St. Emer and the Dragon

16 January 12 | Posted in Animals, Saints

There are different versions of everything in this story!

St. Emer, Saint Emerius, Sant Emerio or Mer, was an 8th century abbott, Benedictine monk, and legendary founder of the monastery of San Esteban de Banyoles, Spain.

Tradition places his birth at Narbonne, in southern France.  Although his father was a noble, Emerius renounced the prospect of a military career to live as a hermit, journeying to the Catalonia region of Spain.  Another version explains Emerius was called by Charlemagne to accompany him in his campaign against the Muslims in Girona–also called Gerona.

Several wonders and miracles are attributed to Emer.  He wore some cloak, helmet or basket with a fish design, which was removed each day to feed the army of Charlemagne in its siege of Gerona.  There was always enough and never failed.

But the fighting around Girona was not only against the Muslims, said chronicler Joan Amades, an eminent Catalan ethnologist and folklorist, “the Christian troops were fighting a fierce dragon and had its huge falls in the lake of Banyoles, this dragon possessed the property of flying, swimming and walking..”…his fetid breath had made life impossible for people and livestock in Selva, “and its strength was so great that the best of the French army” died by its claws or poisoned by its breath.

Emerius, arming himself with holy water, led a procession to confront the beast. In one version, he sprinkled the dragon with holy water, easily capturing and destroying it.  In another version, he was sent alone to confront the monster. When Emer drew the sign of the cross on the dragon, it became tame.  Emer wrapped his stole around its neck, and led the dragon “like a gentle dog” to Charlemagne.

There is another version that links the dragon to dinosaurs.

“A story from the 8th century tells of a great beast which lives beside the lake. It is the last descendant of the prehistoric beast that lived in that region.  It lives in a deep cave and it is not good to disturb him.

According to what people said, the beast had a voracious appetite and it devoured the peasants’ flocks.  They lived hidden at home protected by walls. In fact, every night one man disappeared from his house.

One day, Charlemagne arrived there and, having heard about the beast, he decided to go kill it. When the soldiers arrived there, the dragon came out of its cave giving off its foul breath and they began to cough because of the toxic cloud that formed around them.

After that, the peasants asked a monk to help.  He had arrived with Charlemagne’s troops, and was called “Mer” (Sant Emerio).

The monk went into the dragon’s cave and began to pray, after that both the dragon and the monk appeared together at the mouth of the cave.  The peasants asked the monk to kill him.

The monk stopped them and told them it was harmless and ate only grass and roots. And when they asked him about the disappeared people he told them the truth: the disappeared people were fighting with Charlemagne who stole all the flock.

The big monster went back to its cave and even today, if somebody tries to disturb it, it will give off its foul breath against them.”

 

 

Saint Colman and the Wurrum

6 September 10 | Posted in Events, Saints

St. Colman was the first bishop of Dromore in County Down, Ireland.  Catholic sources disagree on on practically all other facts.  In some books his feast day is celebrated on May 7th; in others June 7th or October 27th.  He is also referred to sometimes as Mocholmoc, or Mocholmog.  He may have been born in 450 , 514, or 516 A.D. Again, the sources don’t agree. Part of this confusion may be that there are no less than 120 Irish saints named Colman or Colum, and the stories may have gotten confused. St. Colman was probably interred at Dormore, but though the Breviary of Aberdeen gives Inchmacome as his place of burial.

On one thing all sources agree: St. Colman saved a maiden from a river monster, known as a wurrum or wyrm. 115 wyrms+

The incident is described in the 1896 book, Irish Local Legends by Lageniensis (pen name of Rev. John O’Hanlon):

“Not far from the espiscopal city of Dromore, flow the lazy deep waters of the River Lagan, and often the Patron Saint, Bishop Colman, rambled along its banks in prayer and meditation. Indeed, if tradition speak the truth, often he passed over it with dry feet. But, it was well-known, a great water monster lurked beneath its surface, always in quest of prey. Not withstanding the danger of approaching him, yet, an incautious and innocent young damsel went down the bank, and stood upon some stepping stones to beetle her linen.  The wily monster sailed slowly towards her, and before she was aware of his approach, he suddenly reared his huge head from the deep, opened his tremendous jaws, and at one gulp swallowed the poor maiden alive.  Although her terror was very great, she had the presence of mind to call out, ‘Oh, Holy Colman, save me!’ Her cry was heard by the saint, and he prayed to heaven for her release.  Some of the girl’s companions, who stood on the bank, and who witnessed that fearful doom, set up shouts and screams. But St. Colman approached the river, and commanded the infernal beast to deliver up its prey.  Then the girl he had swallowed was cast unharmed on the bank. There, to this very day, are shown the tracks of the holy bishop’s feet, and that path is called ‘Saint Colman’s-road.’

