And the Saints Go Marching In

A reflection
by Chris Hibbard

And the Saints Go Marching In

Sunday was a big day – Superbowl Sunday; a day that allows men to forget that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. This can be a very nice thing to try to forget. Granted, Valentine’s Day is a day set aside to celebrate love, affection, romance, and all that other sweet sweet; but there is a reason it is known as a Hallmark holiday. Men and women are expected to buy each other commodities and goods that somehow express their feelings for one another. We are expected to (and pressured to) dish out some money to show affection to each other – as though this makes up for the our not showing affection the other 364 days of the year.
Valentine’s can be a dangerous day. Do I love you so much that I show you with candies? Or do I love you so much that I adorn you with jewelry? What happens if my gift shows less love than yours does? Does this mean that I don’t love you as much as you love me? Because of this dangerous scenario, I prefer to call it Commercial Cash Cow Day.

For better or for worse, this year I get to avoid the whole deal. And while I hope you all have a very happy Valentine’s Day, this year I plan on making myself a lasagna – just to show myself how much I care. I may even wash it down with chocolate for dessert. But I told myself that this article wouldn’t be about all that love, that romance. and the big V-Day as we know it. So it shall not be. From this point on, this article is about some of those other saints, those who are not memorialized and worshiped annually through a week of big sales. Now, not being Catholic, I am not generally aware of saints, their significance, their lives or their deaths. But in honour of this occassion, I decided to investigate. Initially, I found that Mussolini once said, “the history of saints is mainly the history of insane people”, and after doing more research, I’m inclined to agree with him.

Before I continue, I feel that I should warn you of something, so consider this a disclaimer. There seem to be two prerequisites necessary for sainthood. One has to live a life that is pious, faithful and pure; only to be tortured and executed in horrendous ways. It follows that the rest of this article may be a little graphic for some, but check these saints out – putting old Saint Valentine (who we’ll learn a little more about later) to shame. These men and women make Valentine’s demise seem relatively painless and quick.

St. Agatha carries a palm branch and plate or platter bearing two female breasts. This is symbolic of her martyrdom at the hands of a Sicilian named Quintanius. Supposedly, Agatha was quite a hottie but had made a vow of chastity, choosing to keep her virginity for God alone. So this Quintanius guy, who wanted to get in her pants, got mad. Since he couldn’t win her over, he had her breasts cut off. To this, Agatha admirably responded, “Are you not ashamed to cut off from a woman that with which your mother suckled you?” Legend has it that St. Peter kindly showed up with some celestial ointment and restored Agatha’s chest to its former state, but her shunned suitor still wasn’t happy. He had her dragged over hot coals and imprisoned. God responded to this with an earthquake, during which Quintanius, the entire town, and an imprisoned Agatha all perished. Agatha’s Saints day is February 5th.

St. Agnes carries a lamb which similarly symbolizes the virginity she died to protect. According to her legend, some guy named Sempronius wished Agnes to marry his son, and at Agnes’ refusal condemned her to death. To make matters worse, since Roman law did not permit the execution of virgins, he ordered her to be raped first. However, her chastity was miraculously preserved, for when led out to die and tied to a stake, the bundle of wood would not burn. Whereupon the officer in charge of the troops drew his sword and cut off her head. Agnes’ Saints day is January 21.

St. Apollonia, the patron saint of dentists, is often portrayed carrying what appear to be a pair of pliers. She was one of a group of virgin martyrs who suffered in Alexandria during a local uprising against Christians; tortured mercilessly. Reportedly, all of her teeth were violently shattered or pulled out one by one. This is before she threw herself vigorously into the fire that she was to be burned at the stake in. T’was not quite suicide (a sin in the Catholic faith), but was rather an embracement of her fate and a final rejection of the wishes of her tormentors. Her life and death are celebrated on February 9th.

Saint Lucy had it rough too. Lucy was a young noblewoman who gave away all of her belongings to the poor. The legend attached to her claims that a pagan suitor was rejected by Lucy, and was so infuriated that he denounced her as a Christian to the local magistrate. The magistrate in turn ordered Lucy to burn a sacrifice to the Emperor’s image. When she refused, she was sentenced to be defiled in a brothel. To this order, she is said to have spoken, “If thou make my body to be defouled without mine assent, and against my will, my chastity shall increase double to the merit of the crown of glory.” This pissed off the magistrate, and he had her dragged behind a team of oxen, her eyes gouged out, and finally stabbed through the throat with a dagger. To this day, Saint Lucy is depicted holding her own eyes in her hands. St. Lucy’s day is observed on December 13th.

Saint Nicholas of Myra, a fourth century bishop, is best known nowadays as good old Saint Nick – Santa, in other words. What many people do not know about Saint Nicholas, is that he is sometimes pictured with a barrel full of young boys. This image derives from a story in which Nicholas miraculously resurrected three young boys who had been lured into the house of a psychopathic butcher, only to be slaughtered, their remains put in a barrel to be cured and later sold as ham. St. Nick’s big day is, strangely enough, December 6th.

Saint Sebastian, a favourite subject of renaissance painters, is the only martyr said to have died twice. A Roman soldier and bodyguard to the Emperor Diocletian, when he was revealed as a secret Christian, Sebastian was ordered to convert. Sebastian refused, and was sentenced to execution by firing squad. (Arrows and archers back in those days.) Legend has it that he survived a body full of arrows and was nursed back to health by a fellow Christian. Once recovered, he began preaching the good word of God. When it was discovered that he was still alive, Sebastian was beaten to death by clubs in the gladiator’s arena. Sebastian’s Saint’s Day is January 20th.

And finally, we come back to good old Vally boy, St. Valentine himself, whose good deeds and bad death have motivated us into feeling obligated to spoil each other rotten every year at the mall. There are differing opinions as to the actual St. Valentine’s story, but the most common one is this: A Roman priest, Valentine was executed on February 12, 269 AD, after defying Emperor Claudius II. Legend holds that Claudius wanted many soldiers for a great army, and many married men were reluctant to leave their families and enlist. Because of this reluctance, Claudius passed a decree forbidding marriage. Valentine, opponsed to this decree, continued to marry couples in secret. He was eventually caught, imprisoned, and sentenced to a triple-bad-death by beating, stoning and beheading. Supposedly, during Valentine’s imprisonment, he became close with the jailer’s daughter. On a letter that he left her, he signed it “Love from Your Valentine”. Hence, love letters and cards to this day, every February 14. Through Valentine’s martyrdom, he was anointed a saint nearly 200 years later, and is now considered the Patron Saint of Love, Young People and Happy Marriages.

Nothing makes a holiday sweeter and more special than the knowledge that it represents the beating and execution of a kind and gentle person – just look at Easter. But enjoy your chocolates, kisses, and your date. May your big V-Day not result in a bad VD.


~ by Chris Hibbard on December 10, 2008.

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