Brought to you by the Letter I

From Adomnán’s Life of St. Columba. May we all have copy-editors this good:

One day Baithéne came to St. Columba and said:

“I need one of the brethren to help me go through the text of the psalter I have copied and correct any mistakes.”

The saint said to him:

“Why do you bring this trouble on us when there is no need? For in your copy of the psalter there is no mistake – neither one letter too many nor one too few – except that in one place the letter I is missing.”

So it was. Having gone through the whole psalter, it was found to be exactly as the saint predicted.

The Mexicans

In preparation for next year’s Year of Mexico, I’m reading Patrick Oster’s The Mexicans: A Personal Portrait of a People (1989). Oster was a journalist stationed in Mexico City in the 1980s and the book is a collection of his columns, each one dealing with a different aspect of Mexican society, not all of them flattering (e.g., police corruption or journalistic cowardice). I was curious to read the chapter entitled “The Evangelista,” as it deals with an interest of mine:

There are those in San Juan Jaltepec who say that their village’s luck changed when they got a new patron saint. All villages in Mexico adopt a special saint who is supposed to watch over them. For centuries, the patron saint of San Juanito, as most call the tiny settlement, had been San Juan Bautista, or St. John the Baptist. But some time early in this century – no one seems to remember exactly when – there was a change. Things were going very badly for San Juanito. The village priest suggested a new patron saint might bring better luck. He proposed a switch to the Virgin of Candelaria.

The Virgin was known to bring good luck to children if they were brought before an image of her shortly after their birth. Sometimes she even performed miracles, it was said. Another village already had the Virgin as a patroness. But that was all right, the priest had said. her goodness was big enough for San Juanito, too.

To make the switch, the villagers bought a three-foot-high plaster statue of the Virgin. Her white countenance now looks down from the altar upon a sea of brown faces that worships her from the cold marble floor of the village church.

While the Virgin’s miraculous abilities seem to focus on infants, the story goes that if you ask her for something else – better crops, good health, a son – you might get that, too. But if you do, you have to offer some sacrifice in thanks on her feast day. February 2. Typically, people bring flowers, such as the red gladioli and yellow mums that festooned the altar that February night that I visited San Juanito’s church. But gifts of candles and homemade clothes for her statue are common, too.

Saints Galore

For a year starting in August 2013 I posted a saint a day to Facebook. I was reminded of this project again today when visiting the Lake Acworth Antique and Flea Market, at which San Benito Libreria Católica had a space. As the name of this shop suggests, it largely caters to Mexican Catholics, and so featured saints that are significant to them in various ways. Alas, San Jorge is not one of them! But I found the next best thing:

This, believe it or not, is St. James the Apostle (“Santiago Apóstol”), in his aspect as the Matamoros, that is, the Moor-Slayer. St. James’s major shrine is at Compostella in Galicia; over the course of the Middle Ages he became a patron of the reconquest of Iberia from the Muslims (even if the battle where he made his first appearance was entirely made up).

Other prayer cards. I did not cover any of these on Facebook:

Wikipedia: Santo Niño de Atocha or Holy Child of Atocha is a Roman Catholic image of the Child Jesus popular among the Hispanic cultures of Spain, Latin America, the Philippines and the southwestern United States. It is distinctly characterized by a basket he carries, along with a staff, drinking gourd, and a cape with the shell symbol of a pilgrimage to Saint James.

Wikipedia: Maximón, also called San Simón, is a folk saint venerated in various forms by Maya people of several towns in the highlands of Western Guatemala. The veneration of Maximón is not approved by the Roman Catholic Church…. He is less a benevolent deity than a bully whom one does not want to anger. His expensive tastes in alcohol and cigarettes indicate that he is a sinful human character, very different from the ascetic ideals of Christian sainthood. Devotees believe that prayers for revenge, or success at the expense of others, are likely to be granted by Maximón.

Wikipedia: Saint Charbel Makhluf, O.L.M. (1828-1898) was a Maronite monk and priest from Lebanon. During his life he obtained a wide reputation for holiness and he has been canonized by the Catholic Church.

A prayer to the Powerful Arm (even if the illustration is of the Powerful Hand). I would like to know more about this.

UPDATE: From Lucky W. Amulet archive:

The image is of a huge wounded (but not bleeding) right hand, which points up through clouds, cut palm toward us. The lines in the palm are shown, and it looks like the head line is cut. The fingers are all of eerily uniform length, with a long thin thumb. Small, disembodied, winged cherub-heads float in the sky above the hand.

To the left and right of the hand are four kneeling female angels who gaze upward and bear the tools of the crucifixion. Of the two on the left, one holds a bowl to catch Jesus’ blood; the other holds a spear and vinegar sop in one hand and hammer and nails in the other. Of the two on the right, one holds a cross and the other a crown of thorns.