In one re-telling, St. Colman also recovered from the water the girl’s book of palms, and the young woman subsequently entered a convent.

lotwwIn the book, The Celtic Dragon Myth by J. F. Campbell (1911) Irish antiquarian,  William Reeves, Church of Ireland Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore (1866-1892) commented on the story’s possible occurrence: “The belief,” said Bishop Reeves, “that certain rivers and lakes were haunted by serpents of a demonical and terrible character was current among the Irish at a very remote period, and still revails in many parts of Ireland.”

W. R. Fanu, 19th c. Irish horror writer and folklorist, echoed the belief in his book, Seventy Years of Irish Life:  “The dreadful beast, the wurrum–half fish, half dragon–still survives in many a mountain lake–seldom seen, indeed, but often heard. Near our fishing quarters in Kerry there are two such lakes, one the beautiful little lake at the head of the Blackwater River, called Lough Brin, from Brin or Bran as he is now called, the dreadful wurrum which inhabits it. The man who minds the boat there speaks with awe of Bran; he tells me he has never seen him, and hopes he never may, but has often heard him roaring on a stormy night. On being questioned what the noise was like, he said it was like the roaring of a young bull…Some miles further on, between Lough Brin and Glencar, there is another lake from which a boy while bathing was driven and chased by the dreadful wurrum which dewells in it. It bit him on the back and hunted him all the way home, where he arrived naked and bleeding.”

The story reminds me a lot of the legend of the Lambton Worm.  Read more here.

A funny-scary horror movie, “The Lair of the White Worm” retells the Lambton Worm legend with Pagan vs. Christianity overtones. The movie was based on the novel of the same name by Bram Stoker and published in 1911.  In an interesting coincidence, the novel was illustrated by occult artist Pamela Colman Smith.

Saint Rigobert and the Goose

24 March 10 | Posted in Animals, Events, Saints

Saint Rigobert was archbishop of Reims, France.  During a conflict between Charles Martel and some of his enemies, Rigobert refused to open the gates of the city to him for refuge. The saint claimed neutrality for the safety of the city. Unsure of which side would prevail in the conflict, Rigobert didn’t want to anger the other side if Martel lost. The gates stayed closed. This explanation did not sit well with Charles the Hammer. After his victory Martel exiled the archbishop from Reims. 

Eventually the archbishop settled in a nearby village. When on one occasion he had been given a live goose to take home for his dinner, Rigobert put the bird in the arms of a servant-boy accompanying him. Along the way, as Rigobert was reciting the divine office, the bird broke free and flew away. The boy deeply grieved this mishap, but Rigobert comforted him, urging him to trust in God. goose[1]

When Rigobert resumed his prayers, the goose flew back to them. Thereafter, the archbishop kept the goose as a pet. The goose would walk with him to a church, where, as the tame bird patiently waited for him, he celebrated Mass at an altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Saint Rigobert died in 745 AD.  His feast day is celebrated on January 4th.

Treasure Offerings

6 December 09 | Posted in Events, Spirituality

A mystery is gripping Britain’s religious community: Just how did a treasure-trove of rare medallions and coins collected by a former archbishop of Canterbury end up at the bottom of the River Wear?

Many of the artifacts are linked to the late Michael Ramsey, a former archbishop of Canterbury with long-time ties to Durham, where he served as bishop and spent some of his retirement years before his death in 1988. Archbishop_Michael_Ramsey

The coins, medals, goblets and other religious items, some solid gold, have been discovered by amateur divers Trevor Bankhead, 40, and his brother, Gary, 44, a fire service watch officer, over the past two and a half years in the frigid, murky waters that loop Durham Cathedral. The brothers have retrieved over 30 items linked to Ramsey, along with hundreds of medieval and ancient Saxon artifacts.

Among them are gold, silver and bronze medals struck to commemorate the second Vatican council, which must have been presented to Ramsey, who was the most senior cleric in the Church of England from 1961 to 1974, when he met Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1966.

