Saint Ghislain and the Eagle and Bear

5 September 22 | Posted in Animals, Arts and Letters, Events, History, Saints, Supernatural

Saint Ghislain (died October 9, 680) was a confessor and hermit in Belgium.  He lived during the reign of King Dagobert I (605-639 A.D.), King of the Franks and one of the last great kings of the Merovingian dynasty.

The name of Ghislain comes from the Germanic words gisal, “hostage,” and lind “sweet.” St. Ghislain is frequently portrayed with a bear or bear cub beside him. According to legend, King Dagobert was out hunting in a forest and was chasing a bear. She sought refuge with Ghislain and he protected her from the hunting party.  The bear later showed Ghislain the place where he should establish a monastery.

The legend is sweetly told in the 1854 article, “A Few Words About Bears,” by S. French in an 1854 edition if the New York Journal of Romance, General Literature, Science and Art.

“One day, as King Dagobert, who reigned over France and Belgium, was hunting in the forests of Hainault, he strayed from his company in the pursuit of a large bear, which, knowing what it was about, sought refuge in the hermitage of Saint Ghislain. The saint was at his devotions, and did not look around. The bear squatted beside a basket, in which the hermit left his sacerdotal ornaments. Soon after, King Dagobert entered the hermitage, and was not a little startled and surprised to see the monstrous animal lying at the feet of an old man engaged in prayer.”

Saint Ghislain turned at the noise made by the prince’s entrance. He then perceived what had occurred, and begged the life of the bear. Dagobert immediately recognized the man of God, whose name was celebrated throughout the country, and accorded him that which he had solicited; and after embracing him, and praying him to rely upon him for countenance and support, he retired and left the Saint with his bear. “

“No sooner had the King departed than the bear arose, took up the basket with its contents, and, laden with this precious burden, fled away towards the place where she had left her young. She knew that by so doing she would be able to draw thither the hermit who protected her. The spot was a charm and picturesque one, afterwards called Ursidong or the Bears Grove, situated in the forest on the border of the river Haine, which has given its name to Hainault.” 

 “As the bear calculated, Ghislain followed her; but, impelled by a desire to join her little ones, she went so fast that the Saint in a very short time lost sight of her. He found himself bewildered in the midst of the vast forest, where the foot of man had never yet traced a path, when an eagle appeared before him, fluttering to attract his attention. Ghislain, seeing something extraordinary in all of this, suffered himself to be guided by the eagle, and presently arrived at the Grove of the Bear.”

 “This spot he found to be so attractive and convenient, that he transported thither his dwelling. His new friends, the eagle and the bear, never quitted him. Numerous anchorites, drawn by reports of these marvels, came and placed themselves under the discipline of the saint. They built a grand monastery, around which, in the process of time, grew a town, which was called Saint Ghislain.”

 “Up to the end of the last century, when the monastery was suppressed, an eagle and a she bear were constantly kept there, in memory of the saint who died in 670.”

 

 

Saint Thecla the Evangelist

A healthy number of saints’ stories feature people who were “called to chastity” or to a relationship with Christ vs. marriage. All kinds of fantastic legends and tales ensued about the lengths to which these people would go to avoid marriage and connubial sex. Ultimately, they were all successful in their quest to avoid sex with members of the opposite sex. They ended up living alone (rarely) or with a same-sex companion (often) or same-sex community in a wilderness setting (usually).

St. Thecla the Evangelist is one of those saints. She would face anything but marriage.

Thecla’s story is preserved in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, an apocryphal story of Paul’s impact on a young virgin, Thecla, and her subsequent trials, adventures and spiritual leadership as his disciple. She infuriated many Church Fathers, including Tertullian, who griped that some Christians were using the example of Thecla to legitimize women’s roles in teaching and baptizing.

According to Acts, Thecla was a beautiful young woman of Iconium (now Konya, Turkey) whose life was transformed when she heard St. Paul preaching in the street beneath her window. She announced her intention to break off her engagement and to embrace a life of chastity. Her finance was furious. Her family was scandalized. They denounced her to the governor who had her arrested and condemned to death. Thecla was tied naked to a stake, but a miraculous thunderstorm put out the flames. She is saved. Once home, Thecla disguises herself as a youth and escapes to reunite with Paul and travel to Antioch.