Atop clouds on the little finger stands an older male saint with a book. The ring finger’s clouds hold a female saint; the middle finger’s, a younger male saint with a white lily; the forefinger’s, the Virgin Mary; and the deformed thumb’s clouds bear the toddler Jesus holding a globe in his right hand and raising his left.

The prayer on the back is printed first in Spanish and then in English. The English version:

“O Powerful Hand of God! I place my Christian soul before you, and in my despair and anguish, beseech you to aid me with your almighty power. At your feet I place the devotion of my sorrowful heart that I might be delivered from my suffering. May the loving kindness of your power help me and give me strength and wisdom to live in peace and happiness. (Here present your petitions). Amen.”

To which… a reader of this page… informs us that “the figures atop the four fingers represent St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne. The Christ Child is depicted on the thumb.”

Wikipedia: Dominic Savio (1842-1857) was an Italian adolescent student of Saint John Bosco. He was studying to be a priest when he became ill and died at the age of 14, possibly from pleurisy. Savio was canonised a saint on June 12, 1954, by Pope Pius XII, making him the youngest non-martyr to be canonised in the Catholic Church.

Wikipedia: Saint Hedwig of Silesia (1174-1243), a member of the Bavarian comital House of Andechs, was Duchess of Silesia from 1201 and of Greater Poland from 1231 as well as High Duchess consort of Poland from 1232 until 1238. She was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1267.

Wikipedia: Expeditus is said to have been a Roman centurion in Armenia who was martyred around April 303 in what is now Turkey, for converting to Christianity. Considered the patron saint of speedy cases, he is commemorated by the Roman Catholic Church on April 19.

Not a prayer card, but an entire novena to Saint Toribio Romo González (1900-1928), who “was a Mexican martyr who died in the Cristero War… There is a belief among some Mexicans that Toribio Romo has appeared to some who cross the border illegally to assist them in distress. He is used as an icon for the hope of food, water and money, as well as safety” (Wikipedia). He was canonized in 2000.

In fairness, I should also say that there were plenty of other prayer cards and posters to better-known saints, like Michael, Lucy, Martin of Tours, and Jude, who will ward off Protestant propagandists:

St. Benedict, whose day it was:

And the Virgin of Guadeloupe, who is here rendered in the style of Precious Moments™, although Dr. Anne Good tells me that there is a specific diminutive name for this depiction, and that they’re fairly common in Mexico:

St. Patrick

Happy (belated) St. Patrick’s Day! That St. Patrick, a fifth-century British missionary to the Irish, ever used a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity, or that he drove the snakes out of Ireland, are myths… but fun myths. He was by no means the only early medieval missionary to Ireland; the fact that he is considered the most important one and Ireland’s patron probably has to do with the later importance of his monastic foundation at Armagh.

St. Eddie

October 13 marks the feast of the translation of St. Edward the Confessor, king of England 1042-66. His death on January 5 opened a three-way struggle for the throne, since he had failed at one of the prime tasks of any medieval king: produce an heir. His brother-in-law Harold Godwinson seized the throne and was crowned king on January 6. Here is the relevant scene from the Bayeux Tapestry:

Here King Edward, in bed, speaks to the faithful. And here he dies. Here they give Harold the king’s crown. Here sits Harold, King of the English. Stigant the Archbishop [of Canterbury presiding].

Harold defeated the Danish claimant Harald Hardrada at Stamford Bridge (Lincs.) in September 1066, but was in turn defeated by William of Normandy at Hastings (Sussex) in October. Thus ended Anglo-Saxon England.

But just because Edward produced no heir doesn’t mean that we can’t rehabilitate him in some way. A burst of miracles at his tomb inspired people to think of him as holy, and to put the best spin on his childlessness: he was so holy, you see, that he practiced chastity within marriage! That’s why he and Edith didn’t produce an heir!

The monks at Westminster, where Edward was entombed, took to promoting the cult assiduously. The combination of an interested king (Henry II) and a papal schism produced an opportunity for canonization, and once this was achieved the Westminster monks staged a solemn translation of Edward’s relics into a new shrine on October 13, 1162. (“Translation” is used here in its original Latin sense of “carrying across.” A translation ceremony would serve as public recognition of sainthood, and its anniversary would often became more important than the saint’s original feast day, i.e. the day of his death). What is interesting about Edward is that he had two translation ceremonies – Henry III rebuilt Westminster Abbey in the thirteenth century, and built an even nicer shrine for its most famous occupant. Thoughtfully, they also scheduled this one on October 13.

St. Edward the Confessor was never all that popular as a saint, but the English kings certainly enjoyed him, because he bestowed legitimacy on their regime. So there is a lot of propaganda from the royal court referencing St. Edward. Here is the most famous medieval depiction of him, from the Wilton Diptych, painted for Richard II (reigned 1377-99):

Edward holds a ring, which refers to a legendary act of charity he performed: for lack of having any coins, he gave his ring to a beggar who turned out to be John the Evangelist. John later returned the ring to a pair of English pilgrims in the Holy Land.