I’m making this post two weeks two late, but I did not want to let this feast day go past without some note. Saints Peter and Paul of course are two of the most important saints in church history, both being leaders of the early Christian community after the ascension of Christ. I did not make the time to write about this saints, but luckily Baptized Pagan covered this significant feast day. I wondered why Peter and Paul, ofte at odds during their lifetimes, would share a feast day. My theory was that the Church wished to teach humility, that Peter and Paul as important as they were to the Church, were just men, humble before God. BP mentions instead that it relates to their martyrdom in Rome and the establishment of the church in that city.
While at Baptized Pagan, check out his reflections on Paul’s letter to the Galatians from the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
More on Peter and Paul:
I hope my lesson learned is not that if I fail to do my work someone else will do it for me.
This year June 17 is the intersection of three different days that twine together in Boston, MA: Father’s Day, Bunker Hill Day, and the Feast of St. Botolph. Botolph, in a sense is the father, and patron saint of Boston, the name deriving from a contraction of “Botolph’s Town.” The original Boston is in Lincolnshire in England (like Boston, MA a place known for its fens) and is home to a church dedicated to the saint nicknamed Botolph’s Stump. Botolph’s name is remembered in the Hub of Universe in the name of a street in Back Bay, the name of a club, and in the name of the president’s house at Boston College. Pieces of the the Gothic window tracery of Lincolnshire’s Church of St. Botolph are incorporated into the structure of Trinity Church in Boston’s Copley Square. The Puritans who named their “City on a Hill” Boston of course had no intention of naming the city after a canonized saint, merely naming it after where many of them came from. And while June 17th is a holiday in Suffolk County, MA, it is not for the saint but for the battle fought on Bunker Hill on that day in 1775. Coincidentally, the feast day of Saint Patrick, Boston’s other patron saint, is also a public holiday but that is due to Evacuation Day.
So what about Botolph the man himself?
- born ca. 610 of noble Saxon blood in East Anglia.
- studied under monks and became a Benedictine himself in northern Gaul.
- founded a monastery around 654 a AD at Ikenhoe (ox-island) which once was believed to be at Boston, but recent scholarship points to it being at Iken in Sussex.
- died in 680 following a lengthy illness while being carried to chapel for compline.
- little detail known about his life but Botolph is a very popular saint in England and Scotland (where his feast day is June 25) and has many churches dedicated to him.
- some evidence points to Botolph being of Irish birth, hence his ability to communicate easily with the Scots.
- patron saint of travelers. In medieval London, the churches at four gates are named for him and are places travelers would go to pray for protection before setting off on a journey and to offer thanksgiving upon arriving safely in London.
- his relics have been scattered to several locations through the ages including the four St. Botolph churches around London and Westminster Abbey.
So there you have it. A worthy saint and namesake of a great city.
For more on St. Botolph, visit:
For my third consecutive post about favorite saints I’m writing about a saint I associate with a place I visited on my travels in Ireland and Britain in 1998 (see Bede and Kevin). This time the saint is Columba (also known as Colmcille and numerous other variations) and the place is Derry (also known as Londonderry) in Northern Ireland. Saint Columba (521-597) is attributed with founding Derry by placing a monastery there in the 6th century. Doire as it is spelled in Irish means “oak grove” and Columba wrote fondly “Derry mine! my small oak grove/Little cell, my home, my love!” Colm Cille means “dove of the Church” and this imagery of doves and oak groves gives a sense of a pastoral history to a city ravaged by sectarian violence the past four centuries.
Columba was born in County Donegal in Ireland of royal descent and was ordained as a priest by the age of 25. Possibly as the result of a conflict with Saint Finnian over a psalter (which led to a family feud and many deaths), Columba exiled himself to Scotland as a missionary. In 563, Columba and his followers established a missionary center at Iona to help bring Christianity to the Picts. The Iona Abbey helped revitalize monasticism in Europe and became a place of pilgrimage. Columba himself was a man of prayer, study and letters writing hymns and transcribing 300 books.
