Posted in category "Saints"

St. Reinold-A Murder and Three Mysteries

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 31, 2010 | Categories: Arts & Letters, History, Saints

The January edition of the Magnificat included the story of St. Reinold, religious and marytr (980 c.) He died at the hands of stone masons and later came to be venerated as their patron saint. reinhold

There are various versions of his life and martyrdom. St. Reinhold may have been a monk, a knight, a pilgrim–or all three. He may be a fabrication of several different people, stories and legends. Even his murder may have several explanations.

Version I:   Reinold was a Benedictine monk of the monastery of Saint Pantaleon in Cologne, Germany. He was entrusted with the duty of overseeing the construction work to complete the abbey.

Reinold was murdered by the stone masons working on the building.   They beat him to death with their hammers and threw his body into a pool of water near the Rhine river.

In one telling, Reinold is killed due to his “over-strenuous diligence,” which incurred the hostility and bitter resentment of the stone masons. In a second account, he was murdered by stone masons who were annoyed that Reinold worked harder and with more skill then they did.

Reinold’s fellow monks were unable to find his body until its whereabouts were made known in a private revelation to an infirm poor woman. His body was taken to the abbey and buried with honor.

Version II:   St. Reinold was drawn from the story of Renaud, the youngest son of Duke Aymon of France.   He was supposedly a descendant of the sister of Charlemagne, and the 4th son mentioned in William Caxton’s romantic poem, Romance of the Foure Sonnes of Aymon.

The four sons of Duke Aymon are Renaud, Richard, Alard and Guiscard, and their cousin is the sorcerer, Maugis. Maugis was raised by the enchantress Oriande la Fee. He won the magical horse Bayard–who could understand human speech–and the sword Froberge which he later gave to Renaud.

The oldest extant version of the story of Renaud de Montauban and his cousin, Magris, was the anonymous Old French chanson de geste Quatre Fils Aymon which dates from the late 12th c.

In the tale, Renaud and his three brothers were sons of Aymon of Dordone. They flee from the court of Charlemagne after Renaud kills another of Charlemagne’s nephews in a brawl over a chess game. Renaud kills the man by battering him with a chess board.   A long war follows, during which Renaud and his brothers remain faithful to the Christian chivalric code.

The four brothers are pardoned on the condition Renaud go to the Holy Land on crusade (or on a pilgrimage), and their magical horse Bayard, who could expand his size to carry all four brothers, be surrendered to Charlemagne. bayard

Charlemagne orders Bayard to be drowned by chaining it to a stone and throwing it in the river Meuse, but the horse escapes and lives forever more in the Ardennes forests.

After further adventures soldiering in the Holy Land, Renaud returns home. On his return he abandons his home and gives himself up to religion. He eventually makes his way to Cologne and enters the monastery of St. Pantaleon, where be works as a mason on the Church of St. Peter. He is murdered by jealous fellow masons.   His body is miraculously saved from the river and magically makes its way home to his brothers in a cart.

In art, St. Reinold is depicted with armor, reflecting the tradition that he had been a soldier before entering monastic life. He is also shown as a Benedictine monk with a stone mason’s hammer; as a monk being killed by stone masons, and as a dead monk being thrown in water.

Besides his identity, I have three other mysteries to solve: 1) why was he murdered; 2) why was he named a saint; and strangest of all, 3) Why he was named a patron saint of the group of people who killed him?

Here are my two versions:

Story 1: Brother Reinold is two people: pious in prayer and a mean, overbearing, and cruel overseer.   Hatred and resentment build up among the stone masons he supervises. He oversteps his bounds one day, striking, kicking or punishing someone he bullies to push them to work harder. The man or his friend strikes back in self defense or in a fury. The others finish the job and try to get rid of the body. A local poor woman knows where the body was disposed, and tells the monks the place came to her in a dream from God. The monks find the body and attribute it to divine revelation. They don’t pursue the killers because they know Reinold was a creep and they need their abbey completed. Over the years, long after all the murderers and monks are dead, Brother Reinhold becomes a patron saint of stone masons because he was associated with them, and his *martyrdom* came at their hands.

Story 2:   A former warrior named Renaud shows up at the Monastery of St. Pantaleon in Cologne after soldiering in the Holy Land. They can’t pronounce his French name and it comes out sounding like “Reinold.” He comes from an aristocratic family, a descendant of the legendary Charlemagne, and cousin to a famous sorcerer. He makes sure everybody knows it, and the fact he has given it all up to follow a monastic life.   He is tough, skilled and hard, and drives himself and everyone around him with a religious zeal. Newly devout, Renaud hectors the other half-pagan stone masons about their lives and picks fights with them. One day, they turn on him in a group and kill him. The body is never found, although local legend has it returning to France in a magical cart–derived, no doubt, from his stories about his horse, Bayard.

Could there have been a darker meaning behind his death? Some historical evidence points to a Christian-Pagan clash or ritual: according to the book, The Ciphers of the Monks by David A. King, German stone mason’s marks (Steinmetzzeichen) were often based on the runes. They chiseled these marks into the stones, especially the foundation stone, as their signature. I can see how that would fill a zealous Christian with horror and anger–an affront to the consecration of the building.

