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.  Santmer

 

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 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.

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, 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.'”

It’s Groundhog Day!

2 February 09 | Posted in Animals, Events, U.S. Catholic

I love animal holidays. Watching all the little kids (and big kids!) bring their hamsters, dogs, kittens, guinea pigs, bunnies, parakeets, and everything else off to church on the Feast of St. Francis is touching and a delight to watch. On one thing the Catholic Church was wise–to acknowledge our deep ties, love, and mystical bonds with our family pets and livestock.

I think of Groundhog Day as another Catholic holiday since it is associated with Candlemas, also celebrated on February 2nd. Its furry, cute and loveable star is Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania.

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, so we can look forward to six more weeks of winter. groundhog-day.jpg

Phil emerged in front of an estimated 13,000 witnesses, many dressed in gold and black to celebrate the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl victory the day before.

His annual ritual takes place on Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill in Punxsutawney, a town of about 6100 residents 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club announced the forecast (more winter) in a short proclamation, in which Phil acknowledged the Steelers’ 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

There is a tradition that a sunny Candlemas Day would lead winter to last for another six weeks. In Germany, the belief that an animal frightened when seeing its shadow on Candlemas became another indicator that winter could last for another six weeks.  The hedge-hog was the German animal of choice for the job.

Germans brought this superstition to America during the 18th century. Americans adopted the groundhog as their weather predictor.

Candlemas marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and recognizes the animals’ sensitivity to weather changes. Farmers used to rely on them to help plan spring planting.

Three other groundhogs make predictions on February 2nd: Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia; Wiarton Willie of Wiarton, Ontario, and General Beauregard Lee of Stone Mountain, Georgia.

But this year, the birds may know something the groundhogs don’t.  I saw my first robin on Saturday morning, January 31st.