Much of what is known about Columba comes from Vita Columbae, a detailed life of the saint by Adamnan of Iona. The work contains many legendary details such as the first written appearances of King Arthur and the Loch Ness Monster. Columba’s legacy is long lasting and today he is one of three patron saints of Ireland along with Bridgid and Patrick.
Learn more about Saint Columba at:
On holiday in Ireland in 1998 (a few weeks before I would visit Durham), I made a day trip from Dublin to Glenalough — the valley of two lakes — amid the mountains of County Wicklow. In the beautiful setting rests the remains of a monastery started in the 6th century by Saint Kevin (498-618). Glendalough is a fantastic place both for the extensive ruins and the natural beauty. In fact on a second visit to Ireland in 2002, it was one of the few places I visited a second time and even spent the night.
For a saint of the early medieval period who lived a 120 years, little is known of St. Kevin. Here’s a mix of fact and fancy in Kevin lore:
- He was the first person named Kevin which means “fair begotten.”
- Kevin studied in monasteries at an early age.
- He founded the monastery at Glendalough as well as other Irish monasteries and was instrumental at Clonmacnoise.
- Despite founding monastic communities, he spent much of his time as a hermit. Even at Glendalough he spent much of his time praying in a tiny cell on a rocky precipice overlooking the Upper Lake.
- Once while praying with arms outstretched a blackbird built a nest in his hand and laid eggs in the nest. Kevin kept himself still in that position until the birds hatched.
- Glendalough grew to be a bustling village and pilgrimage site, worth half the indulgences of a pilgrimage to Rome.
- The monastery at Glendalough was destroyed by the English in 1398.
- St. Kevin’s feast day was commemorated with riotous celebration in Ireland until banned by the British in 1890.
- Long acknowledged and venerated as a holy person, Kevin’s saint was confirmed by canonization in 1903.
The structure nicknamed “St. Kevin’s Kitchen” is actual a church. The tower is a steeple rather than a chimney. The stone structure dates to the 12th century.
The view of the Upper Lake is close to what St. Kevin would see each day from his cell high upon the rocky wall. I was not brave enough to climb out to the actual location. Visiting this place certainly made the live of a monastic hermit appealing to me, although I doubt I’d ever be still enough to hold a bird’s nest until the eggs hatched.
More resources on Saint Kevin of Glendalough:
I can’t say I’ve ever made a pilgrimage to place where a saint’s mortal remains rest, at least not on purpose. On a whirlwind trip through England, I made a train stop in Durham so that I could visit the Durham Cathedral and attend the Evensong service. The baggage check at the train station was closed for security reasons so I had to carry my honking big backpack with me as I trudged through the cathedral. My spirits were lifted though when I discovered that the cathedral is the burial place of Saint Bede the Venerable.
Apart from having one of the coolest names of all saints, Bede was also the patron of the church where I worshiped at that time in Williamsburg, VA (an appropriate saint for a city with an English heritage). I’m assuming that photography was not permitted in the cathedral, otherwise I’d have a photo to post.
Bede was first and foremost a scholar. From an early age he studied science, language, arts, ecclesiastical history and scripture. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People is one of the great primary sources for 8th Century Anglo-Saxon research. I guess I’m drawn to Bede because he was a scholar, a writer, and most specifically a patron saint of historians. A lot of medieval saints are known for their miracles and it is hard not to be skeptical about them. Bede’s scholarly approach uses the great gift of education to transmit learning and inspiration to us down through the ages, which I guess is a miracle in of itself.
More on Bede the Venerable at:
Saint of the Day
This isn’t my typical saint entry. I really enjoyed this article by Greg Ruehlmann on Busted Halo to promote a German saint whose feast day would be widely celebrated by Catholic German-Americans (similar to Irish-American celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day). I’m not certain why he chose Saint Godehard of Hildesheim (sometimes spelled Gotthard, Gothard, or Godard) for whom there seems to be very little information about in the English language. St. Boniface, apostle of the Germans, would seem to be a more appropriate analog to St. Patrick.