Two hundred years earlier another Benedictine, St. Boniface, was bludgeoned and hacked to death for insulting the gods. St.+Boniface+Martyrdom

Medieval people also used “foundation sacrifices” or burials to ensure the stability of a building–castle, bridge and sometimes, churches. They also had a tradition of sacrificing people to placate the spirits of a place. The sacrificed person, in turn, became its protector. Often these were children, sometimes adults, who were entombed alive within the structure. In other sacrifices a dead person was thrown into a pool of water as a votive offering. Could this been what happened to Reinold?

If a monk-mason named Reinold ever existed, and whatever the reasons were behind his death, ultimately the church profited by his romantic and legendary associations. Over time he became “St. Reinold,” martyred for the faith by fellow stone masons jealous of his example.

In one of those delicious ironies the Catholic Church is so famous for, he becomes their patron saint and protector.

I did notice that mason’s hammers bear a strong resemblance to Mjollnir, the hammer of Thor. Just a coincidence, or a subtle clue to his killers? mjollnir


A Saints’ Tale

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 1, 2010 | Categories: History, Humor, Saints

Thumbing through my copy of Magnificat in church last week, I came upon the story of Saint Ethelfleda.   Her tale breathes a warm, oddball humanity–in contrast to the usual Magnificat fare of sanctity, torture and grim death for aspiring saints.

Saint Ethelfleda is someone I can relate to: swims naked, prays outdoors,   entertains generously, and inspires young people.

Here are her miracles of renown, and those of her teenage admirer – who went on to surpass her in weird tales.

Saint Ethelfleda (c.930 – Feast Day – October 23) was a member of the Anglo-Saxon nobility.   Following the death of her husband, she spent the rest of her life as abbess of Romsey.   Her devotional acts included chanting psalms while standing naked in the cold water of the River Test.

One day, as Ethelfleda was preparing for a visit from her kinsman, King Athelstan, the royal chamberlain arrived in advance to see if she had the provisions necessary to host the king and his large retinue. Upon being informed by the chamberlain that she lacked an adequate supply of ale, Ethefleda answered, “My patroness, the Virgin Mother, will send me an abundance of ale.”   She thereupon withdrew to an oratory of the Blessed Virgin, where she ardently prayed for heavenly intervention.

When on the next day the king and his men arrived after attending Mass, Ethelfleda’s modest barrel of ale supplied all they wanted without running dry.

Her legend also tells that she spent time with the king and queen at court, where Ethelfleda’s habit–for “ascetic reasons” –of bathing in the nude at night was the occasion of the queen’s nervous illness, brought on by the queen’s “indiscreet curiosity” when she followed her to see where she went. The queen was afterward cured by the abbess’ intercession.

The Magnificat story ended by saying the elderly Ethelfleda was frequently visited by a teenage boy who drew inspiration from her example.   The youth was the future abbot of Glastonbury and archbishop of Canterbury – Saint Dunstan.

Saint Dunstan (909?-May 19, 988, Feast Day – May 19) was born near Glastonbury and lived for a time in the household of Saint Ethelfleda’s kinsman, King Athelstan. The dreamy young man became a great favorite of the king, his relatives and other members of the court became jealous and envious.   They accused Dunstan of studying heathen literature and black magic, and prevailed upon the king to order him to leave the court. dustan3

As he was departing Dunstan was attacked.   According to various accounts, he was beaten and thrown in a duck pond or cesspool, where his enemies pushed him face down in the muck.

He fled to Winchester and entered the service of Bishop Aelfheah the Bald, who endeavored to persuade him to become a monk. Dunstan was doubtful about whether or not he had the vocation to celibate life, but an outbreak of tumors all over his body–probably from blood-poisoning caused by the treatment to which he had been subjected, changed his mind. 220px-Painted_carving_of_St_Alphege_l

He made his profession at the hands of St. Aelfheah (“Elf-high”) and returned to live the life of a hermit at Glastonbury, working on his forge and playing his harp. Here the Devil is supposed to have appeared to tempt him, and Dunstan seized him with his blacksmith tongs and made him promise never to enter a house with a horseshoe over the doorway.

Dunstan also worked as a silversmith and in the scriptorium while he was living at Glastonbury. Dunstan drew his own self-portrait in the small, kneeling monk beside Christ in the Glastonbury Classbook. The inscription reads: “I ask you, merciful Christ, to watch over me, Dunstan. May you not permit the Taenarian storms to swallow me.” dunstan

Did Saint Dunstan delve into occult practices in his youth? Perhaps. It has been speculated that his famous fight with the Devil was in fact a battle with his own desire to fully resume his former practices and studies.

The sketch in his own hand showing Dunstan holding the hem of Christ’s garment; and his petition for Christ’s aid to save him from the underworld–or Hell–may be more illuminating than we realize about his inner and outer life.

