Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Did you know that there’s a patron saint of television?  A thirteenth-century saint — which seems odd as TV was a twentieth-century invention.  But here’s the thinking behind it: Clare of Assisi, in her final years, was very ill.  When she was too weak to attend Mass, a moving picture of the service was projected, miraculously, on the wall of her nun’s cell. (In addition to being patron saint of television, she’s also patron saint of television writers.)

After learning of the patron saint of television, I was going to question whether there’s a patron saint of radio (but have discovered it’s Gabriel, the Archangel, who’s also the saint for radio workers and those in the diplomatic service). Patron saint of the Internet?  St. Isidore of Seville.  I haven’t looked up whether there’s a patron saint of the phonograph (or MP3 player).

Patron saints are chosen, usually based on some incident in their lives.  St. Lidwina, a fourteenth-century Dutch mystic, is patron saint of ice skaters because at age 15 she was ice skating, fell into a river and broke her rib.  (She never recovered; became paralyzed – except for her left hand – and pieces of her body fell off and blood poured out of her mouth, ears and nose.  Some biographers think she suffered from multiple sclerosis.)  
Lidwina after falling into river
(Notice her ice skates.)

St. Columbanus, an Irish saint from the sixth and seventh centuries, is patron saint of motorcyclists because, as a missionary, he traveled great distances to many places.  In art, he is represented as bearded, wearing the monastic cowl and holding a book and an Irish satchel as he stands in the midst of wolves.

Often patron saints are invoked against some illness or fatal situation — again, often based on some part of their lives.  St. Hyacinth (a man) is invoked, in prayers, to intercede against drowning.  Several times he walked on water.  St. Harvey (or HervĂ©), who is invoked against eye trouble, was born blind.  St. Agatha is patron saint of breast cancer patients.  On orders of a spurned suitor who was the governor of Sicily, Agatha’s breasts were cut off.  (Her flesh was healed by none other than St. Peter who appeared as a doctor willing to reattach her breasts.)

OK, where am I going with all this?

Stephen Mitchell, who has written outstanding translations of Rilke, Job and Tao Te Ching, has a delightful prose poem called “Saint Ineptus” in a book of his own poetry (Parables and Portraits, published in hardcover in 1990 and in paperback in 1994).

by Stephen Mitchell

Born in third-century Illyria, he soon established a reputation for spilling his food, bruising himself, and tripping over non-existent objects in the street. His parents wanted him to become a doctor, in the hope that the rigorous training would make him more attentive. But he refused. Instead, he spent his time looking for angels in the dark alleyways of his native town, and feeding the stray cats. Even his martyrdom was botched. He felt so terrified, as the wild beasts approached him in the amphitheater, that he forgot the words of the Lord’s Prayer.
       He has become the patron saint of the clumsy, the tactless, and the unqualified. They are instructed to leave a candle burning for him once a month (making sure that there is nothing flammable in the vicinity). His intercession is said to do more good than harm.

Do you have any poems on (fictional) saints for our times?

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