Saint Swithin and the Rain

8 June 20 | Posted in Events, History, Saints, Supernatural

Saint Swithin, also spelled Swithun, The meaning in Old English is “strong bear cub.” He was the Anglo-Saxon bishop of Winchester.  Winchester Cathedral in England and Stravanger Cathedral in Norway are both dedicated to him.  His feast day in England is July 15 and in Norway it is July 2.  Why Norway?  His veneration may have originated with English missionaries who worked with St. Olaf in evangelizing Norway. 

Swithin was born in Winchester around 800, counseled Saxon kings Egbert and Ethelwulf, and was bishop of Winchester for the last ten years of his life. One legend claims Swithin tutored young Alfred the Great. Another says he built the first stone bridge over the river Itchen that runs through Winchester.

One of St. Swithin’s most famous miracles is a simple act of kindness.  A group of workmen broke all the eggs in a poor woman’s basket as she was crossing a bridge. Swithin demanded the workmen apologize to the woman. He blessed her basket of eggs, which restored all the broken shells and runny yolks so she had whole eggs again.

His appearance to Queen Aelgifa, also known as Emma of Normandy, was another miracle. She was a half-sister to William of Normandy, later King of England. Aelgifa was the mother of Edward the Confessor, and a famous queen of England, Denmark and Norway, through her marriages to Aethelred the Uncounseled and Cnut the Great. Aelgifa was accused of adultery with Aelfwine, the former bishop of Winchester.

On the night before her “ordeal,” a trial which involved walking across white-hot ploughshares blades at Winchester Cathedral, St. Swinthin is supposed to have comforted the queen, “I am Saint Swithin whom you have invoked; fear not, the fire shall do you no hurt.” The following day the queen was able to walk barefoot across the blades and remain completely unharmed.

Swithin died of July 2, 862. On his deathbed, the bishop left instructions that his body should be buried outdoors and not in the cathedral. He wanted the rain from the eves to fall upon his grave.  100 years later Swithin’s body was removed from its simple grave and interred in the cathedral on July 15, 971. On the same day his bones were moved from the outdoors an extraordinary rainfall began.  It was said his spirit was so offended by the move that it caused rain to fall for 40 consecutive days.

In 1093 his bones were moved again into a huge new cathedral built by Norman invaders. His Anglo-Saxon reliquary was carried with great ceremony to its home behind the high altar. Swithin’s tomb became a major site for pilgrims, many seeking to be healed from illness. A short tunnel (the Holy Hole) allowed them to crawl under his shrine, as close as possible to his bones and miraculous healing powers.  In the middle of the night on September 21, 1538, King Henry VIII’s commissioners smashed the shrine and stole all the valuables.  Three years later workmen filled in the Holy Hole.  A modern memorial marks the spot where the shrine was located.

The name of Swithin is best known today for a British weather lore proverb, which says that if it rains on St. Swithin’s Day (July 15), it will rain 40 more days.

St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain.  For forty days it will remain.  St Swithun’s day if thou be fair. For forty days ‘twill rain nae mare

There is a scientific basis to the weather pattern behind the legend of St. Swithin’s day. Around the middle of July the jet stream settles into a pattern which holds reasonably steady until the end of August.  If the jet stream lies north of the British Isles, continental high pressures is able to move it; when it lies across or south of the British Isles, Arctic air and the Atlantic weather systems dominate.

Emblems associated with St. Swithin are rain and apples.  Apple growers hope for rain on St. Swithin’s Day or St. Peter’s Day (June 29th). They see the rain as saints’ watering the orchards; or as St. Swithin blessing and christening the apples.

A verse by Anglo-American writer Elizabeth Sewell proclaims,

“High in the Heavenly Places/  I see Saint Swithin stand./  His garments smell of apples/  And rain-wet English land.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dazzling Whiteness: Antonio de Andrade’s First Look at Tibet

10 May 20 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Events, History

“It was all dazzling whiteness to our eyes, and we could make out no sign of the route we were to follow.” – Antonio de Andrade, S.J.  

