Sunday, October 23, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 43 ~ St. Abigail

This is going to be a very brief, cobbled together, mostly pictorial post about St. Abigail whose real name was Gobnait. As far as I can tell Gobnait means bring joy, and that is the reason for Abigail which means something like father's joy. There is another saint named Abigail who was one of King David's wives, but I found this one more interesting. I chose Abigail because that is the name of my new granddaughter, who is the reason for my muddled brain which is only capable of producing a very brief, cobbled together, mostly pictorial post.

St. Gobnait was born around the 5th or 6th century in County Clare, Ireland. Leaving home because of a family dispute, she lived temporarily on a small island called Inis Oírr. 

 One website said that she was the only female that was allowed to live there (not sure who was doing the allowing), but at any rate she did not stay long. An angel appeared to her and according to this site said, "Go until you find nine white deer grazing. It is there that you will find your place of resurrection." So go she did, but brief though her stay in Inis Oírr may have been, there was once a church there with her name.

After leaving Inis Oírr, Gobnait returned to the southern coast of Ireland where eventually she found three white deer which she followed until she found six more and there, in Ballyvourney, she founded a convent and kept bees. The sisters were healers and used honey when treating their patients. I found a bit more about the bees here.
Her connection to honey bees is complex, beginning with the angel telling her to find her “resurrection place,” where the soul leaves the body. In Celtic mythology, the soul was thought to depart the body as a bee or a butterfly. Bees have long held an important place in Irish culture, and ancient laws were called the Bech Bretha (“Bee Judgments”). Honey is well-known for its curative properties, and Gobnait was renowned for her care of the sick. She is said to have had a strong relationship with bees and used honey in the treatment of illness and healing of wounds.
In Balleyvourney today, St. Gobnait's house and holy well are visited by many pilgrims and tourists, particularly on her feast day, February 11 which, I believe, is the day on which this medieval statue is taken out of a drawer and venerated.

The website where I found this image has a great interactive map with 360 degree images of the pilgrimage site.

In Balleyvourney there is a trail with ten stations where people stop and pray and rub some relic or statue. The first stop is this statue by Seamus Murphy.

Here is Gobnait's grave.

One of the two Holy Wells

On this website you can see a video of the inside of the well and hear an audio of someone filling a cup from the well and pouring it back in which is better than it sounds, I think. You have to scroll down.

The church and graveyard

And in one of the walls of the church...

...this hole in which you will find...

This iron bulla or bowl which Gobnait is said to have thrown at unwanted visitors and which, after accomplishing its purpose, returned to her--or it might be a Cromwellian canonball.

Another time when some enemy or other was around, Gobnait is said to have sent the bees after them.

I like these banisters.

All of this makes me wish I could get on a plane and go to Ireland tomorrow.

Before I leave, I will mention that in England Gobnait/Abigail is known as St. Deborah, Deborah meaning honey bee. My Abigail's mother, however, really does not like the name Deborah for some reason, so we won't go there.

Janet Cupo is the proprietor of this blog.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 42 ~ Elizabeth Barton

I’m afraid I’ve made a big mistake. I started reading about Elizabeth Barton under the vague impression that she was one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, and the more definite impression that at minimum she had been beatified before the 1970 canonization of the Forty. I find that the first impression is definitely wrong, and can find no evidence of her beatification other than an icon which refers to her that way. Moreover, it is not even entirely agreed upon even by Catholic sources that she was not a fraud. However, I had promised Janet a post for this week, and it’s too late for me to research anyone else. So I’m proceeding with more or less what I had intended to say, which is fundamentally not dependent on Barton’s status as Saint or Blessed.

When I hear someone congratulating himself for “speaking truth to power,” I figure the chances are pretty good that what he has in fact done is to speak his purported truth to someone who has no ability or will whatsoever to do him any harm. And usually that he expects to be congratulated by other powerful people who agree with him, so that on balance he has gained something without taking any risk, though he may have to put up with some abuse from people whose opinion doesn’t matter to him anyway.

It was not so for Elizabeth Barton, otherwise known by titles including “The Maid of Kent,” “The Holy Maid of Kent,” and even “The Mad Maid of Kent,” or many other Catholics in 16th century England. I was just looking over my contributions to this series and I see that with this one three of six will have been of that period. It interests me greatly in part because of my ancestral and cultural connection with Great Britain, and in part because our time has something in common with theirs. Not that we are at anything like the same risk from our government that, for instance, St. Thomas More was from his: it is an imprudent exaggeration to say that we are being persecuted. Nevertheless, the trend now has a similar shape, in that Christians—not only Catholics now—who only recently constituted the mainstream of society are finding themselves rather abruptly and startlingly cast in the role of outsider, subversive, and possibly traitor. And this has happened without any change on the part of the Christians, but rather in the world around them.

