March 20 marks the Feast of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. Cuthbert, or “Cuddy” as his friends called him, was one of the most popular saints in medieval England, particularly Northumbria, which he is today the patron of.
As frequent readers of the feast calendar know, saints are often depicted holding their own severed head in their hands, Headless Horseman style, but Cuthbert is one of the rare saints who is usually* depicted carrying someone else’s severed head, in this case St. Oswald of Northumbria. Don’t worry, though. It wasn’t because Cuddy beheaded Oswald or anything untoward.** Rather, when Durham cathedral was being dedicated in the twelfth century they transferred Cuthbert’s remains there from a nearby church and when they opened the reliquary they found Oswald’s head in there, too–where it had been put, mind you, by previous caretakers to keep it safe during the chaos that followed William the Conqueror’s conquering. So I guess that means that Cuthbert’s usual attribute, the crowned severed head, commemorates a temporary lack of storage space. Oops, make that a holy temporary lack of storage space.
A day later, on March 21, the Feast of St. Benedict is held, he of the famous and eponymous Rule for monks. For this, Benedict is considered the granddaddy of Western monasticism, and since the mid-sixties he’s also moonlighted as the patron protector of Europe entire. In addition, he’s in charge of protecting spelunkers, school children, civil engineers, coppersmiths, and servants who’ve broken their masters’ belongings and is proof against fever, witchcraft, kidney disease and nettle rash. Saints as important as Benedict have awesome miscellanies.
On March 25 the medieval calendar celebrates The Annunciation, the visit by archangel Gabriel to announce to Mary her impending mother-of-Godness. For those of you keeping count, March 25 is nine months exactly prior to Christmas. When they invented the AD (Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord) system of dating, the Annunciation was also set as New Year’s Day for the liturgical calendar. So if you need an excuse to go out and party on March 24, there you go, it’s Liturgical New Year’s Eve. The Annunciation, or Lady Day as it was known throughout England, also roughly corresponds to the vernal equinox, which is probably why it was placed there.
You probably don’t need me to note it, but nevertheless, Easter, or The Feast of the Resurrection falls shortly after The Annunciation,*** officially pegged by the Catholic Church to the first Sunday after the [ecclesiastical] full moon after the vernal equinox. But they cheat the calculation and use March 21 as the vernal equinox, even in years when it falls on some other day,**** and they further cheat by using lunar tables to calculate the ecclesiastical full moon that don’t correspond to the actual position of the moon in the sky. If you find yourself always surprised by the date of Easter, this is probably why. So remember for next year to always look at the spiritual moon, not the one that’s in the sky, when calculating when to hide eggs on the lawn and distribute your chocolate rabbits.
The Feast of St. Gabriel these days has been moved to September 29 for a joint feast with St. Raphael, but in the Middle Ages it came on March 26, the day after the Annunciation. As I’ve said before, I don’t get why angels get to be saints, but then again I’m not in charge of canonization so carry on, Catholics, carry on.
And as I said just a few paragraphs back, Gabriel was the angel who brought the message to Mary that she would bear the Savior, so Gabriel has become the patron saint of all messengers. Today that includes not just postmen, but also newscasters, journalists, and presumably even TV weathermen. I’m not sure if blogging counts as message delivering, but if it does, I suppose that makes Gabriel my own patron saint, so I guess I’ll stop being skeptical about the the appropriateness of angelic saints, because check it out my saint can totally beat up yours.
*Once again the artist of this MS lets us down and just depicts a bishop without a severed head clutch.
***The calendar I’m using for these posts puts its marker for Easter right after the Annunciation, which is why I’m discussing it here.
****Such as this year, on when it falls on March 20.