Saints alive! Holy people have their work cut out

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The Independent Online

I am alarmed to read that since he became Pope in 1978 John-Paul II has canonized 476 saints. In case you think that was a misprint, I'll put that again. Four hundred and seventy-six new saints. This, apparently, is more saints than have been canonized by all his predecessors put together for about four centuries.

Well, of course, when I say that I am alarmed, I am not alarmed at all, as I am not a Catholic. But I tell you, I would be alarmed if I were a Catholic. Even saints can flood the market and become devalued, and the way the old Pope has been knocking out the saints reminds me of the way tourist knick-knacks get turned out in high summer, because 476 saints in 25 years is 19 every year, or a new saint every 19 days.

No wonder the holy calendar is buckling under the strain.

Today, for instance, is a saint's day, like every day, but if you look up the details you find that it's saint's day for 19 different saints. (Nineteen! That number again! It's uncanny.) These saints are, in order, Amore of Aquitaine, Badilo, Benedicta, Demetrius, Gratus, Hugh Canefro, Iwi, John Leonardi, Keyna, Laurentia, Martin Cid, Matthew de Eskandely, Nestor, Palatias, Pelagia the Penitent, Peter of Seville, Reparata, Thais and Triduna.

No, I haven't the faintest idea who they are either.

I have managed to dig up details on one or two, though.

Of St Reparata, for instance, a 3rd-century saint, I read that "she was baptised very young. Arrested and tortured for her faith at age 11 during the persecution of Emperor Decius. Thrown into a furnace to die, she sat for a while in the flames, then emerged unharmed. Rather than see this as divine intervention, the authorities simply offered her another chance to apostatize; when she refused, she was beheaded."

I am not sure why God should intervene to spare her from the flames, and then not be bothered to save her from beheading, but one can't help admiring her stubbornness. However, I am more inspired by what I learn of St Pelagia the Penitent, who was a dancer by profession. She attended a sermon by Bishop Nonnus of Edessa in which he told the congregation about "a stripper who worked to make herself beautiful and her dance perfect, but did nothing for the work of God". Pelagia immediately converted, confessed, was baptized, turned away from her former life, moved to Jerusalem, and lived as a hermit the rest of her days, possibly wearing men's clothes so people would leave her alone.

She was also known, it adds mysteriously, as the Beardless Hermit, though I suppose that's because even if a woman can wear men's clothes, it's harder for her to grow whiskers. She is also the patron saint of actresses, which is odd, given that the one positive thing she did in life was to get the hell out of showbiz, but there again, that may be a good career move for many actresses to make.

At least she is the patron saint of one group alone. Many saints have an impossible portfolio of causes. St Pancras, for instance, who was only a 14-year-old orphan at the time he was martyred, is the patron saint "against false witness, against perjury, children, cramps, headaches, oaths, treaties..."

I don't think he is against children. I think he is for them, and against the other things except treaties. Still, even his list of duties pales beside someone like St Lucy of Syracuse, who is the patron saint of:

"Haemorrhages, authors, blind people, cutlers, dysentery, eye disease, glaziers, labourers, martyrs, peasants, Perugia, Italy, saddlers, salesmen, stained-glass workers, throat infections, Syracuse (Sicily) and writers."

If you were a short-sighted cutler from Perugia who'd cut himself and it wouldn't stop bleeding, you'd know where to go all right for help, and who to blame if nothing improved, but I tell you what: as a writer, I'd feel on a hiding to nothing if I had to pray to a saint who was already moonlighting at so many other jobs. How could I rely on St Lucy to release me from writer's block, knowing there was a good chance she'd already been called out to attend to a stained-glass salesman with a bad go of the squitters?

They ought to spread these functions around more saints, if they could only find more saints...

Ah. Maybe that was why the Pope was making all these new saints. To spread the jobs and avoid wasteful multi-tasking.

So he knew what he was doing all along!

I should have known better than to criticise him.