TODAY is the feast day of St Conrad, a holy hermit of Sicily who learned of his saintly vocation by accident. Born in the 14th century to a noble family of Piacenza, he was out hunting and ordered some brush burned to flush out the game. The fire burned down several villages, but it was only when a poor man was accused of starting it that Conrad confessed. The subsequent fine left him and his wife nearly penniless, but they decided this was a message from God and renounced the world to lead separate monastic lives. Conrad became a Franciscan, and his holiness became legend. His prayers brought relief to the region in time of famine; he produced cakes in a cell without an oven and small birds attended him wherever he went. After his death, he became the patron saint of hernias, owing to the large number of people who recovered from this condition after his intercession.
19 February 1897: Charles Blondin (above), the most famous tightrope- walker of all time, died in Ealing, London, aged 72. Properly named Jean- Franois Gravelet, he was born in Hesdin, near Calais, trained as an acrobat in Lyons and made his public dbut aged five. He was 35, however, when he pulled off the performance which gave him a place in history: the tightrope crossing of the Niagara Falls. The rope was 160ft above the waterfall and 1,100ft long. Having accomplished the feat once, he repeated it with many variations: on stilts, blindfold, pushing a wheelbarrow, carrying a man on his back and eating lunch on the way. He settled in Britain and last performed in Belfast, a year before his death.