Father Antonio de Andrade (1580-March 19, 1634) was a Jesuit priest and explorer from Portugal. From 1600 until his murder in 1634, he was engaged in diplomatic and missionary activity. Andrade set out from India in 1624 in search of rumored Christian communities beyond the Himalayas. He was the first confirmed European to reach Tibet, but two others may have preceded him several hundred years earlier. The first was Marco Polo in the service of Kublai Khan (1280-1295). Odoric of Pordenone, OFM, an Italian Franciscan friar and explorer, claimed to have traveled extensively throughout Asia in the early 14th century.  He may have visited Tibet between 1323-1328 on his way back to Italy.  

Andrade was one of the first Jesuits attached to the court of the 4th Mughal emperor, Jahangir (1605-1627).  He was head of the Jesuit mission in the capital, Agra. Andrade learned to speak Persian, the language of merchants along the trade routes from India to the north, and along the Silk Road to China. From these travelers Andrade heard intriguing rumors of a lost community of Christians in Tibet, the remnants of early evangelizing missions. He decided to try to contact them.

On March 30, 1624, Fr. Andrade and Br. Manuel Marques left with Emperor Jahangir who was on his way to Kashmir. When they were in Delhi on May 11, they discovered that a group of Hindu pilgrims was leaving for the temple of Badrinath, in what is now the northern part of the present-day Indian state of Uttarakhand. Andrade decided to take advantage of this unexpected chance to travel to Tibet. Disguising themselves as Hindus, Andrade and Marques joined the caravan.  They made their way north up the Ganges to Hardwar, “the Gate of Vishnu,” up the Alaknanda gorges to Srinagar in Garhwal and finally through the perilous Mana Pass. Braving hunger, snow blindness and frostbite, they crossed the pass at an altitude of 18,000 feet and became the first recorded Westerners in Tibet.

Andrade arrived in Tsaparang, capital of the western Tibetan Kingdom of Guge at the beginning of August 1624.  King Tri Tashi Dakpa extended a warm welcome to him and his companions. The king was fascinated by the foreigner’s story and his exotic religion. Although he was not interested in converting from Buddhism, he asked Andrade to remain and allowed him to build a small “house of prayer.”

Andrade and Marques left less than a month after they arrived since they needed to return to India before the snows blocked the passes.  They went back on August 18, 1625 with other Jesuit missionaries and supplies. With support from the king, the mission flourished. In 1627 Andrade received an invitation from the King of Utsang in Lhasa to visit his land. He also received an invitation from the King of Ladakh, the kingdom neighboring Guge on the west.  There is no record that Andrade went to Lhasa, although he may have visited Ladakh. Andrade was recorded as visiting Tholing, a half-day’s trip from Tsaparang. He traveled with King Tri Tashi Dakpa who went there to visit his brother, the chief lama of the Tholing monastery. 

Between 1624 and the 1630 Andrade made several journeys back and forth between India and Tibet. Accounts of his adventures, written in 1624 and 1626, were published in 1626. His vivid observations of the dangerous journey over the Himalayas, impressions of Tibetan society and Buddhism had a significant influence on Western knowledge and attitudes toward Tibet. A modern English translation of Andrade’s writings was published in 2017: “More Than the Promised Land” – Letters and Revelations from Tibet by the Jesuit Missionary Antonio de Andrade (1580-1634).

Andrade left Tibet in the spring of 1630 after he was appointed Father-Superior of the Jesuit province of Goa in India.  Shortly after his departure the Kingdom of Guge was attacked by the King of Ladakh. Andrade heard about the conflinct but was unable to return because of his post in Goa. The trouble may have started with the lamas in Guge, who were unhappy about King Tri Tashi Dakpa’s preferential treatment of the Jesuit missionaries. It is possible that the lamas and Buddhist monks, led by the king’s brother, encouraged intervention by the King of Ladakh. In spring 1631 Andrade sent Fr. Francisco de Azevedo to Tsaparang as inspector to Tsaparang. The Jesuit returned a year later with his report.  The loss of the presence of a friendly king, combined with the previous loss of Andrade as a strong leader led to the deterioration of the effectiveness of the mission. In 1631 lamas opposed to the Tibetan Christian community (nearly 400 members) destroyed the mission station at Tsaparang. Over the next decade the missionaries were persecuted or expelled, the Tibetan Christians were sent to Ladakh, and, by 1640, the mission was destroyed.

