5 Saints Who Had Absolutely Nothing To Do With What They're Known For - 3/15/10

St. Patrick

Once upon a time, there was a Irish Christian missionary named Patrick. Actually, he wasn't even originally from Ireland - St. Patrick was born in Britain and got kidnapped over to Ireland by a bunch of raiders. But St. Peter grew to like it there in Ireland, and later did a lot of dedicated work spreading the Christian faith there, baptizing and converting people like crazy until his death in 440 A.D.

So where do the green beer and pinching come in?

Revered highly in Irish Catholicism, St. Patrick eventually became the patron saint of the Ireland, and so of course an annual feast began to be held on the day of his death, reportedly March 17th. And as any good Catholic knows, on a feast day one should "attend Mass, and abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord's day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body."

Still not seeing where the Jamison and body shots off of green-clad midgets got introduced.

The de-evolution of Catholic holy day to a secular "Pretend You're Irish Day" took quite a long time, with afternoon family time eventually turning into celebrations turning into parades turning into partying turning into dyeing rivers green. Considering that pubs in Ireland couldn't even be open on Green Day until the 1970's, St. Paddy's Day also may have fallen victim to a bit of "Holiday telephone", in which people in other countries wisely reasoned: "Hey, what should we do on Saint Patrick's Day? Beats me, who's Saint Patrick? Some Irish guy. Oh, OK, so what do they do in Ireland? They drink. Hey, I like to drink! Let's drink!"

The only think I can even remotely connect is that it's rumored St. Patrick once used the three-leafed shamrock to describe the Christian Trinity, but even that is just a rumor, and I'm not sure "Father, Son, Holy Spirit" quite fits the translation into "three-leafed pasty on a drunken stripper's boobs".

Undoubtedly, there are places where people actually celebrate St. Patrick's Day piously, by heading to church and thanking God for the spread of Irish Catholicism. But there are probably more places where people just flood into the streets, get shit-hammered, and make out in public.

St. Patrick would be so proud.

St. Peter

St. Peter is a pretty important dude in the Bible. He was there for the walking on water, the Last Supper, and even for the sad part where he denies Jesus three times before going on to be a key figure in building the early church. But it's one little line in Matthew 16:9, in which Peter is mentioned as the "keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven" which sets St. Pete up for the random role for which he is known by so many today: the Doorman of the Pearly Gates.

Is there a verse in the Bible anywhere that says "at at the Entrance to the Ever-After, St. Peter will stand with a clip-board and a "naughty or nice" list"? Did Peter, before he was a fisherman, used to work the door at the Jerusalam Saloon, and Jesus wanted to make use of his abilities? OK, he's got the keys to heaven, but does that make him the bouncer? According to about a zillion cartoonists, the answer is yes.

St. Peter is one of the most revered saints in Christian tradition. I supposed we should be thankful that what he's remembered for today has at least something to do with God.

St. Valentine...

...may not even have been a real guy. That is to say, there WAS a Saint Valentine, but absolutely nothing is known about him except that he was one of a bunch of dudes that Pope Gelasius I decided to honor in 496 A.D. as those "... whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." Why this guy Valentine got picked to have his name represent the holy bunch and not Saint "Some Other Dude Who Was Martyred Around 496", nobody knows.

But what about the story in the movie "Valentine's Day" about a priest named Valentine who married young men to their lovers in secret when it was forbidden by the emperor? Or the priest named Valentine who sent a letter reading "From Your Valentine" to his lover from prison? Well, there were lots of priests named Valentine - it wasn't all that uncommon a name back in the day. As far as for the historic confirmation or for any of these legends... well, isn't much. Just some evidence that shows that the first mentions of a holiday about love being associated with any holy guys named Valentine actually popped up around 1600, in the writings of Chauser.

And so, it's possible there once was a love-loving holy guy named Valentine, who started this holiday before all historical facts about him were lost forever.. But it's more likely that Chauser (and another 600 years later, Hallmark) just made it all up, after deciding one day that there needed to be a holiday about love.

St. Elmo

Alright, see if you can make sense of this one.

Saint Erasmus of Formiae was a guy who lived in Europe around 250 A.D., wandered around preaching the gospel, was captured and tortured numberous times for doing this, and was finally killed for refusing to stop preaching. Legend has it he once was giving a sermon when lightning struck the ground nearby, whereupon St. Erasmus (or St. Ermo for short) just kept right on preaching, which apparently incipiated his becoming the patron saint of sailors, who I guess also have to keep doing their jobs when lightening strikes shit right around them.

Sailors liked St. Ermo so much (though they mispronounced his name St. Elmo) that they named the sailing-phenomenon of electrical charges causing the tops of ship masts to glow after him, ere go, "St. Elmo's fire". 1500 years later, this phenomenon was mentioned in a line in an Emilio Estevez movie, became the title and chart-topping music number of said movie, and now nobody can hear the phrase "St. Elmo" without thinking of the lyrics

"I can see a new horizon
Underneath the blazin' sky!"
I'll be where the eagle's
Flyin' higher and higher

in John Parr's awesome, synthed '80's voice.

And we're supposed to be thinking of Christian martyrom. Not even Saint Cusack, patron saint of predicting the plots of cheesy '80's movies, could have seen that one coming.

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas of Myra was a Christian bishop born around 270 A.D. in what is now Turkey. The patron saint of merchants, archers, thieves, prostitutes, and children, and students, St. Nick did a lot of noble, typical Christian stuff before his death in 346, at which point it was decided he would be a saint.

Along with just being a generally pious guy, St. Nicholas also had the reputation as a "secret gift-giver", leaving coins (according to legend) in the shoes of random people who left them out. It shouldn't be any wonder, then, that St. Nicholas would go onto the inspiration of the widely celebrated holiday of, you guessed it...

December 6th, St. Nick's Day.

Wait, what?

That's right. St. Nicholas had nothing to do with Christmas, except that the original guy was a Christian. Nothing to do, that is, until people decided they needed a bigger, more commercial way to celebrate Christmas (which wasn't even an American Federal Holiday until 1870), went looking for unrelated traditions they could poach, made St. Nicholas fatter and put him in a flying sleigh, changed his name to Santa Claus and his shoes into stockings, and stuck him on December 25th.

So when you think of St. Nick and immediately picture a fat guy in a red suit crawling around on your roof, remember that what you're actually picturing is an obese, snow-dwelling adaptation of an entirely different, shoe-raiding holiday character loosely based on some munificent Turkish bishop.

Honorable mentions...

...go to St. Louis, St. Paul, and St. Bernard, who are now known as two cities and a dog, respectively.



I wrote a book!

My ridiculous quest to roadtrip to all 48 contiguous states in 48 days.
Support the Pond. Get it here!


previous month (02/2010)     current month (03/2010)     next month (04/2010)