On May 19 it’s time to “check in” with St. Dunstan, the 10th-century Anglo-Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury responsible for keeping watch over goldsmiths, silversmiths, blacksmiths, locksmiths and, well, pretty much any smith except those who hang around with Morrissey.
According to legend, Dunstan is the medieval precursor to Johnny from “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” In Dunstan’s version, though, when the Devil goes down to Dunstan’s forge in Somerset, looking for a soul to steal,* there’s no anvil of gold bet against his soul. Rather, the Devil takes on the form of a beautiful woman and dances around the forge seductively. Dunstan is so intent on his smithing that he doesn’t look up (or, possibly, he suspects that girls randomly showing up to dance for monkish blacksmiths might be up to something untoward), causing the Devil to add more booty to his dance and more bump to his grind in a vain attempt to entice the saint-in-training. But the poor Devil adds so much booty and bump that his skirts fly up, revealing hooves where girlie feet should be.** The jig up, Dunstan grabs the Devil by the nose with his red hot poker, holds him still, and shoes him like a horse. For this reason he’s generally shown holding a pair of tongs, as above.
Next up is The Feast of St. Aldhelm , which rolls around on May 25. Aldhelm, a late-seventh-century Anglo-Saxon bishop was exactly the kind of writer I hate the most: his Latin is obscure and full of difficult technical constructions that he busts out just to show that he’s the kind of writer who knows how those difficult and technical constructions are supposed to look. Like I care that you know how to properly form the pluperfect passive subjunctive.
St. Augustine, yet another Archbishop of Canterbury, has his feast on May 26. Well, I suppose it’s a little dismissive of me to call him “yet another” Archbishop–he was actually the first Archbishop of Canterbury and part of the first formal missionary delegation to the Angles and Saxons from the Roman Church. As such, he was tasked with converting the British pagans, but also those pesky British Christians who’d had the audacity to be converted by Irish missionaries instead of proper Roman ones. This involved arguing at great length about when Easter is supposed to be kept, mostly, as these Irish missionaries were the sort of backwards thinkers who thought that determining the date holiday pegged to the cycles of the full moon ought to require looking up to see if the moon was full instead of using out-of-date lunar charts. Cretins!
Hip existentialists Satre and Simone de Beauvoir hailed from the neighborhood in Paris called St. German, named after the Parisian saint whose feast is celebrated on May 28. As bishop, German is remembered mostly for his involvement with the various Merovingian Kings of Paris with names like Childebert and Charibert, the latter he excommunicated for marrying two sisters at the same time.
May 31 marks the Feast of St. Petronilla. Originally, she was said to have been the daughter of St. Peter–yes, that St. Peter, the one with the keys and the papacy and the rock upon which the Church was built and all that. Bet you didn’t know that Peter had a daughter so beautiful that he had to lock her up in a tower, or that he prayed to God to give her a fever that wouldn’t go away until she agreed to remain a virgin.*** That’s probably because later Catholics decided that Petronilla was only a “spiritual” daughter of Peter’s, a girl he converted to Christianity and not his flesh and blood. Whether or not she was Peter’s girl, she became a martyr to virginity by going on a hunger strike when a foreign potentate demanded her hand in marriage. Girls in unwanted arranged marriages pray to her for intercession, but given her track record it seems to me like that’d just be a one-way ticket to starving fevered in a Rapunzel-style tower–but who am I to judge?
*Whether he was in a bind and out of time and looking to make a deal is unrecorded.
**I imagine he didn’t change his feet because he’d already picked out the nice long swishy dress and they’d be hidden. And if he’d changed his feet, there would’ve been the issue of what shoes to wear, and if he’d gone with the open-toed pumps then he’d have had to spring for a pedicure–it’s just a lot easier to wear long skirts.
***If shotguns had been invented, surely he would’ve sat in a rocking chair on the porch of his tower cleaning one whenever suitors came over to see Petronilla.