March Feast Calendar (Part 1)

Remember last month, when I confidently predicted that March would bring a more interesting crop of saints in the little medieval calendar I’m following?  Ah, how my hubris has laid me low once again.  For the first half of March we have 1) David, but not the cool one, 2) a Mercian ecclesiastical administrator, 3) two mothers with seriously pathetic miracles to their claim, 4) a goody-two-shoes pope, and 5) a teen-aged king who got stabbed in the bowels.

March 1 is the Feast of St. David, though in Wales it’s just plain old St. David’s Day on account of him being their patron saint and all.  Outside of Wales, David is less important, which is probably why the English artist for my calendar mistakenly depicted the more famous David, you know, the giant-slaying shepherd boy who went on to become the King of Israel.  Ooops.

March 2 marks the Feast of St. Chad of Mercia.  While I hear that the name Chad is one of the few Anglo-Saxon personal names that remain in use today, the idea of a St. Chad just jars with me for some reason. Chad is the guy who says he’ll be taking care of you tonight at the Outback where tonight our drink specials include the $5 Bonzarita and can I start you guys off with a Bloomin Onion? But St. Chad?  It’s like St. Billy or St. Jeff.

Anyway, the Venerable Bede is the only major source for St. Chad’s life, which is a pity, because that means mostly what we know about him concerns his role in the ongoing dispute with Rome over the apostolic legitimacy of the early British church. Zzzzzz.

March 7 celebrates the martyrdom of Ss. Perpetua & Felicity, a vastly popular pair of third-century Christian martyrs who nevertheless got the short end of the miracle stick if you ask me. Perpetua was a young mother and still nursing her child when she was sentenced to death for her beliefs, yet according to her Passion her breasts miraculously did not ache or swell from lack of nursing while in jail.  Felicity, on the other hand, was Perpetua’s slave and eight months pregnant herself when she was sentenced, yet miraculously she delivered her child one month early so that she could be allowed to be martyred with her mistress (the Romans wouldn’t put a pregnant woman to death, you see).  And that’s it: unachey breasts and a premature birth.  No angels with flaming swords that smite men who think impure thoughts about you, no miraculous ability to continue preaching after your head’s been cut off, no nothing, not even St. Agnes-style rapid hair growth.  For their trouble, they get to be patrons of mothers and expectant mothers, but Mary and Anne usually steal their glory in that department.

On March 12, the Feast of Pope St. Gregory I (the Great) arrives.  Gregory The Great sounds promising, right?  Wrong.  You get surnamed “the Great” for having actual demonstrable real world accomplishments to boast about.  So if you’re a big fan of liturgical reform or the consolidation of papal power, this is your guy.  The rest of us, the ones who want to hear about how a saint smote down a talking seal with holy fire for stealing his asparagus, Gregory is “The Rather Unimpressive” at best.  Hell, Gregory is so unobjectionable that evil Calvin gave him a free pass as “the last good pope.”

This brings us at last to March 18, The Feast of St. Edward the Martyr which is technically in the second half of March, but I’m not ending a post on Gregory, so suck it up.

Edward was King of England for all of three years, sandwiched between Edgar the Peaceable and Aethelred the Unready.  After Edward’s coronation, it is said that a comet appeared in the sky, foretelling the woe that would be visited upon his reign.  Some astronomers in the early twentieth century argued that this was the selfsame comet that appeared in 1248 and 1556, the latter of which coinciding with the abdication of Emperor Charles V,* he whose empire the sun never set upon.**

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Edward was stabbed in the bowels on March 18th, 975, by an assassin that snuck up behind him while he was enjoying a glass of mead.  The lesson here is clear and particularly poignant this year, as St. Patrick’s Day falls on Wednesday the 17th, just before St. Edward’s feast.  It’s best you stop drinking by Thursday,*** lest you be disembowled by hidden assassins. 

After he was stabbed, the Chronicle tells us, Edward tried to ride away to safety but was weakened by loss of blood and fell from his horse, which dragged him by the stirrup across the ground and finally into a swampy bog where he drowned.  And yet, miraculously, a beam of light appeared and allowed his body to later be discovered, which I guess means that March is the month for saints with useless miracles.  I’m sure Edward would’ve preferred to have his bowels miraculously remain unharmed and the mead transmuted into acid which he could spit upon his foes or something.  Then he’d be giving St. Patrick a run for his money, I’m sure.  Pray to Edward for the invulnerable bowels you’ll need for the day after your St. Patrick’s benders!  It’s a tee-shirt waiting to happen–or rather, it would be waiting to happen, if God hadn’t let him be thrown in a bog and gone with the corpse-finding divine flashlight.

*I’d like it if that were true, because it’d mean that the comet was sort of just practicing for its more important later appearance when it showed up in 975 to kick off Edward’s short and tumultuous reign, or just a hard-working little comet that did its time playing small gigs in little unimportant English royal circles before it hit it big and could land the big imperial stadium shows on the continent.
**Or, if you hate ending sentences with prepositions, try instead “he upon whose empire the sun never set”?
***Don’t let anyone tell you Thursday is the new Friday.  Tell them instead that Thursday is the new Day on Which You Get Disemboweled While Distracted By Drink.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Judy

    Now I know why I had an insane desire to cook leeks today

  • fluidimaginings

    Gregory may have been pretty dull, but his vita in the Golden Legend has rotting dragons in it:

    "The Tiber once overflowed its banks so far that it came over the city walls and demolished a large number of houses. The river carried a great many serpents and a huge dragon down to the sea, but the waves smothered the beasts and tossed them onto the shore. The stench of their rotting bodies bred a deadly pestilence called the bubonic plague, and people seemed to see arrows coming from heaven and striking this one and that one. The first to be stricken was Pope Pelagius, who died within house, and the plague swept through the population so fatally that many houses stood empty in the city".

    Gregory lead prayers to appease an obviously angry big G, and all was well. Unfortunately I seem to recall that after this he ran away and hid so that he didn't have to be Pope. So yeah, boring Saint, but with necrotic dragon plague.

  • Judy

    I dunno about David. He has a mitre, which would not be regulation wear for a Jewish King. I think St. David is just playing a Welsh harp, maybe outplaying the local bards.
    Speaking as a mother (and grandmother, as you can see on Facebook), I think pregnant and lactating women need all the help they can get. I am not sure Mary or Anne would be very helpful with early weaning. As for popping the kid out a month early–*what* a good idea.
    Gregory the Great stated in I think the Moralia on Job "What can a camel possibly signify, other than a Pharisee?" Or so I remember a memorable prof. saying about 35 years ago. Dude practically invented biblical exegesis. Your life, or at least the manuscripts you read, would surely be poorer without it.

  • Wacky Hermit

    As a woman who's suffered from repeated mastitis due to a baby merely deciding to nurse extra every other day, I can tell you that St. Perpetua's miracle of the unsore breasts is indeed miraculous. I do agree that Felicity's giving birth early isn't so miraculous, though, since it's well known that extreme stress can put a woman into labor, and what's more extremely stressful than being sentenced to death?

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