Trevor Bankhead, a former soldier, said: “We believe the Archbishop threw them into the river in 1983 or 1984, by which time he would have had limited mobility. So we chose places which were easily accessible by the water’s edge and threw silver washers in the river to try and trace the trajectory the objects could have taken.”

“It’s my belief that he did this as a votive offering to the river and to the people of Durham, who he loved,” said Bankhead. “They weren’t just chucked by a burglar–they had clearly gone into the water at different times and different places.”

Archbishop Ramsey’s old friend, the Very Rev Victor Stock, dean of Guildford, commented on Bankhead’s assertion: “He used to go for a walk by the river every day, whatever the weather. I think it’s entirely plausible to imagine him making up a little packet, and quietly dropping it into the water.”

The archbishop’s offerings are keeping up a tradition that is at least 3,000 years old and possibly much older.

In 1998 an archaelogical survey of the Thames found the remains of a huge bridge built 3500 years ago not far from the present Vauxhall Bridge. The confluence of the three rivers, where the Tyburn enters the Thames from the north and the Effra from the south, would have made this a sacred site for Bronze Age tribes.

Around the bridge were votive offerings of valuable goods to appease the spirits of the river. The Celts regarded rivers as bestowers of life, health, and plenty, and offered them rich gifts and sacrifices often at the same spots used by pre-Celtic British tribes.

At one time rivers were thought of as deities with powers to cure all kinds of ailments. Ways of appeasing water courses were devised in an attempt to stop them from claiming lives.

In May 1825 the Duke of Sussex led an elaborate ceremony to mark the start of work on Hammersmith Bridge. In front of a large crowd he performed a ritual that involved the fixing of a brass plate (praising the builders and designer) over one of the coffer dams into which had been placed gold coins and a silver trowel. As this was put in place the Duke poured corn over it saying: “I have poured the corn, the oil and the wine, emblems of wealth, plenty and comfort, so may the bridge tend to communicate prosperity and wealth.”

Aventine, The Hermit Saint

24 June 09 | Posted in Animals, Saints

Saint Aventine of Troyes, France (c. 538)

Aventine, of Bourges, France, was schooled in the spiritual life by the bishop of Troyes, Saint Loup. Loup’s episcopoal suceessor, Saint Camelianus, selected Aventine to be Troyes’ steward and almoner, in charge of the cathedral’s possessions and the distribution of alms.

Having served the Church thus with humility, purity and charity, Aventine thereafter obtained permission to withdraw into the woods to live as a hermit. He had a particular fondness for animals, never wanting to kill any of the forest creatures except when necessary.

Whenever he found any tiny fish in a pitcher of water drawn from a nearby brook by a monk who assisted him, he made a point of placing the fish unharmed back into the stream.

When on one occasion a deer pursued by hunters rushed into the cave that served as Aventine’s hermitage, Aventine protected the frightened animal by closing the door in order to hide it from the hunters until they had passed.

He habitually feed the small birds of the forest that flocked onto his fingers as he offered them a handful of crumbs. handtamingwildbirds

Water Buffalo Theology

26 April 09 | Posted in Animals, Arts and Letters, Friends, Spirituality

The Rev. Dr. Kosuke Koyama, a Japanese Christian theologian who was a proponent of contextual theologies rooted in the experiences of everyday people, died March 25, 2009 in Springfield, Mass. Koyama, 79, taught at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

His 1974 book, Water Buffalo Theology, was “one of the first books truly to do theology out of the setting of Asian villages,” said Donald Shriver, president emeritus. kosuke-koyama-2

As a missionary in northern Thailand, Koyama said he was inspired to write the book as he listened to the “fugue of the bullfrogs” while watching farmers working with water buffaloes in the rice fields.

“The water buffaloes tell me that I must preach to these farmers in the simplest sentence structure,” he wrote. “They remind me to discard all the abstract ideas and to use exclusively objects that are immediately tangible. ‘Sticky rice,’ ‘banana,’ ‘pepper,’ ‘dog,’ ‘cat,’ ‘bicycle,”rainy season,”leaking house,’ ‘fishing,’ ‘cockfighting,’ ‘lottery,’ ‘stomachache’–these are meaningful words for them.”  water-buff-3

Directed at the concerns of peasants, the book points out that Christianity and Buddhism do not communicate; rather Christians and Buddhists do. Rev. Dr. Koyama advocated seeing God “in the faces of people” to achieve good neighborliness among religions.  He spoke of trying to “season” the Aristotelian roots of Western theology with Buddhist “salt.”

