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.