is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church, with his feast days on February 11 and May 23. A hagiographical work was written about him by the Visigothic king Sisebuto, during the 7th century.A later life was written by Ado of Vienne.


Saint Benedict of Aniane

Saint Benedict of Aniane (c. 747 – 11 February 821), born Witiza and called the Second Benedict, was a Benedictine monk and monastic reformer, who left a large imprint on the religious practice of the Carolingian Empire. His feast day is February 11.

According to Ardo, Benedict's biographer, the saint was the son of a Visigoth, Aigulf, Count of Maguelonne (Magalonensis comes) in 752. Originally given the Gothic name Witiza, he was educated at the Frankish court of Pippin the Younger, and entered the royal service. He served at the court of Charlemagne, and took part in the Italian campaign of Charlemagne in 773 where he almost drowned in the Ticino near Pavia while trying to save his brother. He later left the court to become a monk. He was received into the monastery of Saint Sequanus (Saint-Seine).
Around 780, he founded a monastic community based on Eastern asceticism at Aniane in Languedoc. This community did not develop as he had intended. In 782, he founded another monastery based on Benedictine Rule, at the same location. His success there gave him considerable influence, which he used to found and reform a number of other monasteries, and eventually becoming the effective abbot of all the monasteries of Charlemagne's empire.
He was the head of a council of abbots which in 817 at Aachen created a code of regulations, or "Codex regularum", which would be binding on all their houses. Shortly thereafter, he compiled a "Concordia regularum". Although these new codes fell into disuse shortly after the deaths of Benedict and his patron, Emperor Louis the Pious, they did have lasting effects on Western monasticism.
Louis built Maursmünster Abbey as a model abbey for Benedict in Alsace. Benedict died at Kornelimünster Abbey, a monastery Louis had built for him to serve as the base for Benedict's supervisory work.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Saint Genevieve


Saint Genevieve (Sainte Geneviève) (Nanterre, c. 419/422 – Paris 502/512), in Latin Sancta Genovefa, from Germanic keno (kin) and wefa (wife), is the patron saint of Paris in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition. Her feast is kept on 3 January.
She was born in Nanterre and moved to Paris after encountering Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes and dedicated herself to a Christian life. In 451 she led a "prayer marathon" that was said to have saved Paris by diverting Attila's Huns away from the city. When Childeric I besieged the city in 464 and conquered it, she acted as an intermediary between the city and its conqueror, collecting food and convincing Childeric to release his prisoners.
Her cult and her status as patron saint of Paris were promoted by Clotilde, who may have commissioned the writing of her vita. This was most likely written in Tours, where Clotilde retired to after her husband's death, as evidenced also by the importance of Martin of Tours as a saintly model.
Though there is a vita that purports to be written by a contemporary, Genevieve's history cannot be separated from her hagiography. She was described as a peasant girl born in Nanterre to a Frankish father and a Gallo-Roman mother. One day Germanus of Auxerre came to Nanterre, and Genevieve confided in him that she wanted to live only for God. He encouraged her and at the age of fifteen, Genevieve became a nun. On the deaths of her parents, she went to live with her godmother Lutetia in Paris. (Since "Lutetia" was the former name of the city of Paris, this has symbolic weight.) There the young woman became admired for her piety and devotion to works of charity, which included corporal austerities, and a vegetarian diet which allowed her to sup but twice per week. "These mortifications she continued for over thirty years, till her ecclesiastical superiors thought it their duty to make her diminish her austerities," the Catholic Encyclopedia reports. She did encounter opposition and criticism for her activities, both before and after she was again visited by Germanus.
Like many of her Gallic neighbors, Geneviève had frequent visions of heavenly saints and angels. She reported her visions and prophesies, until her enemies conspired to drown her in a lake of fire. Through the intervention of St. Germain of Auxerre, their animosity was finally overcome. The bishop of the city appointed her to look after the welfare of the virgins dedicated to God, and by her instruction and example she led them to a high degree of sanctity.
Shortly before the attack of the Huns under Attila in 451 on Paris, Genevieve, with the help of Germanus' archdeacon, persuaded the panic-stricken people of Paris not to leave their homes and to pray. The intercession of Genevieve's prayers caused Attila's army to go to Orléans instead. During Childeric's siege and blockade of Paris in 464, Geneviève passed through the siege lines in a boat to Troyes, bringing grain to the city. She also pleaded to Childeric for the welfare of prisoners of war, and met with a favorable response. Later, Clovis I liberated captives and showed greater lenience to wrongdoers after Genevieve urged him to do so.
Clovis I founded an abbey where Genevieve might minister, and where she herself was later buried. Under the care of the Benedictines, who established a monastery there, the church witnessed numerous miracles wrought at her tomb. St Genevieve was canonized and the church was rededicated in her name. People enriched the church with their gifts. In 847 it was plundered by the Vikings and was partially rebuilt, but was completed only in 1177.
In 1129, when the city was suffering from an epidemic of ergot poisoning, this "burning sickness" was stayed after St Genevieve's relics were carried in a public procession. The saint's relics were carried in procession yearly to the cathedral; Mme de Sévigné gave a description of the pageant in one of her letters. The relief from the epidemic is still commemorated in the churches of Paris.
After the old church fell into decay, Louis XV ordered a new church worthy of the patron saint of Paris; he entrusted the Marquis of Marigny with the construction. The marquis gave the commission to his protégé Jacques-Germain Soufflot, who planned a neo-classical design. After Soufflot's death, the church was completed by his pupil, Jean-Baptiste Rondelet.
The Revolution broke out before the new church was dedicated. It was taken over in 1791 by the National Constituent Assembly and renamed the Panthéon, to be a burial place for distinguished Frenchmen. It became an important monument in Paris.
Though the relics of St Genevieve had been publicly burnt at the Place de Grève in 1793, the Panthéon was restored to Catholic purposes in 1821. In 1831 it was secularized again as a national mausoleum, but restored to the Catholic Church in 1852. Though the Communards had dispersed the relics, in 1885 the Catholic Church reconsecrated the structure to St. Geneviève. Today the Panthéon serves both liturgical and secular functions.