Besides Water Buffalo Theology, Dr. Koyama wrote 12 other books including Three Mile an Hour God (1980) which reflects his thought that God moves at walking speed through the countryside.

Kosuke Koyama was born on December 10, 1929 in Tokyo.  In 1945, as American bombs rained down on Tokyo, he was baptised as a Christian. He was struck by the courageous words of the presiding pastor, who told him that God called on him to love everybody, “even the Americans.”

Once, in discussing death, Rev. Dr. Koyama recalled the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. He said Jesus would be with others the same way: “Looking into our eyes and heart, Jesus would say: ‘You’ve had a difficult journey. You must be tired, and dirty.  Let me wash your feet. The banquet’s ready.’”

Bishops Facing Death Threats

18 March 09 | Posted in Global Catholic, Social Justice

They avoid taking buses, make sure friends know their schedules, and rarely go out when it’s dark. For the three foreign-born Roman Catholic bishops under death threat in Brazil’s northeastern state of Para, speaking out against social ills that plague this often-lawless area at the Amazon River’s mouth has come at a price.

Yet they still noisily involve themselves in rights issues here, part of a tradition of Catholic priests who came to Latin America with their views formed by 1970s Liberation Theology that emphasizes justice for the poor and oppressed.

One of the bishops under threat in Para is 69-year-old Austrian-born, Bishop Erwin Krautler. Bishop Krautler has had armed bodyguards around the clock for the past two years in his diocese of Altamira, from where he has denounced illegal logging and other illicit businesses as well as the handling of the Sister Dorothy Strang murder case.

Bishop Krautler remembers the first time he received a death threat. “It was the exact day I completed 25 years as a bishop,” he recalled.  Later that year, a local paper announced the day his assassination would be expected.

Bishop Krautler says there are several groups unhappy with him and with his colleagues, who are fighting to save the Amazon region from environmental destruction. The bishop has recently spoken out against the construction of  a hydroelectric plant along the Xingu River. He has also strongly opposed land-clearing by farmers and loggers in the Amazon forest and is one of the main figures in trying to bring to justice those who killed Dorothy Strang, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 2005. bishop-erwin.jpg

“These people have formed a consortium to murder those who speak out against what they are doing,” Bishop Krautler told Catholic News Service. “I believe it was a consortium of landowners who got together to hire someone to murder Sister Dorothy. Sister Dorothy Strang, a native of Ohio and a naturalized Brazilian, was 73 when she was murdered near the town of Anapu. She was known as a fierce defender of the Amazon forest.

The government was surprised by the international repercussions of Sister Dorothy’s assassination. Not wanting to worsen its image abroad, the authorities now provide limited police protection for Bishop Krautler and others.

Bishop Bastes vs. the Mining Industry

12 March 09 | Posted in Global Catholic, Stewardship

Filippino Bishop Arturo Bastes is leading a campaign by Catholic clergy to shut down a gold and copper mine on Rapu-Rapu Island in the central Philippines. Bishop Bastes hounded the mine’s Australian developers after a chemical spill at the site, and is now working on shutting down the new owners–a consortium headed by South Korean industrial giant LG International Corp. bishop-bastes.jpg

In the process, Bishop Bastes–with the support of the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines–risks thwarting a plan by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, herself a Catholic, to tap the Philippines’ mineral wealth to help lift the country out of poverty.

Bishop Bastes is following a global trend of Catholic clergy taking on mining, especially in Central America.  Priests in the Honduras are protesting open-pit mining techniques and mining-rights laws which they say grant too many benefits to foreign mining companies.

When the church began campaigning against mining in the 1980s, more than 50 mines operated in the Philippines, contributing a fifth of the country’s exports. The number of mines decreased to 12 in 2003 as opposition intensified.

“It’s written in the Bible,” Bishop Bastes says, quoting the book of Numbers, chapter 35, verse 34: “Do not defile the land where you live and dwell.”

Environmentalists and activists such as Jaybee Garganera, of the Philippines’ Anti-Mining Alliance, credit Bishop Bastes and other church leaders for turning mining into a mainstream issue. “It’s debatable whether we would have gained the same traction without the Church,” Ms. Garganera says.