The “heathen literature” Saint Dunstan studied when he was younger may have been some Irish manuscripts describing druid practices and beliefs that survived Saint Patrick’s efforts at destroying all of them. His early education was received from Irish monks at Glastonbury. Dunstan obviously had access to manuscripts by Ovid or other ancient Greeks with his reference to “Taenarian storms” – Taenarius or Taenarus is the path or gateway to the underworld or Hades.

At least one person thought St. Dunstan might have practiced or dabbled in magic:   William Godwin (1756-1836) , who included him in his book, Lives Of The Necromancers: Or An Account Of The Most Eminent Persons In Successive Ages, Who Have Claimed For Themselves, Or To Whom Has Been Imputed By Others, The Exercise Of Magical Power. The book was published in 1834. The other necromancer of ancient Britain Godwin cited was Merlin.

Goodwin asserted that at least one of Saint Dunstan’s “miracles” was really magic.   As the story goes Eadmund, a young king of 18, sought the advice of Dunstan, but the jealousy of the courtiers was aroused and he was driven from court.

“For, a few days later, the king rode out to hunt the stag in Mendip Forest. He became separated from his attendants and followed a stag at great speed in the direction of the Cheddar cliffs. The stag rushed blindly over the precipice and was followed by the hounds. Eadmund endeavoured vainly to stop his horse; then, seeing death to be imminent, he remembered his harsh treatment of St. Dunstan and promised to make amends if his life was spared. At that moment his horse was stopped on the very edge of the cliff. Giving thanks to God, he returned forthwith to his palace, called for St. Dunstan and bade him follow, then rode straight to Glastonbury. Entering the church, the king first knelt in prayer before the altar, then, taking St. Dunstan by the hand, he gave him the kiss of peace, led him to the abbot’s throne and, seating him thereon, promised him all assistance in restoring Divine worship and regular observance.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)

At that time Dunstan was 19 or 20 years old. He became the Keeper of the Treasure and the chief adviser to the king. When his royal friend was stabbed in May 946 by the outlaw Leof, the abbot buried him in the abbey.

It sounds like a spell Merlin would have concocted to change the king’s heart.

A counselor to successive kings, Dunstan continued to have potentially fatal run-ins with them.   On the day of his coronation in 956, newly crowned King Eadwig left his banquet to join two women in bed–the king’s foster-mother, and her daughter, Aelfgifu.   Dunstan followed in a fury and dragged the startled king back to the hall and his knights. The episode, no surprise, led to Dunstan’s exile and flight for his life.

Besides the number of times he was thrown out of court and then restored, Dunstan’s life was notable for the number of visions of angels and demons, including a warning by angels that he would die within three days.   He did.

“..for all his life this unique and marvellous man had revelation of things distant in space and in time, and his happy spirit, full of the artist, metal-worker, lover of tunes and gay, lived on the edge of this world; the good and the evil of the unseen supported and attracted him as they do such few as are placed on the outposts of humanity.” (Hilaire Belloc, History of England)


Saint Galla of Rome

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 6, 2009 | Categories: History, Lesbians & Gays, Popes, Saints

Lesbian and gay saints have contributed in  their individual ways to the life of the Church.  Two examples are Saint Alcuin, who openly professed his emotional and sexual passion for several brother monks; and Saint Bridget of Ireland, who deeply loved the young nun, Darlughdach, who slept with her and sometimes functioned as her ambassador.

There are also gay icons–the handsome youth, Saint Sebastian, and Saint Joan, a woman who dressed herself in men’s clothing, became a warrior, and defied  the gender role and expectations of her time.

Of course, there is also Saint Peter Damien with his fixation  on gay male sex.   He is the epitome of a self-hating homosexual who persecutes others of his kind in order to avoid detection, and punish the objects of  his own desire.

Here  are two clues to help identify gay and lesbian saints: 1) did they enter religious life partially to avoid marriage; and 2) does part of their story involve a special “friend” they had in religious life?

Today’s lesson: Saint Galla of Rome. saint galla

In his Dialogues, Pope Saint Gregory the Great speaks of a holy woman of Rome named Galla, who had been married for less than a year when her husband died. Refusing to remarry, the young widow resolved to devote the rest of her life to God. To protect her beauty againt men’s attention, it is said she disguised herself as a man and God gave her a beard.(!)

Joining with a community of women living near St. Peter’s Basilica, caring for the poor and sick, this wealthy and pious woman founded a convent and a hospital. She is reputed to have once healed a young deaf and mute girl by blessing some water, and having the girl drink from it.

As she lay stricken with breast cancer, Galla kept two candles burning each night at the foot of her bed, for Gregory explains, “She hated darkness, being a friend of light, physical as well as spiritual light.”

It was between these two candles that one night the Apostle Saint Peter appeared in a vision to Galla.   The dying woman asked him: “Have my sins been forgiven?” Smiling, Peter nodded yes and answered, “They are forgiven. Come.”

But Saint  Galla now requested, “I beg you to let Sister Benedicta come with me.” Peter told her, “Sister Benedicta will follow you in thirty days.”   Three days later, Galla died, and a month later, Benedicta.

Rest together in peace.

Death: c. 550 A.D.

Feast Day: October 5