Tuesday, 27 June 2017


Saints vs Superstition
Take a good look up there, Donald - that's not where you'll be going ...

It may not seem overtly superstitious but the way in which religion branches out in all manner of bizarre directions to keep the faithful on message is, to say the least, bizarre. As the saying goes, ‘You couldn’t make this up,’ but apparently, in the name of the Lord, the church can make up anything it likes.

            Nowhere is this more obvious than with the beatification of vague and sometimes mythical characters who become saints. Myths, legends, gossip and rumours handed down the ages are cobbled together to make icons of sanctity. No doubt in most cases in which a saint is proved to have existed, it would appear that they were – by the measure of the times they lived in – decent people. Perhaps for every walk of life, from humble ditch-digging to banking, having their own religious patron is a clever device to encourage a sense of classless inclusivity. The banker who I may never meet is blessed, but so is my sewage trench, which he may never smell. Praise the Lord. As we’ve already seen with St Christopher, the object of your inspired devotion is not always, when examined in detail, connected to many (or any) historical facts.

There are notable exceptions, such as Irish-born St Fiacre (d. 670) who, among other commitments, is patron saint of sexually transmitted diseases. He’s also the saint for gardeners and taxi drivers, particularly in Paris. French cabs were referred to as ‘fiacres’ because the first establishment in seventeenth-century Paris to admit coaches on hire was in the Rue Saint-Martin, near the hotel Saint-Fiacre.

            He built a hospice for travellers in what is now Saint-Fiacre, Seine-et-Marne in France and he’s also the patron saint of haemorrhoid sufferers. His feast day is 1 September. Yet the subjects of these stories occupy the faithful, sending the more devout among them into a state of worshipful bliss. All you need to do is believe. Here are some of the more unusual saints.

St Isidore (560-636)

In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared Isidore of Seville to be the patron saint of the internet. Considering Isidore logged off in the year 636, quite a while before the first web connection in 1969, he’s been granted this Silicon Valley status probably because the church likes to keep pace with popular culture. In Isidore’s case, at least we know something about him.

            He was bishop of Seville in sixth-century Spain. Two of his brothers, Leander and Fulgentius and one of his sisters, Florentina, also achieved sainthood. Leander and Fulgentius served as bishops and Florentina as an abbess. So why is he patron saint of the internet? Because he tried to record everything ever known in an encyclopaedia, a twenty-book production called Etymologies, also known as the Origins, which was published after his death. It was a kind of Wikipedia and for a thousand years it was considered to be the ultimate wellspring of human knowledge. His feast day is 4 April. St Isidore of Seville shouldn’t be confused with St Isidore the patron saint of farmers and labourers.

St Columbanus (543-615)

The patron saint of motorcyclists is not official, as his position was only suggested by an Anglican bishop, John Oliver, who happens to be a biker. Columbanus was a well-educated Irishman and, by all accounts, handsome. As a free-wheeling young man he apparently liked the ladies a little too much and one day one of them gave him some stern advice to mend his ways. Much against his family’s wishes, he decided to become a monk at Bangor Abbey in County Down to save his soul.   

            His image as a biker seems a little tenuous. Aged 42, Columbanus left Ireland and began travelling Europe as a missionary with a dozen other monks to the pagan tribes in Gaul, who were probably closer to being the Hells’ Angels of their day. Over thirty years the brotherhood founded monasteries and finally settled at Bobbio in northern Italy, where he re-built a neglected church. That’s where the biker’s bones remain today. His feast day is 23 November.

St Drogo (1105-1186)

It is not quite clear why St Drogo is the patron saint of coffee shop owners. Had he been somewhere where coffee has a history, for example Ethiopia, there might have been a coffee link.

            Drogo, also known as Droun, was a Flemish orphan who became a hermit. He visited shrines on penitential pilgrimages and for a while was a shepherd at Sebourg, France. Apparently, he suffered a terrible illness which left him disfigured. So he stayed in his hermit’s hut for forty years. He is also patron of shepherds, unattractive and repulsive people, bodily ills, hernias, broken bones, cattle, deaf people, dumbness, gall stones and insanity. That’s the great thing about saints – no-one is forgotten. You could say he’d need a few cups of coffee with those responsibilities. His history reveals that he spent the last forty years of his life in seclusion, ‘surviving only on barley, water and the holy eucharist’. His feast day is 16 April.

St Bibiana

Here’s one for Christian homophobes; birth and death unknown, the fourth-century St Bibiana, patron saint of hangovers, has her feast day on 2 December. She had a tough time fighting off a determined lesbian named Rufina, a woman whose methods of seduction descended into violence. Bibiana was a good Christian virgin and was having none of this. So, deprived of a promise of girl-on-girl action the perverted governor of Rome, Apronianus, ordered Bibiana to be tortured and beaten with scourges that were loaded with lead plummets until she died. Bibiana died with a smile on her face, and although her body was thrown out for the wild animals, none of them touched it. Around her grave so-called ‘magical and mysterious’ herbs were said to grow. It remains unclear what these were, but apparently they could cure a hangover.

            The catalogue of saints is long and complex and most of them have weird and wonderful stories that never cease to amaze the casual browser into religion’s ambiguous history. For recreation value alone, here’s a selection of some other wacky saints, minus their birth and death dates or feast dates. If you’re keen to know more, they’re all out there, waiting to entertain and convert you.

            St Vitus: patron saint of over-sleeping.

            St Arnulf of Metz: patron saint of beer.

            St Giles: patron saint of the fear of breastfeeding.

            St Apollonia: patron saint of dentists.

            St Matthew: patron saint of accountants and tax collectors.

            St Ivo of Kermartin: patron saint of lawyers.

            St Bernard of Menthon: patron saint of mountaineers and skiers.

            St Ambrose: patron saint of beekeepers.

            St Cajetan: patron saint of gamblers and the unemployed.

            St Genesius of Rome: patron saint of stand-up comedy, plumbers, actors, clowns and torture victims.

            St Gummarus: patron saint of lumberjacks and separated spouses.

            St Honoratus (Honorius) of Amiens: patron saint of bakers.

            St Saint Lidwina: patron saint of ice-skaters.

            St Malo: patron saint of pig keepers.

            St Barbara: patron saint of firemen and people who work with explosives.

Good old religion ...
 'You can't make it up?'
Oh, but you can ...

No comments: