Lent Madness: Theresa of Avila vs. Hildegard of Bingen

Next up: two female saints going at it with a trip to the Final Four at stake. If you were placing bets the currency would be the Euro — we have a Spaniard vs. a German. It’s a battle between mystics of mythic proportion.

In recent Lent Madness action, Julian of Norwich soundly defeated Peter 70% to 30%to advance to the Final Four. Julian will face off against Francis of Assisi for a trip to the Championship. View the updated tournament bracket here: Lent Madness 2010

Legends & Kitsch!

Several miracles and legends have developed around Theresa’s death. She died on one of her journeys through the Spanish countryside in October, 1582. That night, her monastic cell back in Avila was said to fill with a pleasant fragrance. When her body was exhumed 330 years later, her coffin emitted the same heavenly smell. This miracle has been called the “odor of sanctity.” According to another legend, a hand severed from Teresa’s body could perform miracles. Finally, Theresa is the patron saint of, among other things, people with headaches and those ridiculed for their piety.

Hildegard was a woman way ahead of her time — mystic, abbess, author, artist, musician, philosopher. Unfortunately, the New Age movement has horned in on her achievements and has recently made claims upon her. Many of her (very Christian!) visions and her music have been hijacked by New Agers. You can find CDs featuring Hildegard’s music labeled “Healing Chants;” she’s sometimes referred to as a “feminist nun;” and is celebrated as a “female herbalist.” It has also been suggested that migraine “auras” inspired her art.



Lent Madness: Julian of Norwich vs. Peter

The Round of the Elate Eight continues with two saintly heavy weights: Dame Julian of Norwich vs. the apostle Peter. In recent action Francis of Assisi crushed Aelred of Rievaulx by the largest Lent Madness margin to date 87% to 13%. View the updated tournament bracket here: Lent Madness 2010

On to Legends and Kitsch! 

One oddity of the popular Julian is that we really don’t know whether she was actually named “Julian.” Her writings were anonymous and it has simply been surmised that the author was Julian based on the name of the church in Norwich: St. Julian’s. This was where she lived as an anchoress, a hermit living in a cell attached to the church.

But here’s the catch: there was another St. Julian for whom the church was evidently named. This Julian was a popular figure of medieval legend. It seems that Julian, a nobleman, was out hunting one day when he spared the life of a deer that had admonished him. The deer then made the strange prediction that Julian would one day kill his parents. This ended up happening accidentally and Julian resolved to pay penance by establishing a roadside inn for travelers and a hospital for the poor. Thus while Julian of Norwich may have actually been named Julian, there’s a good chance that she was not.

Not much on the Julian of Norwich kitsch front BUT you can purchase her famous saying “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” in a variety of formats including necklaces, bracelets, postcards, etc.

Peter, of course, has the keys to the kingdom. As guardian of the “Pearly Gates” he stands in the middle of countless jokes and cartoons as a sort of bouncer/hotel clerk. It’s safe to say that Peter has made more appearances in The New Yorker than any other saint.

The apocryphal Acts of Peter tells the story of the apostle’s martyrdom. Upon fleeing from Rome to avoid persecution, Peter encounters a vision of Jesus going in the opposite direction. He asks him “Quo vadis, Domine?”  (“Whither goest thou, Master?”). Jesus responds that he is returning to Rome “to be crucified again.” Peter then decides to return to Rome and accept his martyrdom. According to legend he was crucified upside down.


Lent Madness: Aelred vs. Francis of Assisi

The Round of the Elate Eight begins right now! We kick things off with Aelred vs. Francis of Assisi. Aelred’s a bit of a cinderella, having defeated Anskar and upsetting John  the Baptist. Francis stormed into this round by dispensing with Joseph Schereschewsky and Hilda of Whitby.

In the first round of Lent Madness we used brief biographies to distinguish the candidates. In the Round of the Saintly Sixteen our discernment tool was the Quote-Off. But this round calls for something deeper. Which is why we’ll be highlighting legends and kitsch (or L & K in Lent Madness parlance). Any saint worth his or her halo has both of these in spades.

Legends surrounding Francis’ life are abundant, many having to do with animals. It is said that while traveling with some companions he came upon a place filled with birds in trees on either side of the road. Francis preached to the birds and not one flew away, drawn so powerfully to the sound of his voice. In another story, we hear that a wolf was terrifying the townsfolk of Gubbio, devouring men and animals. Francis went into the hills, found the wolf, made the sign of the cross, and commanded the wolf to hurt no one else. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down Francis’ feet. He then brought the wolf into the town and made a pact between the people and the wolf: the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly and in return the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks.

Compared to Francis, Aelred of Riveaulx is a bit thin in the legends department. In modern times he has become the patron saint of several gay advocacy groups because of his writing on Spiritual Friendship. So in a sense legends have cropped up around him in retrospect. In his writings he actually appears to have rejected homosexuality. Nonetheless, this appears on the Integrity USA website:

“Whereas the Episcopal Church USA meeting in General Convention in Anaheim, California, in 1985, with full knowledge, thanks to the vigilance of the bishop of Newark, of St. Aelred’s homoerotic orientation, did approve for annual commemoration in her liturgical calendar the Feast of St. Aelred on 12 January and did provide propers for the same, Therefore be it resolved that Integrity Inc. place itself under the protection and patronage of St. Aelred of Rievaulx and, be it further resolved that Integrity, Inc. dedicate itself to regularly observe his feast, promote his veneration and seek before the heavenly throne of grace the support of his prayers on behalf of justice and acceptance for lesbians and gay men.”

It’s also hard to beat Francis in the kitsch department. Francis lawn ornaments are a cottage industry throughout the free world. Extensive research tells me that Aelred lawn ornaments are exceedingly rare.


Lent Madness: The Round of the Elate Eight

With Hildegard of Bingen’s defeat of Stephen (55% to 45%), the Round of the Saintly Sixteen has concluded. On to the Elate Eight! The upcoming match-ups are below. Here’s the updated tournament bracket: Lent Madness 2010

Aelred vs Francis of Assisi

Julian of Norwich vs. Peter

Theresa of Avila vs. Hildegard of Bingen

George Herbert vs. John Chrysostom

Lots of intrigue, heart pounding action and, in some cases, heartbreaking choices to be made. But that’s Lent Madness at its best. May the “best” saints win to secure a coveted birth in the Final Four.

As we’ve gone deeper into the tournament, we’re even seeing some partisans make pleas on behalf of their favorite saints. The Rev. Scott Gunn over at Seven Whole Days is actively campaigning for George Herbert; The Rev. Neil Alan Willard at Laughing Water helped fuel a last ditch effort on behalf of Stephen that fell just short; and Meredith Gould has been pushing various (women!) saints via Twitter.

It’s only going to get uglier, my friends. But in a holy way.

Lent Madness: Stephen vs. Hildegard of Bingen

It’s the last clash of the Round of the Saintly Sixteen! After today it’s on to the Elate Eight! But first it’s Stephen vs. Hildegard. Martyr vs. Renaissance woman. Biblical times vs. Middle Ages. Stoned to death (not in the hippie sense) vs. a natural death at the age of 81. Lots of interesting plot lines as the Church’s protomartyr squares off against a woman so far ahead of her time.

To get to this round, Hildegard took out an apostle (Andrew) and Stephen defeated a Church Father (Ambrose). The winner of this battle takes on Theresa of Avila in the next round. In recent action, Julian of Norwich soundly defeated Benedict 60% to 40%. See the updated tournament bracket here: Lent Madness 2010


Chandler Bing-en

Stephen: When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7

Hildegard: “There is the Music of Heaven in all things and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing.” 

Stephen: While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7

Hildegard: “O Holy Wisdom, Soaring Power, encompass us with wings unfurled, and carry us, encircling all, above, below, and through the world.”


Lent Madness: Benedict of Nursia vs. Julian of Norwich

Benedict of Nursia?

It’s another monk vs. nun scenario in this penultimate showdown of the Round of the Saintly Sixteen. Or maybe it’s a contest between a “J” and a “P” to use Myers-Briggs lingo. Anyone who designs a “Rule” for monks, as Benedict did, can only be considered a “J.” Anyone who lived as a hermit in a cell and had stunning visions of Christ, as did Julian, must be a “P.” At least that’s my revisionist take on these two.

To advance to this round, Benedict trounced Matthias while Julian did the same to Absalom Jones. The winner will face Peter in the Round of Elate Eight. In recent action action George Herbert defeated Joseph 61% to 39% to advance. Click to view the updated tournament bracket: Lent Madness 2010


Benedict: “Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.”

Julian: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Benedict: On prayer: “Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.”

Julian: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of His willingness.”

Lots of good spiritual sound bites between these two. Needless to say there are many, many more to choose from.


Lent Madness: Joseph vs. George Herbert

Forget fancy names like Athanasius and Augustine. This face-off pits a Joe vs. a George. But don’t let the ordinary names fool you: these are two saintly powerhouses. Who could imagine a nativity scene without Joseph? Who could imagine church hymnody without “Come my Way, my Truth, my Life?”

Joseph advanced to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen by defeating Columba; George Herbert advanced by besting Aidan. In recent action, Francis of Assisi pummeled Hilda of Whitby setting up a showdown with Aelred in the next round. View the updated tournament bracket here: Lent Madness 2010

One thing you’d never do in attempting to sell a home is bury an upside down statue of George Herbert. Though I’m not really sure that’s a point in Joseph’s favor. Joseph did “pilot” the flight into Egypt which is a big deal since who knows what would have become of Jesus if Herod had gotten his filthy paws on the infant?

As for the Quote-Off we have a man of few words vs. a man of many. Actually Joseph doesn’t say anything but nonetheless here goes!

Joseph: “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” Luke 2

George Herbert: “Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life: Such a way as gives us breath; Such a truth as ends all strife, Such a life as killeth death.”

Joseph: “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. Matthew 2

GH: “Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and King! The heavens are not too high, His praise may thither fly,
The earth is not too low, His praises there may grow. Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and King!”