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.