January Feast Calendar (Part 2)

Well, well, if it isn’t the middle of the month already. Don’t worry, though, you’ve still got a few days to get your feast attire dry cleaned and your festive centerpieces out of storage, for the medieval feast calendar doesn’t pick back up until January 19, which marks the Feast of St. Wulfstan, the patron saint of vegetarians. Wulfstan landed the vegetarian gig because according to his Vita, he renounced the flesh of animals after the smell of succulent roasting goose caused him to stumble in his prayers at morning Mass. This pious overreaction also led to the well known eleventh-century ad campaign with the tagline “Goose: It’s Sacrelicious!” I suppose to celebrate Wulfstan’s day, you should cook something delicious and swear never to eat it, or anything like it, ever again.

On January 20, you get two–TWO!–two saints for the price of one, as the both the Feast of Pope St. Fabian and the Feast of St. Sebastian are celebrated. Too bad they’re both kind of boring. Fabian was a third-century pope, later martyred, said to have been elected after a dove descended from the heavens and landed on him during the selection process. Sebastian was yet another victim of the Diocletian persecutions, ordered shot with arrows which he miraculously survived–long enough to be subsequently clubbed to death by an emperor unappreciative of miraculous walking pincushions. Moving right along…

St. Agnes, whose feast comes a day later on January 21 isn’t nearly so boring as you’d expect for someone who is the patron of young girls, the Girl Guides, and gardners. In life, she was a Roman girl who converted to Christianity and refused to marry the son of a Roman prefect, a refusal for which she was sentenced to death. But, according to the story, Romans law at the time did not allow the execution of virgins. Seeing a loophole, the prefect had Agnes dragged naked through the streets to a brothel for some quick unvirginifying. In response, Agnes prayed for help and miraculously thick hair grew all over her body, covering her completely. Those furry fetishists who were keen enough to try bedding her anyway were struck blind for their trouble, leaving Agnes perhaps to wonder if God couldn’t have just started with the blind striking and skipped the hair entirely.
Apparently, Roman law was quickly amended so that virgins–hairy ones, at least–could be put to death by being burned at the stake. Naturally, the wood refused to burn. Thus, the Romans resorted to the one thing that Christian piety is unable to overcome (judging from Agnes and Lucy’s deaths): a sword, which they promptly used to behead the hairy girl.
The Feast of St. Vincent (of Saragossa), patron saint of Lisbon, rolls around on January 22. He’s also the patron saint of both vinegar-makers and wine-makers, which is handy, since it means that if you accidentally ruin the wine you don’t have to switch who you’re praying to. Like Lawrence, Vincent was famously tortured on a gridiron, but since saints can’t have the same attributes, he’s usually depicted carrying a rack instead.

January 25 marks the Conversion of St. Paul, the first of four feasts devoted to Paul. And two days later, on January 27, comes the Feast of St. Julian of Le Mans, a minor saint who was neverthless inexplicably popular in England during the time the calendar I’m working from was written.

January 30 marks the Feast of St. Bathild, who was the wife and queen of King Clovis II and the mother of three of his sons, all of whom became kings of the Franks eventually. In Christian hagiography, Bathild is your bog-standard chaste, modest female saint, but the historical record suggests maybe the hagiography is full of crap. Take this, for instance:

That’s the back side of Bathild’s personal seal, found in 1999 by one of those clever metal detectorists. According to the experts, the image is of Bathild and some dude, presumably Clovis, getting all naked and freaky.* The theory is that this seal would’ve been worn on a ring and used to seal private letters, while the stodgy profile side (not pictured) would’ve been used to seal documents for public consumption.

Me, I’d prefer to think that Bathild used the naked party seal whenever she needed to send a threat to someone, saying, essentially, I’m boning the king, don’t mess with me. Actually, come to think of it, there must be a million and one uses for a signet ring embossed with a naked picture of yourself. But I’ll let you puzzle out what those might be and instead sign off until next month. Ta!

*I know it’s hard to see, but the art historians assure us that the smudge in between the two figures is supposed to be Clovis’s junk. Go here for a zoomable picture and judge for yourself.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Genie of the Shell

    Beautiful! Would the modern equivalent be adding a dirty MySpace-esque photo to your e-mail signature?

    I found your blog through Combreviations, the publishing blog. It's great! I'm working on a fantasy novel set in Medieval Europe, so I'm pleased to have found your wealth of images and anecdotes from that time and place.

  • Peggasus

    Hmmm…I went to St. Agnes Catholic grade school, I find it curious that the nuns never told us the whole story of our namesake.

    Also, my birthday is the day after her day, I was hoping there would be some awesome and/or freaky saint connected with it. Shoot.

  • Sheryl

    "…a sword, which they promptly used to behead the hairy girl."
    Congratulations on not succumbing to any temptation of "close shave" jokes. Dying for refusing to marry seems like a pretty popular way for a woman to become a saint.

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