medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Today, March 12, is the feast day of:

Maximilian of Thebes (d. 295) We have an early and good source for the
martyrdom of Maximilian. He was the son of a Roman soldier, so by law had to
enter the army. But when brought to the recruiter, Maximilian stated that he
could not serve because of the religious ceremonies (non-Christian) that
formed an important part of army life. After a long argument, including, on
the proconsul's part, the argument that lots of Christians were serving in
the army without complaint, he still refused. So he was executed.

Peter, Dorotheus, Gorgonius, and Migdon/Maxima (d. 303) The Emperor
Diocletian having discovered that Peter, one of his officers of the
bedchamber, was a Christian, ordered him to be tortured. Then Gorgonius and
Dorotheus, two other officers, filled with indignation, exclaimed, "Why,
sire, dost thou thus torment Peter for what we all profess in our hearts?"
The emperor at once ordered them to execution, together with Migdo, a
priest, and many other Christians. Dorotheus and Gorgonius were tortured and
then executed; Peter was saved for last and was killed in a particularly
nasty way: bits of his flesh were torn off, salt and vinegar were rubbed
into the wounds, and then he was roasted to death over a slow fire.

Innocent I, pope (d. 417) According to the Liber Pontificalis, Innocent was
the son of a man named from Albano named Innocentius. His contemporary
Jerome called him the son and successor of St. Anastasius I. Innocent, who
succeeded Anastasius as bishop of Rome in late December 401, was
exceptionally active in exercising influence throughout the Catholic
oikumene and in promoting therein the primacy of Rome. He supported St. John
Chrysostom when the latter was ejected from the see of Constantinople and
exiled, he supported St. Jerome when unruly miscreants violated his
monasteries at Bethlehem, and he supported the African church against
Pelagius, whose views on grace he publicly condemned.  Innocent had the good
fortune to be absent from Rome during Alaric's sack in 410.  He died on this
day and was buried in the cemetery of Pontian on the Via Portuensis.

Paul Aurelian/Paulinus Aurelianus (Latin)/ Paul Aurélien/Paul de Léon/Paol
Aorelian (Breton)/also forms with Pol (Aurelian is a by-name suggestive of
Roman culture) (d. 6th century) is one of the largely legendary founding
saints of Brittany. According to his late ninth-century Vita by Wrmonoc, a
monk of Landévennec, Paul was a Briton religious from Glamorgan, Wales
educated by St. Illtud at his school at Llantwit. He had been a hermit from
age 16 but with twelve companions he voyaged across the Channel to Armorica,
where a local count gave him both the island of Batz, on which he built a
monastery, and a Roman fort on the mainland that became the nucleus of a
settlement ancestral to today's Saint-Pol-de-Léon (Finistère), where in time
he became bishop, possibly managing to resign after a few years. Miracles
and healing springs figure largely in this Vita, which links Paul to various
places in Brittany but says little about him that critically inclined others
have found credible. 
   Wormonoc told  the beautiful story of saint Paul Aurelien's bell in his
"vita" of the saint : Paul asked king "Marcus Quonomorius" (King Marc of
Corwall) to give him a bell which was part of a specific instrument but the
king, who invited the saint to stay at the royal court, was so disappointed
Paul preferred to go to Brittany that he declined to give him the bell.
After a short time, Paul established himself with his brothers in Britanny
and they found the bell in the stomach of a fish. Saint Paul Aurelien's bell
is still preserved as a relic in the former Cathedral of Saint-Pol-de-Leon
   He has been venerated on this day at Saint-Pol-de-Léon (in Breton,
Kastell-Paol) since at least the eighth century.

Gregory the Great, pope and doctor. (604) Known as the Apostle of the
English. "St. Gregory the Great will be an everlasting honour to the
Benedictine Order and to the Papacy" (Baring-Gould). Famous story: when
walking through the market, he asked the nationality of some fair-skinned
boys for sale. Told they were Angli, he said, 'They are well named, for they
have angelic faces and it becomes such to be companions with the angels in

Mura(n) McFeredach (d. c645)was a native of Co. Donegal (Ireland); the son
of Feredach, of the noble race of the O'Neills. Colum Cille appointed him
abbot of Fahan in Co. Derry. Muran is the special patron saint of the

Theophanes the Chronicler/the Confessor (d. 817 or 818) Theophanes was born
to a very wealthy Greek family and a marriage was arranged for him at a
young age, but he and his bride decided to live as siblings together and
then separated when the girl's father died. Theo became a monk, then built
the monastery of Megas Agros ("Great Acre") on his own estate at Mount
Sigriane on the southern side of the Propontis and ruled it as abbot. He was
an ascetic and a historian, producing a major chronicle. Emperor Leo the
Armenian, though, decided that a monk so well born and highly regarded would
make a good defender of iconoclasm.  He summoned Theophanes to court; Theo
refused to denounce icons, and was flogged and imprisoned for two years.
When he was very frail he was exiled to Samothrace, where he died shortly
after his arrival. His fellow sufferer St. Theodore the Studite wrote a
panegyric on the translation of his relics. Theophanes is also the author of
an important chronicle covering the years 285-813, a continuation of that of
George the Syncellus. In the 870s this was translated into Latin by
Anastasius Bibliothecarius and thus became known in the Latin West.
Alphege/Elphege/Ælfheah(A-S) of Winchester (d. 951) Alphege "the Elder" or
"the Bald" was a monk who succeeded St. Birstan (d. 931) in the see of
Winchester.  A leading early figure in English Benedictine reform (P. H.
Sawyer called him "the prime mover of the monastic renaissance"), he is now
seen only rather dimly through his surviving charters, through the Vitae of
Sts. Dunstan and Æthelwold (Ethelwold), and through brief mentions in later
eleventh- and twelfth-century English ecclesiastical historians.  He had a
reputation for holiness and prophecy. The best known anecdote about Alphege
concerns his ordaining to the priesthood on the same day Dunstan (said to
have been his kinsman), Æthelwold, and a third monk named Æthelstan and
then, gathering them together, correctly predicting how each would finish
his ecclesiastical career.  Alphege is called "the Elder" to distinguish him
from his martyred homonym of April 19 (who prior to his translation to
Canterbury had also been bishop of Winchester).

