24 July 2011

24 July - Saint Christina and Christina Mirabilis

Today, from medieval times at least, is the feast of Saint Christina of Bolsena, 3rd century Virgin and Martyr.  As related in the old Roman Martyrologies:
"Believing in Christ and breaking up her father's gold and silver idols to give them to the poor, she was cruelly scourged by his command, subject to other most severe torments, and thrown with a heavy stone into the lake, for which she was drawn out by an angel [I'm not sure I'd thank that angel].  Then under another judge, who succeeded her father, she bore courageously still more bitter tortures.  Finally after she had been shut up by the governor Julian in a burning furnace for five days without any injury, and after being cured of the sting of serpents, she ended her martyrdom by having her tongue cut out and being pierced with arrows."

That is the short version.  The longer version, courtesy of The Golden Legend is this:
1. After she was scourged by her father and before she was thrown in the lake with a millstone around her neck, her body torn by iron hooks, "her tender members made to be all tobroken and departed from other", and she was laid out on a rack under which a fire was kindled (it didn't harm her).  Christina didn't show total resignation in all this; she picked up a piece of her torn flesh and threw it in her father's face, recommending him to eat it.  Her father then died and his place was taken by a cruel pagan judge.

2. Still refusing to worship the pagan gods, she was thrown in a tub full of burning pitch and oil (it didn't harm her).  She was then led naked and with shaven head through the streets to the temple of Apollo, which fell down at her word.  The judge then died and his place was taken by the governor.

3. Still refusing to worship the pagan gods [you'd think they would have caught on by now], she was put in a raging furnace for five days (it didn't harm her), survived poisonous serpents and vipers introduced into her prison cell (they didn't touch her), and had her breasts cut off.  Finally, the governor ordered that her tongue be cut out (she not only continued to speak, but threw the tongue at him, putting out one of his eyes), and then shot with arrows, after which she died.

She is the patroness of archers (from the arrows), mariners (from her dip in the lake) and millers (also from her dip in the lake, using a millstone as a flotation device).

Then we have a person referred to as "Saint" Christina, or "Blessed" Christina, or "Christina Mirabilis", aka "Christina the Astonishing".  There has never been a formal beatification or canonization, but it doesn't matter.  She has taken the public imagination, and the public has declared her a saint.

[Caveat: The Widow has been labeled irreverent, which is actually quite true, so if you have a particular devotion to Christina the Astonishing, please read no further. Thank you.]

So we have here Christina, born about 1150 in Belgium, an orphan with two sisters, who, at a young age, suffered a seizure and was presumed dead.  In the midst of her funeral, she sat up in her coffin (which must have startled the mourners no end); not content with that, she flew to the ceiling of the church, saying (in perfect charity) that she couldn't stand the stench of human sin filling the congregation.

Coaxed to come down from her perch, she told everyone that she had been to purgatory (where she had seen several familiar faces), hell (where she had seen several familiar faces) and heaven, where Our Lord looked at her with a 'favorable' eye and told her that she would be with Him (i.e. no purgatory or hell for her).  She had a choice, though.  She could stay in Heaven with Him now, or she could return to earth to a life of penance and prayer for the sinners in Purgatory.  She would be required to suffer great torments, which would not only help the Holy Souls, but also serve to convert the sinners around her as well.

Well, you don't get to be a saint in the calendar merely by dying of an epileptic fit.  She chose to come back.

Thereafter, she continued to earn the title "the Astonishing" by various acts ("strange incidents" says Saints.sqpn).  She is said to have flown to the tops of trees, perching on small branches (again to get away from the stink of sin in people), and took a Ferris wheel ride over a mill wheel, but came out unbroken.  Like her name saint, she sat in ovens, but the fire did not burn her (although she screamed in torment).  She stood in frozen waters for days on end - nope, not even a hint of frostbite.  Dogs bit her and thorns tore her flesh, but she emerged without scars.  Chains could not hold her, a broken leg could not stop her.

My favorite, though is the method wherein she would receive alms in the way of food.  If she determined that the almsgiver was sinful, she would eat the food and immediately have stomach pains (in reparation for his sins, she said), thus pointing out to everyone in the street that the pious alms were given by impious hands.  [Imagine trying to do an act of charity and instead being held up to public view as a sinner.  Any further acts would be toward someone who would receive more charitably.]

She died on the 24th or 25th  of July 1224 "of natural causes", and this time stayed dead.  I'm not sure that the people in her neighborhood didn't breathe a sigh of relief.

As it says at Catholic Exchange, "It is not for us to judge others."  Perhaps not.  She probably thought she was doing great good for the Holy Souls with her antics.  She likely would have done just as much good by praying for them, without all the hoopla.  Then again, you don't get a title like "The Astonishing" and a whole bunch of people praising you for being a 'fool for Christ', by merely praying.

You can find a fuller account, with several poems and the author's own artwork here.  The author seems to be more interested in Christina Mirabilis as a Person Who Annoyed the Clergy and Who Gave Absolution [like a priest] to A Penitent, but if you ignore the undertones, it is an interesting read.