The Rapu-Rapu mine was supposed to illustrate the Philippines’ new pro-mining policy. But the Australian founder of the project, Lafayette Mining, Ltd., felt the brunt of Bishop Bastes’ force when it began operations in 2005.

“Our project became politicized very quickly,” said David Baker, who took over the management at Lafayette in 2006 after a chemical spill at the site killed thousands of fish. That incident enabled Bishop Bastes and others to successfully petition the Philippine government to order the mine closed. Lafayette eventually sold the mine in 2008 to a South Korean and Malaysian consortium headed by LG International, headquartered in Seoul.

Bishop Bastes and his allies have marched on the South Korean embassy in Manilla to protest the resumption of mining and are tapping environmental experts to expose the dangers of chemical leaching from the project. “Mining is the cause of all the trouble,” Bishop Bastes said. “God created the world for people to enjoy, not for miners to destroy.”

Leading Eco-Theologian Named Bishop

15 February 09 | Posted in Events, Global Catholic

 karl_golser3.jpg

One of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent episcopal appointments is that of Karl Golser, 65, as the new bishop of the Bolzano-Bressanone diocese in northern Italy. Not only is the diocese a particular favorite of the pope, who has taken his summer vacations there since the late 1960s, but Golser is also a long-time associate of Benedict.

He worked under then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the early 1980s and stayed in touch with him afterward.

Golser is widely considered among the leading eco-theologians on the European Catholic scene, which means that Benedict has chosen to introduce a strong new environmental voice in the episcopacy.

During an interview with John L. Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, Golser was asked about Benedict’s core ideas on the environment. “It’s not an accident,” Golser said, “that many of the Holy Father’s comments on the environment have come on Sundays…That’s very important. Sunday is the day we live the joy of redemption, and it also expresses a new relationship with time and space. It’s about the return to Christ, the Parousia. In the Eucharist, it’s also about offering the earth itself back to God, in the consecration of bread and wine.”

“I think the Holy Father draws a great deal on Eastern theology and the fathers of the church, who have a great sensibility for the cosmic dimension of the faith. Starting from the Eurcharist, the liturgy, they propose a whole style of life that’s in harmony with all of creation.  There’s a strong current in Eastern thought, for example, on humanity as the “priest of creation.”

Read the whole interview here.

Sacred Epiphany Dip

8 February 09 | Posted in Events, Friends, Spirituality

In the snowy silence of a Moscow park, a 26-year-0ld businessman, Aleksandr Pushkov, stood naked except for his bathing suit, a column of steam rising from his body. His clothes were piled up under a tree, and he had just climbed out of a hole in the ice.

It was the 7th time he took part in an Epiphany ritual: the trance-like preparation, the electric shock of the ice-cold water and and 20 0r 30 second wait for a feeling he described as “nirvana.” As cross-country skiers picked their way through the woods, Mr. Pushkov stood by himself in the snow, barefoot and steaming.

On Russian Orthodox Epiphany, roughly 30,000 Moscovites lined up to dunk themselves in icy rivers and ponds, city officials said. The annual ritual baptism, which is believed to wash away sins, is enjoying a boisterous revival after being banished to villages during the Soviet era, said Boris F. Dubin, a sociologist with Moscow’s Levada Center. The immersion ritual satisfies a public hunger, he said, for “something that is truly Russian, ancient, real. For what distinguishes us from other people.” russian-ritual.jpg

“Each country has something that is instrinsic to it,” said Aleksandr Gorlopan, 43, who was warming himself with a combination of hot tea and Captain Morgan rum. Mr. Gorlopan, who gave his profession as “traveler,” said the tradition dated back to the tiny Slavic tribes that scattered south from Scandinavia–nomads, he said, with “wild souls.” “We are made of water,” he said. “Without water we cannot survive.”

Galina Burasvetova, a 50-year-old hairdresser in a red bikini, said she had first taken part in the ritual during an agonizing period in her life, when she was raising three children on a vanishing income. Afterward, she felt she had the moral strength to go on.

Mr. Dubin, the sociologist, said the practice’s popularity had less to do with religious revival than with enthusiastic coverage by Russian television. By others said it proved that 74 years of Communist rule were unable to stamp out the tradition, which holds that a priest’s blessing temporarily transforms water into the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptised.  Even at the height of state atheism, said Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, “the lines for holy water were longer than the lines at Lenin’s mausoleum.” russian-ritual-2.jpg