St. Christina (the Astonishing!) – July 24th

Today is the Feast of St. Christina – one of the more colourful of 13th century saints.

Christina The Astonishing from Butler’s

Lives of the Saints

Christina the Astonishing, Virgin (A.D. 1224)

Christina was born at Brusthem in the diocese of Liege, in 1150, and at the age of fifteen was left an orphan, with two elder sisters. When she was about twenty-two Christina had a seizure, was assumed to be dead, and in due course was carried in an open coffin to the church, where a Mass of requiem was begun. Suddenly, after the Agnus Dei, Christina sat up, soared to the beams of the roof, and there perched herself. Everyone fled from the church except her elder sister, who, though thoroughly frightened, gave a good example of recollection to the others by stopping till the end of Mass. The priest then made Christina come down (it was said that she had taken refuge up there because she could not bear the smell of sinful human bodies). She averred that she had actually been dead; that she had gone down to Hell and there recognized many friends, and to Purgatory, where she had seem more friends, and then to Heaven.

This was only the beginning of a series of hardly less incredible occurrences. Christina fled into remote places, climbed trees and towers and rocks, and crawled into ovens, to escape from the smell of humans. She would handle fire with impunity and, in the coldest weather, dash into the river, or into a mill-race and be carried unharmed under the wheel. She prayed balancing herself on the top of a hurdle or curled up on the ground in such a way that she looked like a ball. Not unnaturally, everyone thought she was mad or ‘full of devils,’ and attempts were made to confine her, but she always broke loose. Eventually she was caught by a man who had to give her a violent blow on the leg to do it, and it was thought her leg was broken. She was therefore taken to the house of a surgeon in Liege, who put splints on the limb and chained her to a pillar for safety. She escaped in the nights. On one occasion when a priest, not knowing her and frightened by her appearance, had refused to give her communion, she rushed wildly through the streets, jumped into the Meuse, and swam away. She lived by begging, dressed in rags, and behaved in a terrifying manner.

The last years of her life Christina passed in the convent of St. Catherine at Saint-Trond, and there she died at the age of seventy-four. Even while she lived there some who regarded her with great respect. Louis, Count of Looz, treated her as a friend, welcoming her to his castle, accepting her rebukes, and on his deathbed insisting on manifesting his conscience to her. Blessed Mary of Oignies had regard for her, the prioress of St. Catherine’s praised her obedience, and St. Lutgardis sought her advice.

The Song of Christina

In the Psalms it is known as a Prayer of the afflicted, when she is overwhelmed and poureth out her complaint before the Lord

 

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee.

Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily.

For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth.

My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread.

By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin.

I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.

I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top.

Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me.

For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping,

Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down.

My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass.

But thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.

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43 Responses to St. Christina (the Astonishing!) – July 24th

  1. Mr Badger says:

    Did she perform any acts of charity?? This article certainly makes her sound astonishing, but why is there no mention of any heroic virtue? She may have crawled into ovens and climbed trees to avoid the smell of humans (tad rude really), but I prefer saints who actually did something for their fellows, and for God.

  2. Mr Badger says:

    She prayed balancing herself on the top of a hurdle

    That’s whats called <i.making a spectacle of yourself. Christ had some things to say about the practice of praying in an attention seeking and flamboyant manner. As we all know.

  3. Mr Badger says:

    On a more serious note, behind the haze of hagiography and folklore, it is possble to detect the bafflement of the mediaeval mind when confronted with the tragedy of mental illness.

  4. golden chersonnese says:

    Somebody’s collected stuff about her and put it in Wikipedia. All quite good and Christina does seem very odd.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Christina_the_Astonishing

    I see there she is the patron of millers, the insane and psychiatrists. Millers?

    I’ve a sister Christina though I think my father named her after Christ rather than any saint, particularly this one.

  5. Mr Badger says:

    The story is a tad whacky, but then again, who’d be a protestant? It’s a great example of the colour and folk-tradition that the Church preserves, some elements of the story are neither plausible nor edifying, but I’m glad that the living tradition of the Church has room for such things.

