Good news, everyone! July is the last month of saints here at Got Medieval! The search for a new monthly feature continues, so let me know if you have any good ideas that will be easier to pull off than saints.*
July 1: The Feast of St Martin of Vienne
If you wanted to become a saint during Late Roman Antiquity and the early Middle Ages,Vienne was the place to be. The first 59 bishops of Vienne became saints, a streak that stretched from the first century AD until 765 and unmatched until Cal Ripken, Jr. became the 60th saint of Baltimore. One suspects that maybe a few of those saints got the nod just to keep the streak alive, but since Martin was #3 on the list, it was probably the martyring under Emperor Hadrian that did it.
July 2: St Swithin’s Day (today celebrated on July 15)
St Swithin was a boring old bishop of Winchester until the famous homilist Wulfstan punched up his Vita and made it into a medieval bestseller and Swithin into a major miracle-worker. So once again we learn that the most important choice a saint-to-be can make is whom to hire as posthumus biographer. According to British rhyming lore–and if rhymes, it must be true!–if it rains on St Swithin’s Day, it’ll rain for 40 more days, and if it’s fair, it’ll be fair. Folk belief is apparently immune to almanacs or weather service data.
July 3: The Feast of St. “Doubting” Thomas
Most everybody today knows the story of St. Thomas the Apostle, how he was skeptical before the risen Christ until he touched the wounds. Medieval readers had a sequel that is less popular these days. In Doubting Thomas II: Pre-Electric Boogaloo,** Thomas is magically transported to the site of St. Mary’s bodily ascension into heaven, and this time it’s the other Apostles who doubt Thomas’s story until he shows them her empty tomb and the girdle she left with him. I would’ve preferred a story along the Spider-Man III model myself, in which Thomas has become so good at doubting that he gets too cocky and has to learn that it’s the doubts that come from inside that make you who you are.***
July 11: The Feast of the Translation of St. Benedict of Nursia
Wait a minute, didn’t we already have a feast for Benedict back in March? Indeed, we did. But that feast was to celebrate his death; this feast is to celebrate the moving of his relics to their final resting place in the monastery of Benoit-sur-Loire. Hey, any excuse for a feast, right?
July 13: The Feast of St Mildred AKA St. Mildrid, AKA St Mildthryth, AKA St. Mildþrȳð
Mildred is, as her name might suggest, a boring old Anglo-Saxon saint famous for maintaining her virginity because damn if nearly every female saint isn’t famous for that. In researching her, though, I discovered an old classmate of mine from my days in Glasgow (hi Alaric!) maintains a website on her for the purpose of teaching Anglo-Saxon.***** In addition to her virginity, her Vita reveals she also had a pet deer and the ability to cause people to be devoured by the earth if they disrespected it. Word to the wise: if a saint-in-training has a pet, tread carefully when the subject comes up.
July 17: St. Kenelm’s Day
Kenelm (AKA Cynehelm) was a Mercian boy-king murdered by his ambitious sister’s boy-toy. He had all kinds of useless magical powers: he forsaw his murder in a dream; he caused a mighty ash tree to grow from a staff when he confronted his murderer; his soul turned into a dove after he died and carried news to the Pope; and a magical beam of light directed searchers to the site of his headless body. All those sound cool and all, but it seems like the Almighty could’ve saved a little effort if he’d just given him the magical power to not be killed by his scheming relatives instead. Perhaps this is why the tradition developed in Romsley (site of Kenelm’s chapel) that on St. Kenelm’s day, the boys are allowed to throw crab apples at the parson.
Take note: in her picture above, that’s Kenelm carrying his own head, not a pineapple (as I’d originally hoped).
July 20: The Feast of St. Margaret
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Margaret was a pious but immensely attractive young girl who caught the eye of a lusty Roman prefect who tried and failed to have his way with her and subsequently had her tried as a heretic and sentenced to death. First they tried burning, but that didn’t work. Then they tried boiling, but that didn’t work. Then
they tried making their house of bricks beheading and what do you know, she died straight away. Saints are like Highlanders, I guess.
*Who knew there were so many saints? And who knew that so many of them were so pious that they miraculously didn’t get killed at first, only later after their captors had stopped trying to be symbolic?
**Released in foreign markets as Doubt Hard With A Vengeance.
***Also: jazz hands!
****Those who know him might suspect that he will, should the subject of St. Mildrid come up, give a double-thumbs up and declare “Mildþrȳð is great!” (And yeah, you’d be able to hear that he was pronouncing the eth.)