While traveling, she is sexually assaulted by Alexander, a prominent man of Antioch. One account reads: “Repulsing the assault, she tears his cloak and knocks the wreath from his head. Alexander (the would-be ravisher) brings her before the magistrate who, despite the protests of the women of the city, again condemns Thecla to death, this time ad bestias. Pleading to remain a virgin until her death, she is taken in by ‘a certain rich queen, Tryphaena by name,” who lost her own daughter. (Tryphaena was the widow of Cotys, King of Thrace and a great-niece of the Emperor Claudius. In Romans 16:12, Paul sends greetings to a Tryphaena.) 

Thecla is allowed to return to Tryphaena. She rides a lioness (who licks her feet) and is paraded through the city. The next morning, Alexander comes for her and escorts her to the arena to die. There she is stripped and thrown to wild beasts. A lioness (presumably the one who licked her feet) protects her from the attacks of lions, bulls and bears. Thecla prays, and throws herself into a trench of water (an euripus) and baptizes herself. The water is full of ferocious and hungry seals. A cloud of fire covers her nakedness and kills the vicious seals. The women in the stands of the arena cast fragrant nard and balsam into the area, which had a pacifying effect on the remaining wild animals. The awestruck governor releases Thecla and she returns to the palace of Queen Tryphaena. Refusing all entreaties to stay with the queen, Thecla dresses in male clothing and sets out to find Paul. She tells him that she baptized herself, and had been commissioned by Christ to baptize and preach in his name. According to the story, Paul recognized her as a fellow apostle and encouraged her to preach the Gospel. Wherever she went, “a bright cloud conducted her on her journey.”

Thecla encouraged women to live a life of chastity and to follow the word of God. She returned home to find her finance had died and her mother indifferent to her preaching. She left, and in one version of her story, she dwelt in a cave in Seleucia Cilicia (southern Turkey) for 72 years and formed a monastic community of women, whose members she instructed “in the oracles of God.” 

In another version, Thecla passed the rest of her life in a rocky desert cave in the mountains near the town of Ma’aloula (Syria). She became a healer and performed many miracles. She remained persecuted, and men still conspired to rape and kill her. Just as she was about to be seized, Thecla cried out to God for help. A fissure opened in the stone walls of her cave and she disappeared. It is said that she went to Rome and lay down beside Paul’s tomb.

Her cave became an important pilgrimage site in early and medieval Christianity. Today visitors can still see Thecla’s cave and the spring that provided water for her. The nuns who live at the Mar Thecla monastery will tell you her story and show you the opening in the rock where the saint escaped.

There are many wonderful parts of St. Thecla’s story, beginning with her determination to live her life following her calling to evangelize, rather than accede to family or societal expectations. Her protection by animals, the public affirmation by groups of women, are also very positive. She was unashamed of her nakedness when she was led twice to the arena to die. She was proud of her body, her virginity, and her sole possession of it. The biggest surprise was her encouragement by St. Paul ( wives-be-subordinate-to-your-husbands), accepting her as a fellow apostle. The ugly, horrifying constant throughout her life is the desire by men to rape Thecla or kill her if she won’t submit to their authority. Men who are rapists do not believe that they are the problem–females (or males) who aroused them are at fault. What can Christianity do to change this perception?

 

Saint Kieran (Ciaran) of Saighir

21 January 22 | Posted in Animals, Events, Global Catholic, History, Saints, Supernatural

Saint Kieran was an Irish abbot and bishop who lived in the sixth century. His feast day is March 5. Saint Kieran is said to be the first native-born saint of Ireland. 

His conversion to Christianity probably preceeded the arrival of Saint Patrick. He may have been ordained a bishop during a visit to Rome; or he could be one of the twelve bishops appointed by Saint Patrick.

On his return from Rome Saint Kieran settled in Saighir as a hermit, an area near the Slieve Bloom Mountain range. He wore animal skins and lived in the wilderness. One day, he noticed a fierce looking boar close to him in the forest. Saint Kieran spoke gently to the boar calling him, “Brother Boar.” Kieran loved animals and they trusted him. The boar realized that Kieran was a friend. He helped him build his hut, tearing down strong branches with his teeth and tusks and bringing them to Kieran. Soon, other animals joined them included a wolf, fox, badger, deer, and many birds. Kieran called them his brother monks. The fox stole Kieran’s shoes. The badger went after the fox The animals stayed even though men came to follow to follow Kieran and join his community.