  6. golden chersonnese says:

    More than a tad, Badger (almost as unusual as the story about St Winifred – she of the holy wells – that was posted here a while back). However it all seems to come from the account of her life written by a respected Dominican professor of philosophy and theology at Louvain, Thomas of Cantimpré (1201-1272). We see he was even a part-contemporary of Christina (1150-1224).

    In fact his account (in Latin) is here:

    http://www.peregrina.com/translations/Christina_L.html

    Here’s a whole page on her with lots of interesting stuff:

    http://www.cynthialarge.com/christina/christinaessay2.html

  7. Mr Badger says:

    It strikes me that the stories about her taking dramatic actions to avoid the smell of sinful human flesh are problematic. It leans towards the view that the body and by extension the world, is something to be shunned and escaped from. But as Chesterton pointed out in his study of Aquinas, that isn’t a Catholic view, God has walked in the dust and mud of galilee, and flesh has been crucified and risen again. (That’s my paraphrase from memory, apologies to those who know it better) — so those stories trouble me.

  8. toadspittle says:

    .
    Nowadays, we would call her a ‘Bag Lady.’ Thinks Toad.

  9. Catholic online has a different Christina for todays feast – one from Italy.

    http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=148

    Equally astonishing but less problematical.

  10. Mr Badger says:

    .

    Nowadays, we would call her a ‘Bag Lady.’ Thinks Toad.

    Nowadays she might possibly (though maybe not) have been given some help. Me-thinks there is a potential thesis topic in all this. How does one discern the reality behind pre-modern accounts of mental illness? — Pay attention anthropology students!! :-)

  11. Mr Badger says:

    Teresa, you have expressed what I meant in my last comment far better than I did, or indeed, could.

    I agree that hagiography (especially mediaeval) can sometimes obscure sanctity with a cloud of miracle stories. — If she is indeed canonized, I agree that it must be based on more than what is presented in the article.

    So I find your two pennies to be worth several pounds.

  12. teresa says:

    Mr. Badger, many thanks for the encouragement.

  13. manus says:

    Why millers indeed?

    Given the need to find patron saints for so many new occupations, and given that the entire story sounds like a medieval take on the Matrix, I propose our poor Christina to become (in due course) the patron saint of sentient software.

  14. golden chersonnese says:

    As far as I can make out from Thomas of Cantimpré’s Latin, I don’t think Christina ever said she couldn’t stand the smell of human bodies. We may have been rather previous with her.

    Hello, dear Teresa, how is my Latin?

    horrebat enim, ut quidam autumant, subtilitas ejus spiritus, odorem corporum humanorum.

    “For, .as some suppose, the delicacy of her spirit could not abide the odour of human bodies.” (Teresa???)

    (She had just made a sudden quick comeback from the ethereal realms of the Throne of Divine Majesty, after all. I’m sure there’s an important clue there somewhere.)

    Interesting, Thomas of Cantimpré and Thomas of Aquino were contemporary Dominican professors of philosophy and theology as well. Wonder if that means anything?

    By the way, Badger, Cantimpré’s account of Christina was written in 1232, only 8 years after her death. And Cantimpré was a professor of philosophy at Louvain, not Hans Christian Andersen, we must remember, who said he had the testimony of many witnesses.

  15. Gertrude says:

    The two Christinas’ is quite interesting, because I cannot find either in the ‘old’ Roman Martyrology. Perhaps they are covered by the following:
    “And elsewhere in divers places, many other holy martyrs, confessors, and holy virgins”.
    To which we used to reply ‘Thanks be to God’.

  16. Mr Badger says:

    golden chersonnese,

    Thanks for the extra info, it does give us much more to chew over. I take it that you read her response as reflecting the sudden shock of being withdrawn from the divine, and suddenly thrust back into the world of fallen flesh and blood. — In which case it was unfair of me to interpret her actions as a rejection of the material world and the human body per se. Perhaps the story is more about the psychic shock of experiencing heaven, but then having to live “in the world”?