On February 4, 1633 Andrade sent a letter to Rome about the mission’s problems. Shortly after he was freed of his duties as the Jesuit Provincial and asked permission to return to Tibet.  However, just as he was getting ready to leave in January 1634, he was appointed as Inspector for Japan and China.  Andrade never returned to his Shangri-La.  He died on March 19, 1934.  Contemporaries said he drank poison mixed with his drinking water around a “fortnight,” or two weeks before he died.  His death was painful.

What person or group wanted to kill him can only be speculated.

Andrade’s assassination was attributed to a servant or hired Moorish assassin. The killer was used by a local merchant family or Portuguese native to escape punishment by the Inquisition.  Andrade was the local Inquisitor. His investigations included an accusation of heresy against a Portuguese native, Joao Rodrigues. Rodrigues’ son was a servant in the Jesuit compound and allegedly poisoned the water Andrade drank.  The case could not be proved, but the young man fled to Manila.  A “new Christian” merchant was also a suspect.

“Murder in the Refectory: The Death of Antonio de Andrade, S.J” by Michael Sweet, was published by The Catholic Historical Review in January 2016. It makes the case that Andrade was murdered by a handful of Jesuit malcontents. An Inquisition inquiry into Andrade’s death that was brought to light in the 1990s suggests that the murder was committed by priests and brothers who had been punished by Andrade for their infractions of Jesuit rules. The motive was personal animosity.  They got away with it.

Andrade’s explorations and mysterious murder remind me of another famous explorer:  Merriweather Lewis, who died of gunshot wounds on the Natchez Trace in 1809.  It may have been a simple robbery, but historians and others have suspected political intrigue was behind his death.

 

 

 

 

St. Botvid of Sweden

21 April 20 | Posted in Animals, Events, Saints, Supernatural

St. Botvid could be a patron saint of good fishing luck, and/or what happens when a good intention takes a fatal turn.

Botvid was a successful Viking or trader who encountered Christianity on a trip to England and converted during his visit. When he returned home to Sodermanland he began to evangelize in the surrounding area. The year of St. Botvid’s martyrdom was traditionally thought to have occurred in 1120 A.D.  However the Swedish historian, Johannes Messenius, proposed that Botvid returned to Sweden from England in 1055 and died in 1076.

St. Botvid is usually shown holding a fish and an axe. The fish represents his “fishing luck” miracle. After Botvid returned to Sweden, he went out to fish with some neighbors. The best fishing spot was near an island owned by a man named Bo. Bo claimed one-quarter of the catch from anyone fishing his grounds. He sailed out to tell Botvid and his group when he saw their boats approaching. Knowing it was a rich fishing area, some of the people decided to stay and comply; but Botvid left and went to another spot. The fish followed him. His catch was so great that he was able to share with his neighbors and other local fishermen who went to his spot. When Bo sailed over to see what was happening Botvid invited Bo to fish for free, and his heart was won over. 

Another tale associated with St. Botvid is his encounter with a man for sale. The man was a foreigner, Wend, Finn or Slav – the stories vary. Botvid’s plan was to convert this pagan to Christianity, and then emancipate him so that he could return home to evangelize. After baptizing the slave, Botvid and one of his tenant farmers, a man named Esbjorn, set out to return him to his homeland. As they headed toward Gotland, they stopped to camp on Rago Island in Sodermanland. The new freeman took Botvid’s axe and killed both Botvid and Esbjorn in their sleep. He took the boat and sailed away.

According to legend, Botvid’s brother, Bjorn and a priest named Henrik began searching for the missing men. Guided by a white bird, they found Esbjorn’s bones and Botvid’s intact body. A well of clear water was streaming from the place where Botvid’s blood had dripped from his wounds. Botvid is associated with another spring as well. Saint Botvid’s Spring (Sankt Botvids Kalla) is located at the southeastern tip of Lake Bornsjons. The water began to flow after Botvid’s casket was set down in route to his final resting place. 

His brother, Bjorn, built a wooden church on the family land in Botvid’s honor. The miracles reported at Botvid’s grave over the next nine years led to the conversion of the local people. The original wooden church was replaced by a stone structure in 1176 A.D. It is in Botkyrka (Botvid’s Church), a town not far from Stockholm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muskrat on Lenten Fridays

3 April 20 | Posted in Animals, Food, U.S. Catholic

Michigan Catholics have a few options for Friday night dinner during Lent:  fish frys, fish sticks, pizza or muskrat.