About 1619 Louis XIII named Cardinal François de La Rochefoucauld abbot of St. Genevieve's. The canons had been lax and the cardinal selected Charles Faure to reform them. This holy man was born in 1594, and entered the canons regular at Senlis. He was remarkable for his piety, and, when ordained, succeeded after a hard struggle in reforming the abbey. Many of the houses of the canons regular adopted his reform. In 1634, he and a dozen companions took charge of Saint-Geneviève-du-Mont of Paris. This became the mother-house of a new congregation, the Canons Regular of St. Genevieve, which spread widely over France.
The institute named after the saint was the Daughters of St. Geneviève, founded at Paris in 1636, by Francesca de Blosset, with the object of nursing the sick and teaching young girls. A somewhat similar institute, popularly known as the Miramiones, had been founded under the invocation of the Holy Trinity in 1611 by Marie Bonneau de Rubella Beauharnais de Miramion. These two institutes were united in 1665, and the associates called the Canonesses of St. Geneviève. The members took no vows, but merely promised obedience to the rules as long as they remained in the institute. Suppressed during the Revolution, the institute was revived in 1806 by Jeanne-Claude Jacoulet under the name of the Sisters of the Holy Family.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Fillan of Pittenweem


Saint Fillan was an Benedictine monk from the Isle of May Priory, founded in 1153 by King David I of Scotland.
Fillan left the Isle of May for Pittenweem in Fife and converted the local populace to Christianity. The priory on May subsequently founded a priory there, which by 1318 had replaced the founding priory and which had been given to the canons regular of the cathedral priory in St. Andrews.
He is supposed to have lived in what is now called St Fillan's Cave, situated in Cove Wynd, Pittenweem, which is open to the public. The cave was rediscovered about 1900 when a horse ploughing in the Priory garden fell down a hole into it. The cave has flat rocks that are presumed to have been used as beds and a small spring of "holy water" at its rear. It was rededicated as a place of worship by the Bishop of St. Andrews in 1935. It has since been refurbished and opened to visitors as of October 2000, and is owned by the Bishop Low Trust. It is entrusted to St John's Scottish Episcopal Church in Pittenweem.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pope Saint Felix IV