  17. Mr Badger says:

    By the way, Badger, Cantimpré’s account of Christina was written in 1232, only 8 years after her death. And Cantimpré was a professor of philosophy at Louvain, not Hans Christian Andersen, we must remember, who said he had the testimony of many witnesses.

    I certainly don’t want to insult her biographer. Some aspects of the story I do find implausible, (and certainly not because of an a priori rejection of miracles). I think that the story as it as come down to us shows signs of having “grown in the telling”, but that is a literary judgement, and I don’t expect others to agree. — In terms of when the “growing” occured, I think 70+ years and then a further eight is plenty of time.

  18. golden chersonnese says:

    I dare say, Badger, that if she’d been dead a few days and had travelled to Hell, Purgatory and the Divine Throne Room as a spirit only, suddenly being back in the room in Belgium in full kit at the third Agnus Dei was probably a tad stressful for poor Christina.

    I read later in Cantimpre’s account that not only was her spirit ‘subtle’ after her out of body experience, but her body was also and she could move amongst the tress effortlessly, slither out of her chains and even roll herself up into a ball.

    Gertrude, I hope you don’t mind if I ask if the icon at the top is actually the other St Christina from the early Italian Church? (She seems to be a St Christina the Martyr)

  19. Mr Badger says:

    golden chersonnese, I know from experience that waking up and finding yourself in a room in Belgium can be very stressful, even if the reason for your confusion is less than spiritual :-)

  20. Gertrude says:

    GC: Indeed – I was wondering the same thing! I will check fifthwith.
    Supposedly GC yes – it is the ‘astonishing’ one, but I changed it just in case .

  21. golden chersonnese says:

    Ah well, I suppose all the saints are the Lord’s ‘martyrs’, Gertrude, one way or another. That’s why we’re so intrigued with them, probably.

  22. golden chersonnese says:

    Mr Badger, ahem!!

  23. golden chersonnese says:

    Hello, again, Teresa, thanks for solving the mystery of how St Christina was able to live again finally amongst humans. It looks like she threw herself into the baptismal font and by means of the the holy water there she was cured, is that right?

    Teresa, have you seen this site?

    It looks like a mine of information and materials (mostly in Latin) on medieval religious women.

    http://monasticmatrix.org/

    That’s where I found stuff on our St Christina. Manus did mention something about ‘Matrix’, I recall.
    .

  24. toadspittle says:

    .

    It could be read above that Christina did not mind the smell of humans, just the smell of human sin. Which can be somewhat unpleasant, as anyone who has spent any time in a newsroom can attest.
    If she’d managed to find a few sinless humans, she might have been as sane as the rest of us.

    Which isn’t saying much, Toad agrees.

  25. manus says:

    A fantastic website, GC.

    Uncanny that your trailing ‘.’ anticipates Toad’s leading ‘.’ Deja vu, one might say.

    And if there is anyone out there who hasn’t seen the Matrix, I would heartily recommend it as a wonderful and entertaining romp. Don’t read anything about it, just watch it. And don’t bother with the disappointing follow-up films unless you really must.

    For then you will discover why St Christina could be the patron saint of sentient software, and what all that has to do with the stench of human beings.

  26. golden chersonnese says:

    Thanks, Manus. I must watch it. It’s the one with Keanu Reeves, isn’t it? Well, there’s a good enough reason for watching it right there – scrumptious. Looks like a movie about St Christina Mirabilis might be a winner too. Keanu Reeves could play all the sorely vexed priests’ parts.

    Thanks Gertrude too. This post is getting some lively interest.

  27. Mr Badger says:

    Manus, the problem with the Matrix, as you may or may not be aware, is that it was followed by the disappointing follow-up films.

  28. Mr Badger says:

    Gertrude, I notice that the saintly figure in the icon has been replaced by someone more appropriately wild eyed. Very nice.

    This post is getting some lively interest.