Some of the facts in the case of Elizabeth Barton are disputed, and, as will be noted shortly, perhaps deliberately suppressed. This much is clear:

Elizabeth Barton was born in 1506 and was a domestic servant in the household of a farmer near Aldington, which is near Canterbury. In 1525, when she was nineteen years old, she began to have a series of visions and to utter prophecies. She attracted a great deal of attention. Apparently at least one of her prophecies, having to do with the impending death of a child, was more or less accurate, so that of course gave her credibility. She claimed many revelations, including accounts of visions of heaven and hell and even visits there, and these involved some claims which are certainly suspicious to put it mildly: for instance, a handkerchief which she claimed had been spat upon by the devil.

The religious authorities naturally wanted to figure out what was going on, so a group of clergy under the leadership of the Archbishop (of Canterbury), William Warham, investigated her. They found nothing heretical in her utterances. Her following grew, and Warham arranged for her to be admitted to the Benedictine convent of St. Sepulchre.

Prominent people, including Catholics like More and Fisher, took an interest in her. In 1528 she had an audience with Cardinal Wolsey, and soon thereafter with the King himself. At that point she was no threat to them. But as the matter of the King’s wish to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragorn annulled so that he could marry Anne Boleyn came to a head, Elizabeth, instead of flattering Henry as she might have, vigorously denounced him—to his face, according to some accounts—asserting that he would “die a villain’s death” if he persisted in marrying Boleyn.

Henry, obviously, was not going to let this stand. But it was not yet legally an act of treason to prophesy a bad future about the king, so Henry had no law at hand which would justify moving against her, and Archbishop Warham was well-disposed toward her. The marriage of course proceeded in 1532, and Henry did not die immediately as Barton had said he would. And when Archbishop Warham died in the same year he was succeeded by Cranmer, who was much more eager to do the King’s bidding.

Barton refused to be silent (despite having been urged to do so by no less than Thomas More). In 1533 she was arrested. What happened during her interrogation by Cranmer and others is not known, although they said she was not subjected to torture. In any case a confession in which she admitted to having been a fraud all along was soon forthcoming. And on the basis of it, she and five supporters who were said to be complicit in her fraud , including her parish priest and a monk who had been her spiritual adviser in the convent, were condemned to death, not by a trial, but by a “bill of attainder,” a legislative decree of capital punishment, and a term which Americans of a certain age may recognize as being prohibited by the Constitution, for very good reason. On April 20th, 1534, the five were executed. Barton was merely hanged. The others, all men, were butchered in the horrendous manner suffered by many other martyrs in this period.

If her confession was voluntary, was it made in the hope of obtaining clemency? And if it wasn’t for that reason, and she knew that she was going to die either way, why would she have confessed? If she was dishonest enough to have made up her revelations all along, why abjure them and go to death disgraced, unless by coercion? I suppose it might have been fear of hell suddenly catching up with her. But then if she had been all along the mere liar and opportunist which Cranmer said she was, why would she have not given up her attacks on the King long before, when it was obvious that they would eventually lead to her death? It would have been simple enough to have another revelation in which God forgave Henry.

There seems reasonable ground to suspect that the confession was coerced. As the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes:

Protestant authors allege that these confessions alone are conclusive of her imposture, but Catholic writers, though they have felt free to hold divergent opinions about the nun, have pointed out the suggestive fact that all that is known as to these confessions emanates from Cromwell or his agents; that all available documents are on his side; that the confession issued as hers is on the face of it not her own composition; that she and her companions were never brought to trial, but were condemned and executed unheard; that there is contemporary evidence that the alleged confession was even then believed to be a forgery. For these reasons, the matter cannot be considered as settled, and unfortunately, the difficulty of arriving at any satisfactory and final decision now seems insuperable.

Perhaps she was honest, and a genuine martyr. Perhaps she was something of a lunatic and no consistency in her statements and actions can be expected. Or perhaps she was the out-and-out deliberate liar that Cromwell said she was. Unless some new and indisputable evidence is discovered, the world will never know.

