23 February 2011

23 February - Saint Serenus

Today is the feast of Saint Serenus the Gardener, martyr, who was executed in the first decade of the 4th Century.

According to Rev. Alban Butler, Serenus was a Greek by birth, who, in order to live a life given wholly to God, moved far from home and family to Sirmium in what is now Serbia [when Rev. Butler wrote his "Lives", the area was part of the Kingdom of Hungary].  Sirmium was the capital of the District of Galerius Caesar, under the Tetrarchy (298-c. 313), and like capitals everywhere, full of wealthy, important, and influential people.

Here Serenus bought a little garden where he could live by himself from the fruits of his labors.  Perhaps it was a beautiful garden, or perhaps, as Serenus wished to live apart from men, it was a secluded garden.  For whatever reason, the wife of a high-ranking officer and her daughters decided one day to walk in the garden at around the noon hour, when the Roman populace normally reposed.

Upon seeing them, Serenus said, “A lady of your quality ought not to walk here at unseasonable hours, and this you know is an hour you ought to be at home. Some other design brought you hither. Let me advise you to withdraw, and be more regular in your hours and conduct for the future, as decency requires in persons of your sex and condition.”

Walking in a garden during the heat of the day seems a reasonable activity, so there there must be something more to this walk than is related.  Rev. Butler is rather coy on the subject, and the only hints we are given are that the women were there at an unseasonable hour, that Romans rested at home at noon, and that the lady's husband recognized that her action "was too plain an indication of her wicked purpose and design."  Leaving us to wonder what the wicked purpose and design was.

In any case, those at fault will not take even a charitable remonstrance kindly, and the lady wrote to her husband, one of the guards of the Emperor Maximian, complaining of the insult offered to her by this member of the hoi polloi.  Naturally, her husband was upset and complained in his turn to the Emperor.

On the basis of this, Serenus was hauled into court.  At first surprised at the charge that he had insulted a woman (something he had never done in his life), he then remembered the lady in the garden and related what he had said to her. "This plea of Serenus, having put the officer to the blush for his wife's action, which was too plain an indication of her wicked purpose and design, he dropped his prosecution of the innocent gardener, and withdrew out of court."

You'd think that all would be right for Serenus now, but, while his answer got him off one hook, it put him on another.  The governor, suspecting that a man who resented visits from ladies at improper hours might just be a Christian [giving us an odd idea of the morality of pagans], determined, through questioning, that his suspicions were correct and sentenced Serenus to death by beheading.  The sentence was carried out immediately, sending Serenus to the most beautiful Garden of all.
Since gardening catalogs are now showing up in our mailboxes [I just got another one], today would be a good day to start planning our own gardens.  Serenus used his plot of land to grow fruits and vegetables for his consumption; in his honor, consider planting a new fruit tree or adding a new vegetable to your kitchen garden.  Or perhaps this year, set aside a little space for a Mary Garden, with Sea Pinks, Lily-of-the-Valley, Roses, Madonna Lilies, or any of the others listed.