Happy Feast of St. Thomas de Cantelupe, everybody! Who is St. Thomas de Cantelupe? Why, he’s only history’s fourth most popular saint named Thomas!* And that’s not all!! October 2nd is also the Feast of St. Leger (aka St. Leodegar), the bishop famous for aiding Childeric II’s accession over his brother Theoderic to the throne of the Franks in 675!! Talk about your major saintly star power!!! As for the rest of the month, the hits just keep on coming…
St. Francis of Assisi‘s feast rolls in on October 4th. Earth Day ought to be celebrated on the same day, since Francis is the patron saint of animals, particularly cute and symbolic ones, and here lately he’s become the patron saint of the environment in general. But do the environmentalists listen to me? Noooo. They chose The Feast of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, a second rate Scottish saint primarily famous for being used as a character in the earliest D&D books. Cretins.
October 6th is the Feast of St. Faith, aka St. Foy, a beautiful virgin who was stripped naked, cooked on a brazier, and then beheaded by Emperor Diocletian. For reasons I haven’t been able to discover, Faith is depicted as a large disembodied hand by the (admittedly untalented) artist responsible for MS. Rawl D939 (the manuscript from which I’m taking these saints, excerpted above). Usually she’s depicted as an attractive young lady, and fairly often an attractive naked young lady, as medieval artists knew a good excuse to slip a naked lady into a manuscript when they saw one. According to legend, after Faith was martyred God caused it to snow so that her naked dead body would be covered, which does make you wonder why the snow couldn’t have fallen a bit earlier, say, when they were trying to cook her over coals. But, as we’ve established before, I’m no theologian.
On October 9th the Feast of St. Denis is celebrated. He’s one of about a dozen saints who are occasionally mistaken for the Headless Horseman–that is, they’re iconographically depicted holding their own severed heads in their hands. Denis is special amongst the beheaded, for he is the patron saint of headaches, probably because he managed to walk an additional two miles after he had been beheaded, preaching all the way. When you’re looking for help coping with head pain, this is clearly the guy to call.
The saints for the middle of the month aren’t that interesting: October 11 and 13th see a pair feats for extra-holy alliterating saints,* Ethelburga and Edward the Confessor.
The Feast of St. Luke falls on October 18th. Luke is one of the important apostles, as you’re all no doubt aware, and for some reason he is also the patron saint of both butchers and surgeons. I suppose so that you don’t have to switch who you’re praying to if an operation goes awry halfway through.
St. Frideswide‘s feast falls on October 19. She’s another one of those female saints who were famous for keeping their virginity in the face of overwhelming opposition. In Frideswide’s case, she had to run to the forest, hide in a tub, then hang out with some swine. Hmmm, come to think of it, that’s not really that overwhelming. I guess that’s why Oxford chose her as their patron saint. She’s chaste, sure, but it’s not like she’s going to throw herself off a cliff or anything. Very practical, that St. Frideswide.
By sheer volume of sanctity, October 21 is the holiest day on the calendar, for it celebrates the martyrdom of St. Ursula and 11,000 nameless virgins. Sadly, this day of 11,001 saints was also struck from the modern Catholic calendar during the 1969 reform, due to something called “a complete and total lack of any corroborating evidence”–whatever that is. According to legend, Ursula was a British princess meant to marry Conan Meriadoc of Brittany. When her father dispatched her to her husband (with her 11,000 virginal handmaidens in tow), a miraculous wind blew her ship so strongly that the journey took only a day. In recognition of the miracle, Ursula decided to go on a long pilgrimage across all the holy sites in Europe before getting married. This is precisely the sort of strange decision that medieval saints make all the time. “Oh, Heavenly Father, in thanks for how quickly you brought me to my husband, I will take a leisurely trip far, far away from him.” It’s like celebrating the $10 a month you saved canceling Cinemax by going out and buying 200 DVDs. Perhaps this is why she is the patron saint of students.** And wouldn’t you know it, they only got as far as Cologne before the Huns beheaded all 11,001 of them.
Sts. Simon and Jude double up on October 28. They were apostles who were said to have went to Persia to spread the faith and died there, leaving no records of what they might have done whilst there. Neither gets much screen time in the Bible, either, which may be why they’re forced to share a day–afterthoughts, like the Professor and Mary Ann in the opening credits of the first season of Gilligan’s Island.
And finally, October 31, Halloween, shares its calendar date with The Feast of the Martyrdom of St Quintin. You’d think he’d be something awesome, like a vampire saint, or maybe a sanctified wolfman. But no, he’s just your average beheaded missionary saint that the Carolingians were fond of for no readily apparent reason. Probably because very little was known about his life, even then, so you could celebrate whatever you wanted about it. Even more perplexing, Quintin gets three saints days–as many as John the Baptist! And like Johnny the B, the other two feasts commemorate the two different days on which his body was miraculously discovered: once in a bog, once in a hidden tomb built by the person who found him in a bog. Early Christians had a lot of trouble keeping track of their saints’ bodies, you see.
Well, that’s all the saints for October. Counting Sts. Oswald and Michael, who both get an extra feast in October due to differences of opinion between sects, that’s a baker’s dozen in all. I hope you’re stocked up on festive plastic dinnerware.
*After St. “Doubting” Thomas, St. Thomas Beckett, and St. Thomas Aquinas. For a long time, Thomas the Canteloup was considered the fifth most popular St. Thomas, until medieval historians realized that the St. Thomas they had down as fourth was actually an island in the Caribbean–a U.S. Virgin Island, as a matter of fact. This just goes to show how foolish medieval historians can be. If you’re going to count an island as a saint, clearly a virgin island would easily be more popular than Beckett, and arguably more popular than Aquinas.
**Awesome! The paper deadline got moved to Monday! Let’s cut class for the next month and get really good at Halo!***
***Substitute “Civilization” for “Halo” in that last footnote and you basically have my academic career in a nutshell.