Symeon/Simeon the New Theologian (d. 1022) Symeon was a noble Paphlagonian
who became a monk at Studium in Constantinople, then abbot of St. Mamas in
981. He was a disciple of St. Symeon the Studite and a prolific writer who
emphasized a personal experience of God (mysticism) and took to writing
sometimes-controversial theological and ethical treatises. In 1009 his
spiritual teachings were controversial enough to force his resignation and
later exile; he was pardoned but never returned to Constantinople. Simeon
was one of the greatest Byzantine mystics.

Seraphina/Fina (Blessed) (d. 1253) In 1238 Seraphina was born to poor
parents in San Geminiano (Tuscany). She is the local saint of her town,
where a hospital named for her was founded not long after her death. In
about 1300 the rector of that hospital asked an up and coming Dominican who
was also a native of the town, Fra Giovanni da San Gimignano, to compose a
suitable Vita of Seraphina.  The little we know about Seraphina comes from
this Vita (BHL 2978), produced by Giovanni with the help of a few witnesses
to events of over fifty years earlier, of local traditions some of which
will already have been known to him, and of his training in the Dominican
educational system. Giovanni, whose several sermon collections were widely
held in late medieval Dominican libraries, would in 1329 found San
Gimignano's Dominican convent of the Santissima Assunta.
   In Fra Giovanni's telling, Seraphina was a girl of admirable virtues and
straightened means who while in bed was afflicted with a form of paralysis
that made her completely immobile. One side of her body became so painful
that she spent five years lying on the other side on a wooden board,
receiving visitors, engaging in small acts of charity permitted by her
poverty, and providing moral lessons while her rotting flesh adhered to the
board and was nibbled by mice whom her visitors could see emerging from
holes that they had gnawed in her body. After Seraphina's mother died a
friend looked in at times to take care of the increasingly destitute
   Toward the end of her ordeal Seraphina experienced visions, including one
in which a diabolical serpent appeared to her and was repelled with the sign
of cross and another in which St. Gregory the Great informed her that she
would die soon, on his day. Which she did (March 12 is Gregory's dies
natalis, though the RM now commemorates him on September 3).  Miracles
confirmed Seraphina's sanctity: bells were heard to ring, flowers bloomed on
the plank on which she lay (or when Seraphina's body had been removed from
the board for burial the flesh that remained stuck to the latter was
sweet-smelling), etc. She was 15 when she died. People in this area of
Tuscany have named the white violets which bloom at this time after their
   Other miracles occurred after Seraphina's burial. Fra Giovanni closes
with a catalogue of enough of these to certify Fina's enduring power. An
unsuccessful attempt was made in 1462 to have Seraphina canonized by the
Sienese pope Pius II (he had canonized St. Catherine of Siena in 1461). In
1481 Sixtus IV authorized her cult for San Gimignano. She entered the RM in
2001 as a Beata.
   Seraphina reposes in a later fifteenth-century chapel, designed by
Giuliano da Maiano, in San Gimignano's principal church, its chiesa
collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta, consecrated in 1148. The chapel is
decorated with frescoes from 1475 or a little after by Domenico Ghirlandaio
illustrating a) the apparition of St. Gregory the Great to Fina and b)
Seraphina's funeral service: . 
      The inscription on the sarcophagus reads (punctutation John Dillon’s):
      ("Stranger, a virgin's bones lie hidden in the tomb that you behold.
She is the glory of her people, an example to them, and their bulwark.  Her
name was Fina.  This was her home town.  Do you seek miracles?  Scrutinize
what the walls and living sculptures teach.  1475") 
      The text of the inscription was furnished by the Neapolitan humanist
Giovanni Battista Cantalicio (ca. 1450 - 1514?).  The mural paintings to
which it refers are the two by Ghirlandaio on the walls of the oblong chapel
(the _hospes_ passes these to approach the altar at the chapel's far end).
The sculptures referred to are those on the upper part of the altar. Fina
had an altar in this church as early as 1325. The present chapel was built
and adorned in the late 1460s and the 1470s. An Italian-language page on the
chapel as a whole:
   A view of what is said to have been Seraphina's house in San Gimignano:
   Another offering to the collection of pictures of San Gimignano and its
Sta Fina:
      Here is a shot of of Benedetto da Maiano's altar of Fina (completed,
1477) in the collegiata of San Gimignano, with the altar's doors open to
show the Beata's reliquary bust within:

Dionysius the Carthusian (d. 1471) Not formally canonized, but he's made his
way into several martyrologies. Dionysius was a native of Flanders. He got a
doctorate at the University of Cologne, then became a Carthusian. He was
famous for his mystical writings, which won him the title "Doctor

happy reading,
Terri Morgan
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in
school.  ~Albert Einstein

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