Kieran performed his first miracle as a boy. A kite soared over him and grabbed a little bird as she sat on her nest. Kieran demanded that the kite release the little bird. The kite turned back and released the bird, but it was wounded and half-dead. At Kieran’s command, the little bird was restored to life and resumed sitting on her nest.

In one wonderful tale, Saint Kieran blessed a well and from that time it “had the taste of wine or honey—for everyone who drank from it got drunk as well as filled.” The site may have been a local holy well, which certainly would have become even more popular after his miracle.

 

 

 

Build Back Better Boondoggle

28 December 21 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Events

I like Michael Shellenberg. I enjoy reading his blog. I like him because he’s a thinker; not an ideologue. This is evident in his blog post, “Climate Dogma Killed Biden’s “Build Back Better.”

Michael Shellenberger

Build Back Better,” the $1.7 trillion climate change boondoggle President Biden and progressive Democrats tried to push on the American people, went down to defeat when Senator Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia killed the legislation by refusing to vote for it.  Build Back Better was also a sneaky way to lay the groundwork for higher taxes and beefing up the IRS to make sure they are paid.

Progressives, environmentalists, and Democrats are furious with Sen. Manchin, but it was their own climate and renewables dogmatism that doomed the legislation. Democratic Senators could have written legislation that expanded nuclear energy and natural gas, the two main drivers of decarbonization, which are strongly supported by Manchin, and Republicans, but instead investments went overwhelmingly to solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars.”

Who would benefit financially from the Build Back Better subsidies, grants and spending: solar energy entities and foreign suppliers.  After decades of trying, solar energy is still unproven as a large-scale energy option. What were the lessons learned by the Solyndra debacle, the Silicon Valley solar start-up that left taxpayers on the hook for $535 million in federal guarantees? Solar energy also brings its own environmental problems, which progressive Democrats ignore at our peril. “Solar Panel Waste – The Dark Side of Clean Energy.”

Shellenberg has the right idea: “The core principles of the energy legislation that comes next should be reliability, affordability, and sustainability. Only nuclear and natural gas fit the bill. Both are produced domestically, in contrast to solar panels and wind turbines. It also has to work politically. In October, a YouGov poll found that 53% percent of those polled in West Virginia thought Build Back Better would result in higher inflation, taxes, and interest rates.”

Go back and craft a better bill with bipartisan support and realistic funding. 

 

St. Kateri Tekakwitha and the Tornado

6 April 21 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Events, History, Saints, Supernatural

In his book, Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather, Peter J. Thuesen compares tornados, windstorms, and other especially violent weather events to human conceptions about God, punishment, and gratitude for coming through them.  “Tornadoes, and weather generally,” he writes, put us in touch with the origin of religions, which arose in part as humans struggled to account for the forces of nature.”  Thuesen explains that God and weather are unknowable and have uncontrollable power, so it is not surprising to see that the two tied together in the human psyche.

One night in August 1683, a tornado hit the Jesuit mission at Sault St. Louis, (the Mohawk village of Kahnawake) in Quebec, Canada. “All the monsters of hell” were unleashed against the mission in the form of a “whirlwind” which destroyed the chapel.  Miraculously, Fr. Claude Chauchetiere and two other Jesuits who were in the chapel at the time of the tornado survived without serious injury.

Fr. Chauchetiere credited their deliverance to Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk convert to Christianity. Earlier in the day each of the men had prayed at her grave nearby. They attributed their prayers at the site for their salvation from the tornado.  Surviving the destructive tornado was the second miracle Chauchetiere attributed to Kateri Tekakwitha. Three years earlier an oak tree next to the chapel had been struck by lightening but the chapel was left untouched.   

Fr. Claude Chauchetiere (September 7, 1645-April 17, 1709) was a French Jesuit missionary priest and painter.  He met Kateri Tekakwitha at Kahnawake a year or so before her death. His oil painting of her hangs in the sacristy of St. Francis Xavier Church on the Kanawake Mohawk Reserve near Montreal, Quebec, Canada.