Novembers Saints Calendar (Part 1)

For the medieval faithful, November gets started with two feasts that jointly celebrate every Christian who has ever died. All Saints Day (November 1), AKA All Hallows,* commemorates all the capital-S Saints, even the ones who’ve already had a day during the year, as well as all the Christians who have worked off their venial sins in Purgatory and thus completely purified their souls. The unpurified but still Heaven-bound Christians have to wait until the next day, All Souls (November 2) to get their props.

The illuminator of the calendar I’m following for these posts chose to follow a standard medieval visual model and depict the souls of the faithful departed as birds in a tree. For All Saints, he got a little creative, and went with a little composition I’m going to call “a bathtub full of decapitated heads and Jesus.” Observe:

If you click the picture, it should zoom in enough so that you can see the nameless (and bodiless) saints’ eyes, many of which seem to be focused on the three identical saints to their right with a clear air of “oh, crap, I’m totally blanking on those guys names, let’s hope they don’t come over to the bathtub…” Poor medieval bathtub saints, they lacked the Internet, and thus access to my blog, upon which now will be inscribed the names of the identical ones.

But first we must discuss the gentleman in red, St. Leonard, whose feast day comes on November 6. Leonard is the patron saint of women in labor, because his prayers safely delivered a son to Clovis I’s wife. Afterward, Clovis granted him as much land as he (Leonard) could cover on donkeyback over one day.** He’s also the patron of prisoners, because for some reason, locks would open spontaneously near him and chains would refuse to bind.

So then, the three identical gentlemen. The first is St. Martin, the second St. Brice, and last (and arguably least) St. Edmund Rich of Canterbury.

St. Martin of Tours is important enough that his feast day, November 11, gets a fancy name in English, Martinmas. Martin is famous for cutting his cloak in half, giving one half to a beggar, and then (after dreaming of Christ) finding his cloak magically restored–kind of like a sartorial Everlasting Gobstopper, but 50% less delicious.

Actually, Martin is famous for a lot of things. In the low countries, for instance, they eat goose on Martinmas, because they say Martin hid in a goose pen when he heard they wanted to make him a bishop. In parts of France they stuff themselves with croissants on St. Martin’s Day, presumably because Martin hid in a croissant cupboard after they found him in the goose pen. The illuminator of our calendar above depicts him with an axe, which is probably an allusion to a battle Martin had against a demonically possessed tree. Long story.***

November 13 sees the Feast of St. Brice, a saint who’s mostly famous for having been near St. Martin. Brice succeeded Martin as bishop after the more famous saint died, but those who opposed his election started spreading rumors that he’d gotten a nun pregnant after a nun in his household had a baby. In order to silence his accusers, Brice walked all the way to Martin’s grave carrying a hot coal in his pants in his robe. Miraculously, the robe was unburnt. The people of his bishopric were not impressed and forced him to go do penance in front of the Pope anyway. It’s just like I’m always telling people: no matter how bad the problem, putting a hot coal down your pants rarely makes it any better.

St. Martin of Canterbury has his feast on November 16, but he was a particularly pious saint who lived in the thirteenth century and so is dull as dishwater. The most interesting thing about him is that he pledged his chastity by marrying a statue of the Virgin Mary. Well, by putting a ring on the finger of a state of the Virgin Mary, anyway. No wonder the artist of our manuscript just drew St. Brice twice.

[Oh, by the way, I’ve decided that these saints calendar posts are getting way too long, so I’m splitting November in half. We’ll see how that works out. Tune back in on the 15th or so to see the rest of the month’s sanctified feasts.]

*Of which Halloween is it’s E’en.
**Usually when kings grant such a rash boon, the recipient does something clever like strap a jetpack to the donkey’s back or burn the donkey and spread his ashes over the land, but not here. Leonard took a leisurely trip around the woods on his donkey, thanked the king for his gift, and built a monastery on the reasonably-sized tract he’d been left with.
***Actually, it’s not that long a story. See, there was this demonically possessed tree that some pagans were worshiping, and Martin told them they had to cut it down. So they said they would, but they made Martin lay down where it was clear the tree would fall if they cut it. After the tree was cut, it did fall toward Martin, but the saint made the sign of the cross, and the tree spun away and landed inches from the clever people who’d cut it down.

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  • Judy

    Always wondered when Martinmas was. Now I know–and it's still a holiday. I wonder if the WWI armistice was declared that day on purpose.

  • Sheryl

    "It's just like I'm always telling people: no matter how bad the problem, putting a hot coal down your pants rarely makes it any better."
    Despite the remarkably obscure related event, that advice is pretty applicable in everyday situations.

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