Our final chunk of sacred feasts kicks off with St. Margaret the Virgin, patroness of pregnant women, nurses and kidney disease. And, predictably, Margaret is yet another virgin martyred because she was too pious to marry an interested Roman suitor. But with Margaret’s torture, the Romans really went all out. According to some traditions, they fed her to a dragon (that happened to be Satan in disguise–long story) who swallowed her whole. But once in his gullet, the crucifix Margaret always carried with her (and which the Romans didn’t think to take off her) gave the dragon indigestion and she was spat out whole. Naturally, she was later put to death by more conventional means.
Because of all this, St. Margaret is traditionally depicted as a woman leading a dragon around like a pet dog on a leash, but they have only themselves to blame for their humiliation. Chew your food, people! How many dragons have been laid low by failure to follow every diet book’s most basic advice?
July 22 – The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene
You may have heard of Mary Magdalene from the Dan Brown books. She’s kind of a big deal.
If you’re one of those who bristles at the claim that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, you can than the Middle Ages for that, specifically Pope St. Gregory the Great. In fact, the Middle Ages had several flavors of lusty Mary Magdalene to choose from. The Golden Legend, for instance describes her first as a rich girl àla Paris Hilton who gets up to sexy naughtiness because she has too much money and too much free time; then later it offers the alternate story that she was originally St. John’s first wife, and when Jesus called John away from her she was so upset that she decided to give herself over completely to mindless hedonism. Of course, regardless of why she was such a lady-about-town, once Jesus shows up she’s set on the straight and narrow.
For obvious reasons, she’s the patron saint of reformed prostitutes, hairdressers, perfumers, glove-makers, people who are particularly tempted by the flesh, and women in general; for less obvious reasons she’s the patron of druggists, apothecaries, and tanners.**
July 25 – The Feast of St. James the Elder
James the Elder (AKA St James the Greater**) was one of the original twelve apostles, brother of John and son of Zebedee. According to medieval tradition, he was responsible for carrying the church to Spain before being put to death by the Emperor. And according to even later medieval tradition, James reappeared magically (several hundred years after his death) during the Battle of Clavijo to put the smack down on some Moors, earning him the nickname “the Moorslayer”.
The journey to visit St James’ grave at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on the anniversary of his death remains one of Western Christendom’s most popular pilgrimages Since this year James’s feast falls on a Sunday, it’s an even bigger deal. A couple hundred thousand pilgrims will probably make the trip next week.
July 26 – The Feast of St. Anne
St. Anne is the mother of the mother of Christ. If you see a lady in red in green in medieval art holding a baby that is herself holding a baby, that’s St. Anne. I’m all for recursive saints, but I wonder, why stop there? Why no feast of the mother of the mother of the mother of Christ? Or Christ’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother?
July 27 – The Feast of St. Sampson the Hospitable
St. Sampson was a Roman physician who sunk his sizable inheritance into healing the poor without asking for any money in return. After he opened a hospital and homeless shelter in Constantinople, the Lord so approved of his work that he also gave the power to heal through wonderworking as well. As tends to happen in these stories, the emperor Justinian fell sick with a remedy that only Sampson could heal. When Sampson obliged, he was offered by the emperor vast wealth which he refused, saying “My emperor, I have had all kinds of wealth in my life, but I left it for the sake of Christ, so that I might gain heavenly and eternal wealth.” So instead, Justinian endowed a free clinic in Sampson’s name that operated for over 600 years.***
July 31 – The Feast of St. Germaine
A second feast for St Germaine, bishop of Paris? Didn’t we have one of those back in May? No, no, this is St Germaine, Bishop of Auxerre. But don’t worry, he gets that all the time. This St. Germaine, also called St. Germanus, was sent to England to preach against Pelagianism. According to the Historia Brittonum, he vied against the mad, evil King Vortigern, who is the big villain in the Arthurian universe during the time of Arthur’s dad, Uther, a part that Germanus ultimately loses to the now much more famous Merlin when Geoffrey of Monmouth tidies up the tale.
Kind of a bummer for a last saint, eh? But that’s all she wrote–the “she” there being whoever was responsible for the little poorly illuminated folding calendar that I’ve been following for this feature. Remember, the saints that have appeared in these posts are not the only medieval saints. Pretty much every day had a saint or three associated with it, and I’m sorry if I’ve not featured your particular favorite on the list. There’s always next year, right?
*Those who tan leather, not people who frequent the tanning bed. Tanners (the first kind) sure do have a lot of patron saints.
**Not to be confused with St. James the Lesser, who I have on good authority was a hamster-wheel powered clockwork automaton created by Leonardo Da Vinci. You can easily tell them apart in medieval illuminations because James the Lesser carries a carpenter’s saw while James the Greater is usually dressed as a pilgrim. Also, one is a robot.
***And yet many here in the USA self-identify as Christians but nevertheless oppose expanded government health care because of the cost. WWSSD?