We tend to think that the truth will eventually win out, historically speaking: that, for instance, a More or a Fisher will in time be recognized as having been in the right, and his accusers disgraced. But that isn’t necessarily true. As with the conviction of innocent persons in criminal trials, we only know about the cases in which the truth was eventually discovered, but there is no reason to think there aren’t others in which it was not. It would be terrible to go to one’s death tainted by the guilt for some atrocious crime which one had in fact not committed. And of course even the judgments of “history,” which is to say historians, are changeable. I noticed in reading about Elizabeth Barton that she plays a role in Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall, which everyone seems to agree is very anti-Catholic. Mantel and one of her admirers, the late Christopher Hitchens, have put some effort into revising the favorable picture of Thomas More left with the public by Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, and I imagine they have found a receptive audience. A few months ago I read reviews of a book by an historian claiming to show that the persecution of the early Church by the Roman empire is essentially a Christian myth. It would not surprise me, given the direction of our culture, if in a century or two that were the generally accepted truth.

This is worth considering in an age where many people in power seem to have no regard at all for truth. One facing a penalty for speaking the truth is greatly encouraged and strengthened if he believes that others know what he is doing, or will learn of it later. And sometimes it happens that way. But it can’t be counted on. One who is about to speak the actual truth to actual power can’t count on any sort of vindication in this world, and must be prepared not only to face trouble in this life but to be permanently and irrevocably slandered and disgraced. So perhaps the Maid of Kent, holy or mad, can serve, if not as a patron, as an example for those who suffer for doing the right thing but whose courage and sacrifice are never recognized.

The fullest accounts of Elizabeth Barton’s life that I found in my not very exhaustive search can be read here and here. Both are blogs, and I can’t vouch for their accuracy, but they don’t contradict any other sources I found.

Maclin Horton is the proprietor of his own blog Light on Dark Water from which sprang this series. You might want to check out the current series there, 52 Movies or last year's 52 AuthorsIn this series he has written about St HenrikSt. John FisherSt Ansgar, St. Mary of Egypt and St. John Kemble.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 41 ~ St. Michael

Whenever I cycle to work, I pass a 300-foot medieval tower topped with a 16-foot gilt statue of St Michael casting down Satan. The statue, dark with soot, was removed ten or fifteen years ago for cleaning, so that now it shines and catches the sunlight as it moves – for it is also a wind vane. In the US it would long ago have been removed for good, because the tower is not that of a church, but of the city hall, and the Archangel Michael is one of the two patron saints of the city. Brussels cathedral has a double dedication, to St Gudula, a local woman of the 7th century, and to St Michael.

In 1886 Pope Leo XIII added a prayer to St Michael to the prayers to be said after Low Mass (basically any Mass without chants, music or incense):

Holy Michael Archangel, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do you, prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.  Amen.

The Low Mass as a distinct liturgy was abolished before I was born, but when I was a teenager somebody gave me a prayer card with this prayer on it, and for years I would invoke St Michael before any challenging event or confrontation, and during particular times of stress. At some point the card was lost or worn to pieces, but the first sentence at least I have by heart when needed (the rest, admittedly, becomes somewhat garbled, but the general gist remains the same). I’ve been repeating the opening words almost like a mantra the last couple of days, but not because of anything going on in my own life.

Seeking to know the names of angels, to be able to invoke them (or conjure them) in person, is one of the esoteric practices that the Church has from time to time had to warn against, and I have been in bookshops where the ‘spirituality’ section was filled with books about angels that were either frivolous or reeked of the occult. But Michael we know from Scripture as a powerful defender. In the Book of Daniel, the prophet records how (in Ronald Knox’s translation):

I stood by the banks of the great river, where it is called Tigris. I looked up, and saw a man standing there clad all in linen, and his girdle of fine gold. Clear as topaz his body was, like the play of lightning shone his face, and like burning cressets his eyes; arms and legs of him had the sheen of bronze, and when he spoke, it was like the murmur of a throng.

This was not Michael, but a lesser angel who speaks of Michael as ‘one of the high lords’ and ‘prince’, in effect as the guardian angel of the People of Israel (or at least the protector of those of them in exile in Babylon).