But today is Saint Godehard’s feast day, so let us learn about this somewhat obscure holy man:
- born in Bavaria in 960.
- joined the canons at Niederaltaich where he would become provost and help reintroduce the Rule of Benedict
- was known for keeping good order and was trusted to oversee reforms in monasteries
- served as Bishop of Hildesheim from 1022 until his death in 1038
- particularly drawn to those in poverty and founded a large home for the poor near Hidesheim
- canonized by Innocent II in 1131
- a major tunnel beneath the Alps between Switzerland and Italy is named for him
- according to Ruehlmann he is the patron saint against gout (I’ll pray for that!) and for help with difficult births
So on this lovely Friday, hoist a stein of German beer and celebrate St. Godehard.
More information at:
St. Patrick’s Church
My personal acquaintance with Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) begins with the church I attended as a child, St. Catherine of Siena parish in Riverside, CT. It was here that I first learned to love the Mass, following along with the readings in the missal and singing out joyfully with the folk group. It was here too that I received Eucharist for the first time, my first Communion going ahead as scheduled despite the fact there was a fire in my house the night before or that my father injured himself in a fall that morning. I’m grateful that St. Catherine’s was the first of three Catholic faith communities I’ve been blessed to be a part of in my life. Presumably the parish name originated from the large Italian-American community in Connecticut, but about the woman herself I knew little until recently.
Catherine Benincasa was a remarkable woman for any age. In her youth she developed a strong devotion through prayer and visions and defiantly resisted her parents plans for her life. She refused to be married and instead joined a Dominican lay order and devoted herself to helping the poor and the sick. She was known for her many letters which while dictated were very strong and opinionated giving orders to bishops and royalty alike. She even attempted to resolve the crisis of the Avignon papacy. Late in her life she composed her great spiritual work The Dialogue of St. Catherine. She died young but accomplished much and was canonized 81 years after her death. In 1970, Paul VI named her as one of the first women and lay persons to be a Doctor of the Church.
When I went on retreat to Glastonbury Abbey during Lent I was perusing the bookstore shelves and found a number of small books in a series called “30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher”. Basically each day there’s a small passage from the writings of a great Christian writer to reflect on each day for a 30 day period. I decided to pick up Set Aside Every Fear: Love and Trust in the spirituality of Catherine of Siena. Afterwards I learned that by coincidence or divine providence the thirtieth and final day after the day I purchased the book was April 29, the feast day of Catherine of Siena. So I’ve spent the last 30 days praying and reflecting through the words of Catherine.
Other resources on Catherine of Siena:
Except for the Virgin Mary, no other saint is as well known or inspires more devotion than Saint Patrick. At least in the parts of the world where emigrants from Ireland have settled, and the Irish diaspora is spread far and wide. Despite this, no biographical description of Patrick contains many certain details, and in fact legend and contradiction tend to overshadow the historical Patrick. Scholar Thomas F. O’Rahilly even contends that there were two Patricks whose life stories were intertwined.
What we know about Patrick that may be true:
- He was born in Britain of mixed Briton/Roman ancestry sometime around 415 (or maybe 387).
- Irish raiders captured him and forced him into slavery as a shepherd when he was a teenager.
- In his early 20’s, Patrick escaped from slavery and returned to Britain and reunited with his family.
- Having drawn closer to God during his enslavement, Patrick entered the priesthood and would eventually be ordained bishop and sent on a mission to Ireland.
- Patrick returned to Ireland around 433. While not the first person to teach Christianity to the Irish, his mission would have lasting impact and he converted many Irish.
- He wrote two texts that survive to this day, the Confessio and Epistola.
- He died on March 17, probably in 493 (or maybe 461).