    Well yes, we’re astonished.

    It could be read above that Christina did not mind the smell of humans, just the smell of human sin. Which can be somewhat unpleasant, as anyone who has spent any time in a newsroom can attest.

    Well if people have been sinning in newsrooms I’m not aware of it. Then again I do have five years of emails to catch up on. PS check your phone Manus, you have a message, nothing important though.

  29. Gertrude says:

    Owing to some doubt whether the Christina in the icon was the Martyr or the Virgin, I erred on the side of caution and changed it to a confirmed image of Christina the Astonishing!
    Of course the Martyr might also have been a Virgin (Liturgically speaking of course).

  30. golden chersonnese says:

    We’d better pray to both of them tonight, just to be on the safe side, Gertrude.

  31. manus says:

    Badger,

    A phone message at work I assume – I look forward to it! Yes, the two follow-up films are terribly disappointing, though given the basic scenario how could they not be – I do make that point in my earlier post, I think.

    However, GC, as the trilogy proceeds, Keanu practically becomes a vexed priest – he certainly dresses like one. Kung Fu in cassocks, I kid you not.

    Me, I’m rather more partial to Trinity. Oh dear, all that leather, I’d better go and lie down.

  32. toadspittle says:

    .

    “Well if people have been sinning in newsrooms I’m not aware of it.”
    Admits Badger, ( “the Astonishing!”.)

    Does the name “Rupert Murdoch” mean nothing to you? If so, you are indeed fortunate.

    .

  33. Mr Badger says:

    Toad my entire comment was a reference to the Murdoch saga. Why else would I tell Manus he had a voice-mail message???? I admit it wasn’t great comedy, but surely it was obvious that I was being tongue in cheek!!!!

  34. toadspittle says:

    .
    Well, it’s a relief to hear it’s just Toad’s denseness, badger. We can deal with that.

  35. Mr Badger says:

    The problem, dear Toad, is that you know perfectly well that you’re not dense, and for that reason you don’t always read carefully. It was careless not dense. :-)

    I do like the name “Mr Badger the astonishing” and may well change my moniker, it lends a bit of drama.

  36. manus says:

    O well, I was looking forward to my phone message. Now the whole world knows I haven’t got one. That should make the headlines. Meanwhile, over at JP’s we discover that Chris has named a mountain in his honour – Mt Badger, he called it. Astonishing.

  37. Mr Badger says:

    Meanwhile, over at JP’s we discover that Chris has named a mountain in his honour – Mt Badger, he called it. Astonishing.

    Manus, I have no idea what you could possibly mean by that. What on earth do you mean?? I accept in advance that it makes sense, but it’s over my head :-)

  38. manus says:

    Badger, yes, maybe I’m turning into a total nerd. But remember the time difference – it’s morning here, and I’m just catching up on the comments that appeared today at JPs. This had caught my eye from Chris:

    “Mt Badger,
    Firstly, let me say how absolutely shocked, I mean really SHOCKED, …”

    But then I wondered over here, and somehow expected your beady eye to have spotted this hilarious typo too, and to have retained its comic potential over the long hours of the day. I need to get out more. In fact I need to go to work, and pick up that phone message. That’s right, isn’t it? Anyway, may God bless us all.

  39. manus says:

    Obviously I “wandered” when I “wondered”.

  40. Mr Badger says:

    Now I see. :-) Mt Badger it is! Sounds rather noble

  41. golden chersonnese says:

    I suppose it would be completely uncalled for to suggest that Chris wanted to . . . ahem . . . ‘mount’ you (over the fireplace, of course, such was his displeasure with you), Badger.

  42. Mr Badger says:

    GC, I guffawed heartily at your last comment, no more need, nor decently could be, said.

  43. To all you boring people who are patronizing towards the Mediaeval Imagination- Modern psychology is sooo reductionist. Who’s to say Unicorns weren’t floating around as well. Christina might do as patron saint of the liberated symbol, the champion of manifested metaphor, the poet of the rafters…

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