Pope Saint Felix IV was pope from 526 to 530.
He came from Samnium, the son of one Castorius. Following the death of Pope John I at the hands of the Ostrogoth King Theodoric the Great, the papal voters gave in to the king's demands and chose Cardinal Felix as Pope. Felix's favor in the eyes of the king caused him to push for greater benefits for the Church.
He was elected after a gap of nearly two months after the death of John I.
During his reign, an Imperial edict was passed granting that cases against clergy should be dealt with by the Pope. He defined church teaching on grace and free will in response to a request of Faustus of Riez, in Gaul, on opposing Semi-Pelagianism.
Felix attempted to designate his own successor: Pope Boniface II. The reaction of the Senate was to forbid the discussion of a pope’s successor during his lifetime or to accept such a nomination.
The majority of the clergy reacted to Felix's activity by nominating Dioscorus as Pope. Only a minority supported Boniface.
Felix built the Santi Cosma e Damiano in the Imperial forums.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Saint Colette


Saint Colette (13 January 1381 – 6 March 1447), born Nicole Boellet (or Boylet), was a French abbess and the foundress of the Colettine Poor Clares, a reform branch of the Order of Saint Clare, better known as the Poor Clares. Due to a number of miraculous events claimed during her life, she is venerated as the patron saint of women seeking to conceive, expectant mothers and sick children.
Nicole was born in Corbie in the Picardy region of France, in January 1381, to Robert Boellet, a poor carpenter at the noted Benedictine Abbey of Corbie, and to his wife, Marguerite Moyon. Her contemporary biographers say that her parents had grown old without having children, before praying to Saint Nicholas for help in having a child. Their prayers were answered when, at the age of 60, Marguerite gave birth to a daughter. Out of gratitude, they named the baby after the saint to whom they credited the miracle of her birth.
After her parents died in 1399, Nicole--henceforth known as Colette--joined the Beguines but found their manner of life unchallenging. She received the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis in 1402, and became a hermit under the direction of the Abbot of Corbie, living near the abbey church. After four years of following this ascetic way of life (1402–1406), through several dreams and visions she came to believe that she was being called to reform the Franciscan Second Order, and to return it to its original Franciscan ideals of absolute poverty and austerity.
In October 1406, she turned to the Antipope Benedict XIII of Avignon who was recognized in France as the rightful pope. Benedict received her in Nice, in southern France, and allowed her to transfer to the Order of Poor Clares. Additionally, he empowered her through several papal bulls, issued between 1406 and 1412, to found new monasteries and to complete the reform of the Order.
With the approval of the Countess of Geneva and the aid of the Franciscan itinerant preacher, Henry of Beaume (her confessor and spiritual director), Colette began her work at Beaune, in the diocese of Geneva. She remained there only a short time. In 1410, she opened her first monastery at Besançon, in an almost-abandoned house of Urbanist Poor Clares. From there, her reform spread to Auxonne (1412), to Poligny (1415), to Ghent (1412), to Heidelberg (1444), to Amiens, to Pont-à-Mousson in Lorraine and to other communities of Poor Clares. During her lifetime 18 monasteries of her reform were founded. For the monasteries which followed her reform, she prescribed extreme poverty, going barefoot, and the observance of perpetual fasting and abstinence.
During the Council of Constance she wrote to disavow Benedict, and during the Council of Basel she wrote to ask the bishops to withdraw.
In addition to the strict rules of the Poor Clares, the Colettines follow their special Constitutions, sanctioned in 1434 by the then-Minister General of the friars, William of Casale, and approved in 1448 by Pope Nicholas V, again in 1458 by Pope Pius II, and in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV.
Together with friar Henry of Beaume, Colette also inaugurated a reform among the Franciscan friars (who were known as the Coletans), not to be confounded with the Observants. These friars formed a unique branch of the Order of Friars Minor under Henry's authority, but remained obedient to the authority of the Minister Provincial of the Observant Franciscan friaries in France, and never attained much importance, even there.
In 1448 they had only thirteen friaries, all attached to monasteries of the Colettine nuns. Together with other small branches of the Order of Friars Minor, they were merged into the wider Observant branch in 1517 by Pope Leo X.
Colette died at Ghent in March 1447. She was beatified 23 January 1740, by Pope Clement XII (just a few weeks before his death) and was canonized 24 May 1807 by Pope Pius VII. Currently (2011) outside of France, the Colettine nuns are found in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Norway, the Philippines, Spain and throughout the United Kingdom and the United States
Miracles:
According to tradition, Colette's parents had grown old without being able to have children. In desperation, her mother-to-be prayed to Saint Nicholas, a patron saint of children, to intercede for her that she might be able to bear a child. Despite her advanced age (she was sixty, according to some accounts), she did indeed conceive, and a daughter was born to them. The child was baptized Nicolette in honor of the saint whom the parents credited with the miracle of her birth.
While traveling to Nice to meet the Pope, Colette stayed at the home of a friend. His wife was in labor at that time with their third child, and was having major difficulties in the childbirth, leaving her in danger of death. Colette immediately went to the local church to pray for her.
The mother gave birth successfully, and survived the ordeal. She credited Colette's prayers for this. The child born, a girl named Pierinne, later entered a monastery founded by Colette. She would become Colette's secretary and biographer.
After the Pope had authorized Colette to establish a regimen of strict poverty in the Poor Clare monasteries of France, she started with that of Besançon. The local populace was suspicious of her reform, with its total reliance on them for the sustenance of the monastery. One incident helped turn this around.
According to legend, a local peasant woman gave birth to a stillborn child. In desperation, out of fear for the child's soul, the father took the baby to the local parish priest for baptism. Seeing that the child was already dead, the priest refused to baptize the body. When the man became insistent, out of frustration, the priest told him to go to the nuns, which he did immediately. When he arrived at the monastery, Mother Colette was made aware of his situation by the portress. Her response was to take off the veil given to her by the Pope, when he gave her the habit of the Second Order, and told the portress to have the father wrap the child's body in it and for him to return to the priest. By the time he arrived at the parish church with his small bundle, the child was conscious and crying. The priest immediately baptized the baby