Things that probably are not true about Patrick:
- Snakes were never indigenous to Ireland, so St. Patrick did not need to remove them. The story works on a symbolic level if you see the snake as the devil, as in the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
- Patrick probably never used a three-leaf clover as a model of the three-in-one nature of the Holy Trinity, although it is a wonderful simile and the shamrock is a lasting and powerful symbol.
What’s important about Patrick, whether man or myth, is the lessons of humility and courage that have incredible durability. My own relationship with Patrick begins with celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by attending the parade and all the great qualities of being Irish-American. Later in life I experience a more spiritual aspect of Patrick whether it be by praying in the Cathedral of St. Patrick or visiting places in Ireland where he walked. Last year I read the Confessio during Lent. I expect St. Patrick will continue to guide me throughout my life.
There is more on St. Patrick at Saint of the Day, Catholic Online, and Catholic Encyclopedia. Busted Halo offers Six Things You Should Know About St. Patrick. There is also a lovely reflection on St. Patrick at Flos Carmelli. It’s worthwhile to read and learn more about St. Patrick.
As I’ve mentioned before, I seem to have a patriotic fondness for American saints. I learned of Katharine Drexel (1858-1955) last year from Saint of the Day and not only was she born in the USA (in Pennsylvania, one of my favorite states), but lived a life that leaves me in awe and inspiration.
Born into prosperity in a family of a railroad baron, Drexel learned charity in her childhood when her family opened their home to the poor several days per week. On the suggestion of Pope Leo XIII, Drexel became a missionary to the Indians in the Dakota territory, dedicating much of her family fortune to the cause, while taking up voluntary poverty for herself. After taking her vows, Drexel founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored.
Drexel and her order dedicated themselves to education for the underprivileged founding more than sixty schools and missions for Indians and African-Americans across the United States. This includes Xavier University in New Orleans in 1925, the first institution of higher education for a predominately black student body. Founded by a woman, and a Catholic sister, and a saint. That just wows me. The fact that she did this during the time of segregation facing strong opposition including having one her schools burned makes it all the more impressive.
For her last two decades, Drexel was crippled by illness, but used that time well for prayer, contemplation, and writing. She died in 1955 at the age of 97. Katharine Drexel’s canonization in 2000 was celebrated in her native Philadelphia suburbs.
PS: Sorry to backdate this but I wanted the post to coincide with Katharine Drexel’s actual feast day.
Brigid of Kildare is the secondary patron saint of Ireland and the most prominent female saint of my ancestral land. Thus it was natural for my older sister to take Brigid as her confirmation name. The one thing I know about Brigid is that a unique cross is named for her. My sister had one of these hanging on her bedroom wall when we were growing up.
There is an informative article about the history and signifigance of St. Brigid’s Cross at the Cross & Crucifix.
But what of Brigid herself?
Few verifiable facts are known about Brigid who was born around 452 in Ireland. She is the only one of the three patrons of Ireland (along with Patrick and Columba) actually born in the country. She came from a royal family although many accounts state that her mother was a slave and some that Brigid herself was a slave of her father. At a young age she heard Patrick preach — perhaps was even converted by Patrick — and gained a great devotion to the poor. This manifested itself in her giving away her father Dubtach’s valuables, much to his disappointment.
Dubtach tried to marry Brigid off, but she was resistant, and according to one legend praying to lose her beauty until she could take her vows as a nun. She was seen as a saint in her own lifetime and founded convents across Ireland including the Abbey of Kildare, a center of education and spirituality for both women and men. Brigid’s feast day is considered the traditional first day of spring in Ireland. Tis confused me when a priest mentioned it at a Mass I attended in Galway in 1998, because Feb. 1 is far too early for spring. Perhaps Bridgid shares a spiritual kinship with the groundhog?
Appropriate to the patroness of the Island of Saints and Scholars, Brigid is also the patron saint of scholars.
More on Saint Brigid at Catholic Encyclopedia, Saint of the Day, and Ireland’s Eye.