What prompted me to think of writing about St Michael here, however, was a recent reading of the Rheims New Testament, produced by Catholic priests in exile at Rheims in France in 1582. St John on Patmos had a vision of Michael himself, recorded in chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: & being with child, she cried also travailing, and is in anguish to be delivered. And there was seen an other sign in heaven, and behold a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns: and on his heads seven diadems, and his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth, and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered: that when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. And she brought forth a man child, who was to govern all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God and to his throne, & the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared of God, that there they might feed her a thousand two hundred sixty days.
And there was made a great battle in heaven, Michael and his Angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his Angels: and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And that great dragon was cast forth, the old serpent, which is called the Devil and Satan, which seduces the whole world: and he was cast into the earth, and his Angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a great voice in heaven, saying: Now is there made salvation and force, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: because the accuser of our brethren is cast forth, who accused them before the sight of our God day and night. And
they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives even unto death.

This is the text of the 1582 Rheims New Testament (with spelling modernized), which has substantial notes explaining difficult passages. The woman clothed with the sun, the notes explain, is ‘properly and principally spoken of the Church: and by allusion, of our B. Lady also’. The iconography of Our Lady of Victories, and of the Assumption of Our Lady, have adopted this image of the woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet (and the European Union adopted her crown as its flag). But as the note explains, the woman of the Apocalypse is first and foremost an image of the Church facing persecutions, and only by secondary application an image of Our Lady overcoming them. Linking this directly to the times in which they lived, the exile priests wrote:

As the Church Catholic now in England in this time of persecution, because it hath no public state of regiment nor open free exercise of holy functions, may be said to be fled into the desert, yet it is neither unknown to the faithful that follow it, nor the enemies that persecute it [...] it may also very well signify the desolation and affliction that the Church suffers and hath suffered from time to time in this wilderness of the world, by all the forerunners and ministers of Antichrist, Tyrants and Heretics.

Another note, perhaps as a warning to those too focused on the angels themselves, was that ‘When the Angels or we have the victory, we must know it is by the blood of Christ, and so all is referred always to him.’ But what struck me most was their note on the War in Heaven:

In the Church there is a perpetual combat betwixt St Michael (protector of the Church militant as he was sometime of the Jews’ Synagogue Dan. 10, 21) and his Angels, and the Devil and his ministers, the perfect victory over whom, shall be at the judgement. Mark here also the cause why St Michael is commonly painted fighting with a dragon.

This is a combat in the Church – not between the Church and outsiders – and the ‘the accuser of our brethren’ will be cast out for good only when the Heavens and the Earth are made anew. That new world brought about by the Blood of the Lamb is the theme of the Ghent Altarpiece; but many famous artists of the Renaissance (in these parts Gerard David, Brueghel and Rubens, to name only the most famous), took the War in Heaven as their theme. And that was my biggest surprise: that these priests in exile should take the time to add a sentence instructing their persecuted flock in art appreciation.

As I was pondering the writing of this piece, the final push was given by another reader of this blog, who posted the following link on Facebook: Saint Michael, Patron Saint of Leggings.

Oh, and this is the coat of arms of the City of Brussels.

Paul Arblaster is my second oldest internet acquaintance (The oldest is Mary who also comments on this blog.). He has also written about St. AnthonySt. CuthbertMargaretSt. Kizito, St. Margaret Clitherow, and St. Peter Ascanus  for this series.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 40 ~ St. Mary of Egypt

Somehow I suspect that the term “nymphomaniac” is not in favor now, even in a situation where it might, once upon a time, have seemed appropriate to apply it. But then we do have the new term, “sexual addiction,” which seems serviceable enough as a description of the same basic syndrome, so I guess we’re not at a loss. Moreover, we no longer have to use different terms for men (“satyriasis”) and women, and undoubtedly that represents progress.

In any case, the woman we now know as St. Mary of Egypt had a problem. I have read several versions of her story, and some are more colorful than others. Some say merely that she lived a profligate life, and perhaps that she had been a prostitute. Others say that she was indeed a prostitute, and moreover that it was for fun rather than profit, and that she was driven by what we would surely today—even today, even by secular standards in one of the most sexually permissive cultures that has ever existed—see as an unhealthy, excessive, and reckless sexual obsession or compulsion.

The basic version of the story goes like this: having spent her youth living a profligate life in Alexandria, and suffering from a bit of ennui, Mary joined a group of pilgrims sailing to Palestine for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. But she apparently did this more or less in the spirit of a modern party girl taking a week-long Carnival cruise to Jamaica, and had no particular interest or intentions regarding the religious aspect of the trip.