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Saint Amand


Saint Amand or Amandus (possible birth name Jacob) (c. 584 – 675) was a bishop of Tongeren-Maastricht and one of the great Christian missionaries of Flanders. He is venerated as a saint of France and Belgium.
The Vita Sancti Amandi is an eighth-century text, attributed to Beaudemond (Baudemundus). The vita was expanded by Philippe, abbot of Aumône. According to this biography, Amand was born in Lower Poitou. He was of noble birth but at the age of twenty he became a monk on the Île d'Yeu, against the wishes of his family. From there he went to Bourges and became a pupil of bishop Austregisilus. There he lived in solitude in a cell for fifteen years, living on no more than bread and water.
After a pilgrimage to Rome, he was made a missionary bishop in France in 628, without a fixed diocese. At the request of Clotaire II, he evangelized the pagan inhabitants of Ghent, later extending his field of operations to all of Flanders. Initially he had little success, suffering persecution and undergoing great hardships. However, after performing a miracle (bringing back to life a hanged criminal) the attitude of the people changed and he made many converts.
Under Amand's supervision monasteries were established at Ghent and Mont Blandin, the first in Belgium. The monastery at Ghent was founded by Saint Bavo, who was inspired by Amand's preaching. Having returned to France in 630, he angered Dagobert I by trying to make the king repent from his sinful life. In spite of the intervention of Saint Acarius, Amand was expelled from the kingdom. Later however, Dagobert asked for him to be pardoned and asked him to become the tutor of the heir to the throne. Amand however declined the honour. He requested from Acarius, then bishop of Noyon, letters from king Dagobert stating that the king wanted all to be baptized. This story was related by Beaudemond to show Amand's readiness to resort to forcible conversion and Dagobert's willingness to coerce in this. His next missionary task was among the Slavic people of the Danube valley in present-day Slovakia but this was unsuccessful. Amand went to Rome and reported to the Pope. While returning to France, he is said to have calmed a storm at sea.
From 647 till 650, Amand briefly served as Bishop of Maastricht. He found the church there is such disarray that he became discouraged and he appealed to Pope Martin I for further instructions. The pope gave him some advise how to deal with disobedient clerics and warned him about the Monothelite heresy, at that time prevalent in the East. Amand was commissioned by the pope to organize church councils in Neustria and Austrasia in order to pass on to the various decrees from Rome. The bishops asked Amand to return the proceedings of the church councils to the pope, at which occasion he seized the opportunity to relinquish his bishopric and resume his missionary work.
Around this time, Amand established contact with the family of Pepin of Landen and helped Gertrude of Nivelles and her mother Itta establishing the famous monastery of Nivelles. At the same time, he was now 70 years old, the inhabitants of the Basque country asked him to return to their country to evangelize, although 30 years earlier he had preached there in vain. Returning home, he founded several more monasteries in present-day Belgium with the help of king Dagobert.
Amand died in Elnone Abbey (later Saint-Amand Abbey, in Saint-Amand-les-Eaux, near Tournai) at the age of ninety. His feast day is 6 February. Although mostly revered in Flanders and Picardy, he is also venerated in England, where at least one private chapel (at East Hendred in Oxfordshire) is dedicated to him.
Saint Amand is the patron saint of all who produce beer: brewers, innkeepers and bartenders (and presumably also hopgrowers). He is also the patron of vine growers, vintners and merchants, and of Boy Scouts.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Avitus of Vienne


Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus (c. 470 – February 5, 523) was a Latin poet and archbishop of Vienne in Gaul.
Avitus was born of a prominent Gallo-Roman senatorial family in the kinship of Emperor Avitus.