A long-standing permission allows local Catholics to eat muskrat, a rodent native to the area, “on days of abstinence, including Fridays during Lent.” The custom dates to the region’s missionary history in the 1700s.  Missionary priests realized food was scarce in communities close to the Detroit River, so they did not want to deny settlers an available source of protein. 

The Rev. Tim Laboe, dean of studies at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, grew up in an area of Michigan where muskrat dinners have long been a tradition.  He remembers eating muskrat with his grandfather.  “I don’t know if I enjoy more eating the muskrat or watching people try it for the first time, because it doesn’t look in any way appetizing.”

Laboe, who said he enjoyed muskrat, recalled a quote attributed to the late Bishop Kenneth Povish, the former head of the Lansing Diocese: “Anybody that eats muskrat is doing an act of penance worthy of the greatest of saints.” 

Saint Botulph and the Demon-Haunted Fens

12 March 20 | Posted in Animals, Events, Saints, Supernatural

Saint Botulph (also spelled Botolph and Botwulf) was born to a noble Saxon family of Christians in 610 A.D. The boy was sent away to a monastery when Mercian forces under King Penda invaded the region.  He became a Benedictine monk at Farmoutiere-en-Brie in France, under the abbess Burgundofara, also known as Saint Fara.  He returned to the British Isles in 647 A.D. to establish a Benedictine monastery.

In 654 A.D., Botulph founded the Benedictine monastery of Ikanhoe (Ox Island) with the support of King Anna of East Anglia.  The monastery may have even been dedicated to the king.  In founding the monastery, Botulph chose a wild, barren fen reputedly haunted by demons. Ikanhoe was surrounded by water and foul-smelling marsh gasses that produced a disturbing nighttime glow. Some early accounts maintain that this was the work of ghosts and devils. Another story claims that a few degenerate descendants of an earlier race may have occupied these Suffolk marshes.  These vaguely humanoid creatures are suggestive of the underground beings in Robert E. Howard’s horror story, “Worms of the Earth.” 

It was said that the evil spirits that lived at Ikanhoe were disturbed at Botulph’s arrival.  They had dwelt there a long time, they said, and thought that they would do so forever. They had no other place to go. Couldn’t he seek another spot? They felt that the saint was acting unkindly by disturbing them. Botulph didn’t listen to them.  The monks built several structures and drained the marshlands. The marsh grass with its “night glow” disappeared. Botulph became revered for his ability to expel bogs of their “devils.” He died on June 17, 680 A.D. after a long illness.

Although many early accounts testify to the existence of Saint Botulph, no one is sure exactly where his monastery was built, since the saint was a traveling missionary in rough bandit and demon-plagued areas. Some think it was at Boston (a shortened form of “Botulph’s Stone”) in Lincolnshire, the home of Saint Botulph’s Church, also known as “The Stump.”  The other possibility is Iken, a town in Suffolk. The church there is also dedicated to Saint Botulph.  After his death his bones were moved around to protect them from raiders, and as a source of protection for local people against marsh monsters. 

Saint Botulph’s association with hauntings and demons continued after his death. St. Botolph’s Church in Burgh sits on a small mound, suggesting ancient fortifications or burial. The mound had a reputation as the home of a water-loving demon.  The nearby town of Grundisburgh may relate to the Anglo-Saxon word, “Grendel,” the fen-dwelling monster of Beowulf.  Botulph’s bones were brought to Burgh to exorcise the water demon.

St. Botolph’s Church, Skidbrooke, in the Lincolnshire marshlands, is reputed to be haunted as well. Dating from the early 13th century, it is nicknamed “the demon church” because of all the paranormal activity associated with it. Visitors reported seeing a spectral monk, a headless knight, odd lights, and hearing storm sounds in calm weather. Demons are associated with a specific tomb, which it is said to be an entrance to “dimensional changes.” 

Unfortunately Saint Botulph’s bones were lost during the Dissolution, so he can’t help rid the site of spirits and Satanists.  A church grim—a ghost dog guardian–would be helpful, but none are associated with the site.