Having arrived in Jerusalem, and still, um, partying, she joined the crowds heading to the church where the feast was to be celebrated, and which held a relic of the Cross. But when she arrived at the door, she found that some invisible force prevented her entry. After trying repeatedly, she realized that it was her sins that were keeping her out of the celebration, and was suddenly consumed with remorse. Seeing a statue of Our Lady, she implored the assistance of the Blessed Mother and promised to renounce her sins. Trying the church door again, she was able to enter and to venerate the relic.

Afterwards she roamed into the desert and lived there alone for forty years, until by accident she crossed paths with an elderly monk named Zosimus. He thought she looked like some kind of wild thing, naked, and with short white hair. Having covered herself with his mantle, she amazed him with her knowledge of the scriptures, which she seemed to know by some kind of immediately infused knowledge. Recognizing him as a priest, she asked that he return to her a year later and bring her Holy Communion. He did so; she received, recited the prayer of Simeon, and asked again that the monk return a year later.

Again he did as requested. But this time he found her dead, and with a note written on the ground saying that she had died that same night she had received Communion from him, and asking that he bury her. Zosimus found that he was unable, because of his age and weakness and the hardness of the ground, to dig the grave. A lion wandered by, and Zosimus asked his help. Together they buried Mary, and Zosimus went back to his monastery and wrote the story of her life.

Now, we may think some or all of this is legendary (though I would be sorry to have to give up the lion). And Mary is certainly an extreme character. If I had met her in the desert I would have assured her that we all sin, and she shouldn’t be so hard on herself, and so on.

But I think this kind of harsh lesson is one we ought to listen to. It seems incontrovertible that our culture is in the grip of some strange sexual mania. The sheer level of unreason involved is disturbing. I’m sure there are things happening in the spiritual world that we can’t see, and it’s very clear that simply to argue for what seems to be obvious facts—for instance, that a man’s belief that he is really a woman does not make him a woman—is not going to make any impression on those who are caught up in the mania.

It leads me to think often of “This kind cometh not out but by prayer and fasting.” Personally I dislike hearing these words because I really dislike even the mildest sort of fasting. Maybe St. Mary of Egypt, as extreme as she is, is exactly the kind of example and intercessor I need, and the world needs at this time.

The story as I’ve told it above sticks to the basic narrative that’s common to most accounts of St. Mary’s life. But there are variants. Google will show you any number of them. One of the most well-told versions is this one by a professor of religious studies who is an Orthodox Christian. There is a very vivid account in the Golden Legend. Here is a very lengthy account written from the point of view of Zosimus.

And here is my favorite variant of all, from the 13th century Smithfield Decretals:

Maclin Horton is the proprietor of his own blog Light on Dark Water from which sprang this series. You might want to check out the current series there, 52 Movies or last year's 52 AuthorsIn this series he has written about St HenrikSt. John Fisher, St Ansgar, and St. John Kemble.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 39 ~ Our Lady Undoer of Knots

My mother is very patient, especially with tedious tasks. When I was a girl, definitely less than 12 years old, I went to my mother one day with a big, tangled mess of yarn. I asked her would she please untangle it. I was lucky that she had nothing more important to do at that moment, so she patiently started to untangle the mess with her strong, long well-manicured nails. (Unfortunately, I did not inherit these). She patiently continued the untangling, and after about 30 minutes, had undone all the knots, and had wound the yarn into a fairly large, neat ball.

A few years ago, I needed to pray about a very difficult situation. Somehow I stumbled upon the devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. There was a novena for this.

As I prayed the first day of the novena, I remembered my mother and the tangle of yarn, and her great patience in its gradual transformation into a neat ball. It seemed that the Blessed Mother was quickly making progress with the knots in my life. On the second day of the novena, and again on the third, important events occurred to help begin the process of problem-solving. It's taken a few years to get to this point, where things are substantially better.

The Marian devotion entitled Mary Untier of Knots shares its name with a [400] year old painting depicting Our Lady untying the knots of a white wedding ribbon. This painting played a significant role in the history of Mary Undoer of Knots Devotion. A German nobleman, Wolfgang Langenmantel was distressed when he found his wife Sophia was planning to divorce him.

To save his marriage, Wolfgang sought counsel from the wise and pious Fr. Jakob Rem. Fr. Rem, a Jesuit priest, was known to have a strong devotion to Mary. Dedicated to his marriage Wolfgang brought Sophia to meet with Fr. Rem 4 times in 28 days. On their fourth visit on September 28, 1615, the Langenmantel’s brought their wedding ribbon. In this time period it was customary for the maid of honor to tie together the arms of the bride and groom. This uniting of arms with a ribbon symbolized their union for life.