His father was Hesychius, bishop of Vienne, where episcopal honors were informally hereditary.
Avitus was probably born at Vienne, for he was baptized by bishop Mamertus. In difficult times for the Catholic faith and Roman culture in southern Gaul, Avitus pursued with earnestness and success the extinction of Arianism among the Burgundians. He won the confidence of King Gundobad, and converted his son, King Sigismund (516-523).
The literary fame of Avitus rests on his many surviving letters (his recent editors make them ninety-six in all) and on a long poem, De spiritualis historiae gestis, in classical hexameters, in five books, dealing with the Biblical themes of Original Sin, Expulsion from Paradise, the Deluge, the Crossing of the Red Sea. The first three books offer a certain dramatic unity; in them are told the preliminaries of the great disaster, the catastrophe itself, and the consequences. The fourth and fifth books deal with the Deluge and the Crossing of the Red Sea as symbols of baptism. Avitus deals freely and familiarly with the Scriptural events, and exhibits well their beauty, sequence, and significance. He is one of the last masters of the art of rhetoric as taught in the schools of Gaul in the 4th and 5th centuries. His poetic diction, though abounding in archaisms and rhythmic redundancy, is pure and select, and the laws of metre are well observed. The author of his article in the Catholic Encyclopedia claims "that Milton made use of his paraphrase of Scripture in writing Paradise Lost." Avitus also wrote a poem for his sister Fuscina, a nun, praising virginity.
The letters of Avitus are of considerable importance for the ecclesiastical and political history of the years between 499 and 518, as primary sources of early Merovingian political, ecclesiastical, and social history. Among them is a famous letter to Clovis on the occasion of his baptism. Avitus addresses Clovis not as if he was a pagan convert, but as if he was a recent Arian sympathiser, possibly even a catechumen. The letters document the close relations between the Catholic Bishop of Vienne and the Arian king of the Burgundians, the great Gundobad, and his son, the Catholic convert Sigismund.
There was once extant a collection of his homilies and sermons, but they have all perished except for two, and some fragments and excerpts from others.
The so-called Dialogues with King Gundobad, written to defend the Catholic faith against the Arians and purports to represent the famous Colloquy of Lyon in 449, was once believed to be his work. Julien Havet demonstrated in 1885, however, that it is a forgery of the Oratorian, Jérome Viguier, who also forged a letter purporting to be from Pope Symmachus to Avitus.

Saint Agatha of Sicily


Saint Agatha of Sicily (died ca. 251) is a Christian saint. Her memorial is on 5 February. Agatha was born at Catania, Sicily, and she was martyred in approximately 251. She is one of seven women, excluding the Blessed Virgin Mary, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.
She is the patron saint of Catania, Molise, Malta, San Marino and Zamarramala, a municipality of the Province of Segovia in Spain. She is also the patron saint of breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna.
Agatha is buried at the Badia di Sant'Agata, Catania. Witnesses to her, aside from her mention in the Mass, are her inclusion in the late 6th-century Martyrologium Hieronymianum associated with the name of Jerome; the Synaxarion, the calendar of the church of Carthage, ca. 530; and in one of the carmina of Venantius Fortunatus. Two early churches were dedicated to her in Rome, notably the Church of Sant'Agata dei Goti in via Mazzarino, a titular church with apse mosaics of ca. 460 and traces of a fresco cycle, overpainted by Gismondo Cerrini in 1630. In the 6th century the church was adapted to Arian Christianity, hence its name "Saint Agatha of the Goths", and later reconsecrated by Gregory the Great, who confirmed her traditional sainthood. Agatha is also depicted in the mosaics of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, where she appears, richly dressed, in the procession of female martyrs along the north wall. Her image forms an initial I in the Sacramentary of Gellone, from the end of the 8th century.

