Faith and begorra, it’s almost Saint Patrick’s Day, once again time for the Arangos to become O’Rangos in a tribute to all things Celtic.
We won’t be alone, of course; St. Patrick’s Day Parades are scheduled in Boston, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Baltimore, Atlanta, Norfolk, Denver, Holyoke, New Orleans, Savannah, Pittsburgh, Detroit, San Diego, Cleveland, Butte, Saint Paul, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and probably another hundred communities.
Buffalo has two parades. The shortest parade (98 feet) will be held in Hot Spring, Arkansas, where the famous Springs are dyed green. Unless the new administration breaks the established tradition, the north White House fountain will be dyed green. Chicago dyes a river green, Seattle dyes the parade route green, and the town of Rolla, Missouri paints the entire center of the city green.
All of this hoopla celebrates venerated Patrick (Patricus, Padraig), patron Saint of Ireland, routinely credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland from Britain and with banishing Ireland’s snakes, although it’s pretty clear there weren’t any snakes to banish.
Let that go. It doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day falls during Lent, during which time the faithful ostensibly practice penance and self-denial.
Except on Saint Patrick’s Day.
Free pass. Green beer. Let the good times roll … then back to sackcloth and ashes.
I don’t mean to disparage any saint; they didn’t get to be saints without having been martyred and often in a particularly disagreeable way. Saint Patrick, for instance … ah …. hold on …. I’m thumbing through my various guides to the saints, biographies known in the saintly trade as hagiographies, and … um …. Saint Patrick died at Saul, apparently not martyred, laid down, didn’t get up, thought it was indigestion.
Now, to be fair, he took his lumps early and often, having been captured, enslaved, and sold into bondage as a young man, and he did bring Christianity to Ireland against some very long odds. Credit where credit is due.
It just occurs to me that there are some other saints, whose day might be celebrated with something like equal enthusiasm, given the ways in which they were dispatched. I should begin by assuring the gentle reader that every day is some saint’s day; many have had to double up. No problem there. Let’s just take a look at three who could use a little recognition in light of the ways they were martyred.
January 21 – Saint Agnes Day.
At about twelve or thirteen, Christian Agnes was courted by patrician Romans who thought she was hot stuff. Determined to remain pure and unsullied in her devotion to her faith, Agnes spurned some influential Roman aristos who complained to the local Prefect (magistrate) who, for her slighting of the guys, condemned her to be driven naked to a brothel where she was to be to ravaged.
Accounts vary, but one suggests that as she was about to be deflowered, her body became covered with thick fur, dissuading her tormentors from getting physical. Unable or unwilling to bend her to their will, infuriated, the slighted men of Rome attempted to burn her at the stake, but, you know how when you have people over and the coals just won’t catch and everybody’s waiting? The fire went out, whereupon they took the simple expedient of stabbing her in the throat. Saint Agnes is the patron saint of virgins.
March 7 – Saint Perpetua Day
Another Horrible Story.
The account of Saint Perpetua’s martyrdom is one of the oldest on record, ostensibly the diary of a young mother imprisoned in Carthage in the 3rd Century. Refusing to abandon her faith, Perpetua and her baby were joined in prison by Felicity, a pregnant girl who also refused to give up her Christian faith. Roman law forbade the execution of pregnant women, so the jailer had to wait until Felicity had given birth to take Perpetua and Felicity to the gladiatorial arena where they were scourged (whipped until flesh fell from their bodies) then tossed in front of wild beasts. Here’s where Saints Perpetua and Felicity deserve particular recognition. The men executed in that arena faced bears, leopards, lions; Perpetua and Felicity were eaten by a rabid cow. Seriously, a cow! Saint Perpetua is the patron saint of widows and mothers of deceased sons; Saint Felicity is the patron saint of expectant mothers.
August 10 – Saint Lawrence Day
Who is the patron saint of cooks? That would be Saint Lawrence, Lorenzo of Rome, who as librarian and archivist was believed by the Emperor Valerian to know where all the treasure of the early Church had been hidden. Compelled to bring the Church’s treasures to the emperor, Lawrence arrived at the court with diseased, orphaned, and crippled Christians, declaring them to be the Church’s treasures. Apparently Valerian had no sense of humor. He ordered his minions to slowly roast Lawrence on a grill until he revealed the true location of the goods. He is said to have responded to this torture by tossing off this line before he was completely toasted, “Turn me over. I’m done on this side”.
While many saints have been recognized in paintings, sculptures, and music, the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence is one of the few to influence a major work of architecture. The extremely pious Philip II of Spain built San Lorenzo Escorial, a monastery, palace, college, and library in the shape of a grill. August. Grilling season? Anyone?
There are many other worthy nominees such as Saint Hippolytus, torn apart by horses (patron saint of horses. August 13), Saint Agatha, breasts cut off (patron saint of breast cancer patients. February 5), and Saint Bartholomew, skinned alive (patron saint of tanners and plasterers. September 11).
One of the most remarkable saints, Hildegarde of Bingen is celebrated on September 17. She was a polymath, a writer, composer, natural scientist, and mystic. She even created her own language, Lingua Ignota. Saint Cecilia is the patroness of musicians. Saint Cecilia’s Day is celebrated on November 22, marked by George Frideric Handel with the Ode to Saint Cecilia’s Day and by Benjamin Britten, who was born on Saint Cecilia’s Day, with the Hymn to Saint Cecilia based on a poem by W.H. Auden.
One of the most indelible of all Shakespeare’s speeches in that given by Henry V on the morning of October 25, Saint Crispin’s Day, as his troops prepared to undertake the Battle of Agincourt:
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Sailisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
Come on. That has to be worth a parade or two! I’ll be suiting up on October 25th. Anyone who wants to join my band of brothers, we’ll assemble at dawn on the plaza in Ashland, Oregon. Be there or count your manhoods cheap.