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Seven Plus Unusual Saints

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Sainthood is conferred on people posthumously and is recognition of living a life of “heroic virtue” and the performance of miracles. Nobody knows for sure how many people have been canonized although uscatholic.org puts the number at more than 10,000.

Fra Angelico's painting “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” from the 1420s.

Fra Angelico's painting “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” from the 1420s.

Saint Joseph of Copertino

In the 17th century, a Franciscan friar achieved the impossible feat of flying, or so we are asked to believe.

Saint Joseph of Copertino's (sometimes Cupertino) father was a carpenter and his mother gave birth to him in a shed. That's a background that has a familiar sound to it.

He is said to have been deeply imbued with religious fervor and to have spent so much time on his knees in prayer that the joints became infected. He was given to ecstatic outbursts and it was believed he had the power to be in two places at the same time, a rarely mastered skill known as bilocation. And, there were rapturous visions.

But, all this pales in comparison with Joseph's ability to levitate, a superpower more usually associated with Buddhist monks than Catholic priests.

Roman-catholic-saints.com tells us, without modifying adverbs such as allegedly, or reportedly, that “At holy Mass Saint Joseph of Cupertino was usually lifted in the air and remained there swaying over the altar for hours at a time.”

September 18, is Saint Joseph of Copertino's feast day, so it's probably a good idea to keep an eye out for low-flying clerics on that day.

Saint Joseph of Copertino is cleared for take-off.

Saint Joseph of Copertino is cleared for take-off.

Saint Catherine of Siena

Born in 1347, her father was a cloth dryer, before machines made that occupation obsolete, her mother was a baby factory—Catherine being her 25th child.

At the age of 16, she was pledged by her family to marry a man but refused to accept him and, to make her point more compelling, went on a hunger strike. Five years later, she announced her mystical marriage to Christ, as proof of which she claimed to have a ring made from the skin of Jesus. The actual ring, she said, was invisible; only she could see it.

Rather than living a cloistered life, Catherine became a lay member of the Dominican Order and ministered to the poor and sick in the community; a large following developed around her. And, then there were visions.

Now, we turn to Raymond of Capua who was Catherine's confessor and, later, biographer. He wrote that God appeared to Catherine in about 1373 and from that point onwards she ate no food; her stomach rejected everything.

According to Raymond, for seven years, she consumed nothing other than what she ate during the Eucharist, which, of the surface, might seem a wee bit short of a balanced diet. However, as a devout Catholic Catherine was consuming the actual body and blood of Christ—that is enough protein to sustain life but light on fruits and veggies.

Raymond tells us that Catherine's diet led to no loss of energy, in fact, he says most of her major accomplishments were achieved while she was in this prolonged fast.

Catherine died in 1380 at the age of 33 and Raymond assures that “Her death had nothing to do with malnutrition, or anything connected with lack of food.”

A Saint for Everything

Having ecstatic visions seems to a job requirement for sainthood and Saint Clare of Assisi (1194-1253) qualified on that account. Just as with Catherine of Siena, Clare escaped from a betrothal she did not want and sought sanctuary in the Franciscan Order. She established a group that became known as the Poor Clares, women who “went barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat, and observed almost complete silence” (franciscanmedia.org).

She was plagued by ill health for most of her life. When she was too ill to attend Mass she had visions of the sound and images of the service on the wall of her room. So it was, that in 1958, Pope Pius XII took the obvious step and declared Saint Clare of Assisi the patron saint of television.

That brings us to some other saints who are patrons of strange things:

  • Saint Nicholas of Myra (fourth century) is the patron saint of pawnbrokers. But he has a greater claim to fame. He was born into a wealthy family but decided to give all his money to the poor. It was his habit to toss pouches of cash into the homes of the poverty stricken. Sometimes these pouches would land in stockings hung out to dry, sometimes they came down the chimney. Perhaps, you can see where this is going; yes, Saint Nicholas of Myra is thought to be the model for Santa Claus;
  • Saint Matthew, before he became an apostle, was a tax collector, so it's appropriate that he has been named the patron saint of accountants and bankers. Perhaps it's felt that bankers need a double holy boost of a saint and an apostle to elevate their standing in the community;
  • Unattractive people need a little extra help to get through life, so they can turn to Saint Drogo of Sebourg (1105–1186). When he was on a pilgrimage he caught a horribly disfiguring disease, which caused him to live as a hermit for 40 years. People passed food and water through a small opening in the hut in which he lived. In death he's a busy lad being the patron saint, in addition to ugly folk, of broken bones, coffee, deafness, dumbness, hernias, gall stones, ruptures, sheep, shepherds, midwives, orphans, and others in need;
  • Saint Fiacre of Breuil (600-670) seems to have drawn the short straw when it comes to things over which saints have dominion; he got hemorrhoids and sexually transmitted diseases, not personally, we understand, but to oversee with benevolence. He was born in Ireland where he was ordained a priest, and then went to live in France. The Catholic Encyclopedia says “He lived a life of great mortification, in prayer, fast, vigil, and the manual labour of the garden.” Perhaps, in compensation for giving succor to those suffering from unpleasant afflictions, Saint Fiacre was also appointed as patron of gardening and herbalists.
Saint Fiacre about to do some planting.

Saint Fiacre about to do some planting.

A few others can be picked at random from the vast panoply of holy people along with their patronages:

  • Saint Anthony of Padua—lost items;
  • Saint Agatha—volcanic eruptions;
  • Saint Genesius of Rome—comedians;
  • Saint Gertrude of Nivelles—fear of mice;
  • Saint Bonaventura—bowel disorders;
  • Saint Jesús Malverde—drug dealers; and, a personal favourite,
  • Saint Paul—writers.

Bonus Factoids

  • The Virgin Mary is the patron saint of the United States, but Americans have to share her, as she is also the patron saint of all humanity.
  • In 1969, Pope John Paul VI demoted 93 saints, saying there wasn't enough historical evidence that they actually existed. They weren't “unsainted” just nudged a little bit down the A-list. Controversially, among those losing a bit of status were Saint Christopher, patron saint of travelers, Saint George, patron saint of England, and Saint Nicholas (see above).
  • Holy Confessor John the Russian was born in about 1690. In 1711, he was captured by Turks who tried, unsuccessfully, to convert him to Islam. He was forced to become a slave for a cavalry commander. Once, when the cavalry man was away from home, Saint John cooked up a batch of pilaf for the family. It was his master's favourite dish and his wife said it was the best pilaf she'd ever had; “What a pity my husband is away and he can't enjoy it,” she said. John took a plateful of the pilaf into the stable where he lived and prayed to God to send it to his master. Instantly, the meal disappeared and reappeared next to the cavalry officer. Alas, Saint John's kindness did not lead to his release from slavery.

Sources

  • “How Does Someone Become a Saint?” BBC News, April 24, 2014.
  • “How Many Saints Are There?” Kathleen Manning, uscatholic.org, October 31, 2013.
  • “Saint Joseph of Cupertino.” Marion Habig, roman-catholic-saints.com, undated.
  • “The Fast of St. Catherine of Siena.” catholicmystics.blogspot.com, April 2014.
  • “Saint Clare of Assisi.” franciscanmedia.org, August 11, 2020.
  • “10 Weird Facts About Saints.” Jonathan Mitchican, livingchurch.org, March 28, 2018.
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia.

© 2021 Rupert Taylor

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