Her written legend comprises "straightforward accounts of interrogation, torture, resistance, and triumph which constitute some of the earliest hagiographic literature", and are reflected in later recensions, the earliest surviving one being an illustrated late 10th-century passio bound into a composite volume in the Bibliothèque National, originating probably in Autun, Burgundy; in its margin illustrations Magdalena Carrasco detected Carolingian or Late Antique iconographic traditions. According to Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda Aurea of ca. 1288, having dedicated her virginity to God, Agatha, rich and noble, rejected the amorous advances of the low-born Roman prefect Quintianus; she was persecuted by him for her Christian faith. She was given to Aphrodisia, the keeper of a brothel, and her nine daughters, but in response to their threats and entreaties to sacrifice to the idols and submit to Quintianus, she responded:
"My courage and my thought be so firmly founded upon the firm stone of Jesus Christ, that for no pain it may not be changed; your words be but wind, your promises be but rain, and your menaces be as rivers that pass, and how well that all these things hurtle at the fundament of my courage, yet for that it shall not move."


The Martyrdom of Saint Agatha (1519) by Sebastiano del Piombo (Palazzo Pitti)
She attacked the Roman cult images as idols with philosophical arguments that paralleled Arnobius:
And S. Agatha answered that they were no gods, but were devils that were in the idols made of marble and of wood, and overgilt. Quintianus said: Choose one of two; or do sacrifice to our gods, or thou shalt suffer pain and torments. S. Agatha said: Thou sayst that they be gods because thy wife was such a one as was Venus, thy goddess, and thou thyself as Jupiter, which was a homicide and evil. Quintianus said: It appeareth well that thou wilt suffer torments, in that thou sayst to me villainy. S. Agatha said: I marvel much that so wise a man is become such a fool, that thou sayest of them to be thy gods, whose life thou ne thy wife will follow. If they be good I would that thy life were like unto theirs; and if thou refusest their life, then art thou of one accord with me. Say then that they be evil and so foul, and forsake their living, and be not of such life as thy gods were.
Among the tortures she underwent was the cutting off of her breasts. An apparition of Saint Peter cured her.
After further dramatic confrontations with Quintianus, represented in a sequence of dialogues in her passio that document her fortitude and steadfast devotion, her scorned admirer eventually sentenced her to death by being rolled naked on a bed of live coals, "and anon the ground where the holy virgin was rolled on, began to tremble like an earthquake, and a part of the wall fell down upon Silvain, counsellor of Quintianus, and upon Fastion his friend, by whose counsel she had been so tormented."


Saint Peter Healing Agatha, by the Caravaggio-follower Giovanni Lanfranco, ca 1614
Saint Agatha died in prison, according to the Legenda Aurea in "the year of our Lord two hundred and fifty-three in the time of Decius, the emperor of Rome."
Osbern Bokenham, A Legend of Holy Women, written in the 1440s, offers some further detail.
Saint Agatha is often depicted iconographically carrying her excised breasts on a platter, as by Bernardino Luini's Saint Agatha (1510–15) in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, in which Agatha sweetly contemplates the breasts on a standing salver held in her hand. The shape of her amputated breasts, especially as depicted in artistic renderings, gave rise to her attribution as the patron saint of bell-founders and of bakers, whose loaves were blessed at her feast day. More recently, she has been venerated as patron saint of breast cancer patients.

She is the patron saint of Catania, Sorihuela del Guadalimar (Spain), Molise, San Marino and Malta. In Malta tradition has it that she took refuge from persecution at the St Agatha Catacombs in Rabat and in 1551 her intercession through an apparition to a Benedictine nun is reported to have saved Malta from Turkish invasion.

Basques have a tradition of gathering on Saint Agatha's eve (Santa Ageda bezpera in Basque) and going round the village. Homeowners can choose to hear a song about her life, accompanied by the beats of their walking sticks on the floor or a prayer for those deceased in the house. After that, the homeowner donates food to the chorus. This song has varying lyrics according to the local tradition and the Basque language. An exceptional case was that of 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, when a version appeared that in the Spanish language praised the Soviet ship Komsomol, which had sunk while carrying Soviet weapons to the Second Spanish Republic.
An annual festival to commemorate the life of Saint Agatha takes place in Catania, Sicily, from February 3 to 5. The festival culminates in a great all-night procession through the city for which hundreds of thousands of the city's residents turn out.