My little folding saints calendar picks up this month on May 1 with the Feast of Ss. Philip and James the Less, two apostles who went their separate ways after the Resurrection, Philip to Turkey and James to Jerusalem. They are celebrated together because their bodies were, it is claimed, moved to the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Rome and consecrated together after their deaths. Poor James got stuck with “the Less” because Jesus didn’t have the foresight to find twelve guys with different names for his merry band, and James, son of Zebedee, was either taller, older, or more awesome than James the Less, depending on who you ask.
Also, depending on who you ask, James the Less might have been Jesus’s brother, or alternately one of the six or so other Jameses who appear elsewhere in the New Testament. (It was a popular name.) According to later tradition, James–whichever James he was–was so given to kneeling in prayer that the skin on his knees became as callused and hard as some part of a camel or other (possibly the camel’s knees, but other people say camel’s horn, or hoof–something hard, that’s all we can really be sure of). He was also too holy to bathe or shave. This may or may not be why he was stoned to death.
Philip, too, is often confused with another Biblical figure, Philip the Evangelist, so May 1 is probably a good day to celebrate mistaken identities, confused recollections, and designer knockoffs. Tonight, go rent Transmorphers and friend people who have the same names as people you went to high school with while drinking Evan Williams and Dr. Thunder, I say.
May 3 marks the Feast of the Invention of the Cross, that is, the day on which St. Helena* discovered the True Cross. The discovery wasn’t happenstance. Her son, the Emperor Constantine (yes, that Constantine), had appointed her Augusta and given her unlimited access to the imperial treasury to fund expeditions to recover holy artifacts. She also brought back parts of the Burning Bush, the nails of the True Cross, the Holy Tunic worn by Jesus and some rope used to tie him to the cross. So she was sort of the Indiana Jones of the fourth century, I guess,** though history does not record whether she ever had to contend with an elaborate series of spinning blades and rolling boulder traps. (But let’s just say she did, K?)
May 6 is the Feast of St. John the Apostle, not to be confused with !SPOILER ALERT! St. John of Beverly, whose feast falls a day later on May 7,*** and also not to be confused with the roughly 200 other Catholic saints named John. Truly, May is the month for people named the same as other people.
Now you might be saying, wait a minute, didn’t we already have a Feast of St. John back in December? Yes, we did, but that feast celebrates John for his immunity to poison, while the May 6 feast, called more properly The Feast of St. John Before the Latin Gate, celebrates the time a Roman emperor tried to boil him alive in a cauldron of oil. (!SPOILER ALERT! It didn’t work.)
John of Beverly, on the other hand, never did anything so interesting as not being boiled. He’s just a minor English church-founding saint who makes it into this calendar because he’s English and so is the calendar maker. Patriotic nepotism.
May 12 brings the Feast of St. Pancras,
who according to my reasearch is a London Underground station. Why they canonised that nest of tunnels and stairs is beyond me a victim of the Diocletian persecutions. A young soldier who converted to Christianity, he refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods and was thrown to beasts in the gladiatorial pit. According to the more interesting account of his martyrdom, the beasts would not devour him until he gave them permission. Why, exactly, he gave them permission, is not recorded. In Spain, he’s the patron saint of health, which for some reason means they get real creative with parsley on his day. Go figure.
*St. Helena of Constantinople, not St. Helena of Troyes or St. Helena of Skövde or Mount St. Helens. I know I’m always confusing St. Helena of Skövda with the former fifth highest peak Washington.
**Don’t laugh. Lucas and Spielberg have already greenlit Indiana Jones and the Bits of Rope Use to Tie Jesus to the Cross. Coming Spring 2012!
***What’s the statute of limitations on spoilers, again? Some people still haven’t seen Fight Club. Clearly, I have to use a spoiler tag if I want to blog about how Tyler Durden turns out to be a ghost. But that movie’s only ten years old. John of Beverly was canonized in the eleventh century, so I think I’m in the clear, but you never can tell.