Before an image of Our Lady of Snows, Fr. Rem took the white ribbon and untied the knots one by one. When he finished the ribbon became dazzling white. This was taken as confirmation that Mary had heard their prayers. Fortunately, the divorce was averted, and the Langenmatels remained happily married.”

Many years later, the couple's grandson donated a family altar, and he commissioned Johann Schmittdner to do a painting for it, and inspired by the story of the ribbon, he painted the Baroque painting ‘Mary Untier of Knots.’

The painting has survived wars and revolutions, and continues to draw people to it. Today the original still hangs over the family altar found at the Church of St. Peter am Perlach in Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany.”

For some more information about the symbolism in the painting, see here.

Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us.

Louise LaMotte is a friend from Light on Dark Water. Since she lived in Australia at the time we met online, I never thought we would meet in person. I was wrong. She has written here about St. Mary of the CrossPope St. Pius X, Fr. Jacques Hamel,  and St. Damien of Molokai.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 38 ~ St. Joseph of Cupertino

Saint Joseph Cupertino (1603-1663)

Every picture of St. Joseph that I could find portrayed him flying high
in the air--even in death. (Janet)

If Saint Joseph Cupertino had been our Parish Priest I would have denounced him repeatedly as a drooling idiot and and a drivelling nuisance. Cupertino’s biography was composed by an Italian author, Robert Nuti (1678). There is also a saccharine film about his life, Joseph Cupertino: The Reluctant Saint (1962). I chucked it in after seven minutes. I wanted to hang on in there to see him fly, like a charismatic Mary Poppins, but the dollops of sugary pathos put it past endurance. I must confess that the flying is, to me, the most appealing and outstanding attribute of this little known Italian saint.

         My knowledge of Saint Joseph Cupertino’s existence is almost certainly down to a remark about him in a novel by Alice Thomas Ellis, The Twenty Seventh Kingdom. Set in Chelsea in the early 1950s, that is, in the kindgom in which I was born and spent my infancy, this amusing novel features a beautiful young African postulant who levitates. At the end of the story Sister Valentine saves the day for the bohemian scamp of a protagoness by flying off a London bridge. Sister Valentine is on leave from her convent on account of her habit of levitation (unless memory is falsified, but I think that’s the reason). As with Saint Joseph Cupertino, her levitations are an unwanted intrusion of the supernatural in the mundane world of her convent. The dreary side of Alice Thomas Ellis was her incessant and humourless moaning about the ‘New Mass’ and similar artefacts of the ‘spirit’ of the Second Vatican Council. The whimsical and attractive side of her Catholic faith in on display in The Twenty Seventh Kingdom, a novel novel, for which, though only briefly mentioned, Saint Joseph is a kind of patron saint. Here we see a Catholic faith unbothered by moralizing and solidly planted in the aesthetics of old holy cards. It is not easy to say what the real Saint Joseph Cupertino would have made of it. A minor Catholic iteration of the adultery-in-Hampstead lady novelists of her generation, Alice Thomas Ellis is also a minor foot soldier in the French legion of Greene, Waugh and Bernanos in putting a ‘failed’ priest / postulant (Cupertino and Valentine) at the heart of her novel. As with many characters in Bernanos’ French Legion of Misfits, Sister Valentine is a figure who fits into the worldly world very poorly, and yet whose flights of ‘fancy’ make the worldling’s world possible and endurable.

Joseph Cupertino seems to have spent his life shuttling between the Franciscans and the Capuchins, expelled from one to the other and back again after surpassing his confrere’s exacerbation thresholds by standing and gaping, going into prolonged ecstasies at the sound of a church bell or any other pious stimulant (he had to be forbidden from any contact with the choir, as a kind of preemptive trigger warning), forgetting the difference between brown and white bread (Franciscans like to tuck into their food), and above all, the repeated drift into floating one foot in the air. I always retained had the impression, from the novel about Sister Valentine, that Cupertino literally flew up to the roof of the church and flew around. But it seems it was just low level levitation, although even this proved sufficiently ‘inappropriate’ to attract the untoward attentions of the Inquisition.

Saint Joseph Cupertino was ranked as an idiot by many of his contemporaries and is much petitioned today by those sitting for examinations on account of his ability to spout brilliant remarks out of an apparently empty head. Saint Joseph Cupertino pray for us!