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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  August 2007

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION August 2007

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Subject:

saints of the day 17. August

From:

John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 17 Aug 2007 22:38:36 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (109 lines)

medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Today (17. August) is the feast day of:

2)  Elias of Enna (d. 903 or 904).  Today's less well known saint of the 
Regno was born at today's Enna (EN) in Sicily shortly after the Islamic 
conquest of the island had begun.  His baptismal name was Joseph and he 
was Greek-speaking.  According to his tenth-century Bios (BHG 580), 
when J. was twelve he was captured by Muslims who were besieging Enna 
and was transported to Africa, where he was sold as a slave.  By divine 
providence, he was bought by a local Christian and soon was returned to 
Sicily and to his parents by an East Roman raiding party that had come 
from Syracuse.  A few years later Muslims captured him again, sold him 
again into slavery in Africa, and again he was bought by a Christian.  
This time, though, J. was sold on to another Christian, very rich, who 
brought him up with respect and affection.  But the rich man's wife 
lusted after J. and when he refused her she accused him to her husband 
of attempting to seduce her (in the text, the parallel with Potiphar's 
wife is explicit).  J. then left this unhappy household, began to preach 
the Gospel, was imprisoned and escaped, and finally undertook a 
pilgrimage to Palestine and Egypt.  In Jerusalem he entered religion, 
taking the name of E.

After further travels in the East, E. returned to Sicily where he visited his 
mother, who now lived in Muslim-ruled Palermo.  Moving on to Taormina, 
he met the monk Daniel who became his faithful companion and later the 
chief informant of the writer of this Bios.  Foreseeing the Islamic capture 
of what was now the last city in Sicily still in East Roman hands, E. warned 
both the citizens and the governor but was not taken seriously.  So he 
and Daniel left on their own for Calabria, where E. founded a monastic 
settlement near today's Gioia Tauro (RC).  Islamic raids caused him to 
move on again and he spent some years in various parts of southern Italy 
and in Greece, preaching the Gospel and operating miracles.  He founded 
another monastery near today's Palmi (RC) and was living here when the 
emperor (who will have been Leo VI) invited him to Constantinople.  The 
aged E. died en route at Thessalonica.   David brought E.'s body back to 
the monastery, interring it there on the height now known as Monte Sant'Elia.

Both of E.'s monastic foundations were subsequently named for him; both 
became important places in the history of Greek monasticism in southern 
Italy.  Neither remains today.  But at Monte Sant'Elia one can see the very 
spot where, it is said, the devil appeared to E. and tried to tempt him with 
a bag of money.  E. took the bag and flung the coins against the mountain, 
where they came to rest as black rocks.  Students of "body print" relics (a 
recurring topic on this list) should not fail to note the devil's hoofprints in the 
final view on this page:
http://www.maridelsud.com/leggende/stromboli.htm  

E.'s Bios is a monument of Italo-Greek literature.  Though not as 
impressive as that of Nilus of Rossano a century later, it too presents 
a varied and engaging portrait of a holy man operating in a secular and 
often hostile world.  One of its less effective moments that 
nonetheless is historically interesting is the brief sermon comparing 
Christianity with Islam that is put into E.'s mouth in paragraphs 23-
24.  The now standard edition of the Bios is that of Giovanni Rossi 
Taibbi, _Vita di Sant'Elia il Giovane.  Testo inedito con traduzione 
italiana_ (Palermo: Istituto siciliano di studi bizantini e 
neoellenici, 1962).

2)   Nicholas Politi (d. 1167).  N. is a poorly documented Italo-Greek saint 
of the the Nebrodi range in northern Sicily and of the upper valley of the 
Simeto just to the south.  According to his sixteenth-century Vita (BHL 6629), 
he fled his well-to-do home in today's Adrano (CT) to avoid an arranged 
marriage and, acting with divine guidance, settled down as a hermit in a 
hidden cave on Mount Etna.  After three years of prayer and fasting N. 
began to fear discovery by his parents and so moved on, again with divine 
guidance to the vicinity of today's Alcara Li Fusi (ME).  There he remained 
as a hermit for over thirty years, known chiefly to a few religious in the area. 

When N. died his body was taken to the Basilian monastery of Santa Maria 
del Rogato at Alcara, where he was venerated as a saint.  In 1503 his 
intervention was credited with rescuing the town from a drought.  A 
campaign for papal recognition ensued and in 1507 Julius II confirmed N.'s 
cult at the level of saint but permitted it only in the church in which N. 
reposed.  At the same time N.'s feast was fixed for today, his traditional 
_dies natalis_.

N. is now the patron saint both of Adrano and of Alcara Li Fusi, where since 
the early sixteenth century his relics have been kept in the principal church 
of Maria Santissima Assunta and where a church at his traditional place 
of death (now the Eremo di San Nicoḷ Politi) is first recorded from the same 
century.  This being the quincentenary of N.'s canonization, major celebrations 
are being held in his honor in both towns this weekend.

Here's a view of the Eremo di San Nicoḷ Politi at Alcara Li Fusi, whither N.'s 
relics are brought in procession annually on the occasion of his feast: 
http://sicilyweb.com/foto/119/119-10-38-55-5443.jpg
Outside of Adrano one can visit a cave on the slopes of Monte Turchio (the 
nearest volcanic cone on the Etna massif) called the Grotta del Santo and 
pray there at a little altar dedicated to N.  But not this weekend, as the 
immediate vicinity is being ravaged by a major wildfire.  If the latter dies 
down today or tomorrow, N. will certainly receive some of the credit.
   
Best,
John Dillon
(Elias of Enna lightly revised from last year's post)

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