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What’s Your Sign?

What’s Your Sign?

Happy Saint Valentine’s Day! It’s true. Today is the day we remember one of the eight saints who are named Valentine. The one we remember today is Valentine of Strasbourg. He was a bishop and he died in the 4th century. There’s not a lot of information about him except that his life was such that after he died people started calling him a saint. He is one of us.

 

We remember a lot of saints today: 236! Yes, I am going to write about all 236 of them, but I’ll try to keep it short.

 

One hundred, ninety-one of today’s saints are remembered together. They are called the Martyrs of September. They were massacred by a mob during the French Revolution for not taking an oath which would have placed priests under the control of the state. Technically, they are not saints. They haven’t passed through the canonical process to be saints. We say are beatified, and their title is blessed instead of saint.

 

There’s another group of martyrs, ten of them. Their names were found on an old martyrology but nobody knows anything else about them. They are called the Martyrs of 2 September. Having somehow been canonised, they are full-on saints.

 

Saints Concordius, Theodore, and Zenone were martyred together by Diocletian in Turkey. We call them the Martyrs of Nicomedia.

 

Finally, there are five more who were martyred during the Spanish Civil War:  Baldomere, Fortunato, Joan, Jose, and Lorenzo.

 

We remember the other 27 saints individually. And that brings the total number of saints up to 236.

 

A saint’s hagiography, or the story we tell about them, usually includes the way they die. It may seem like a lot of today’s saints got martyred, and they did, but quite a few died of natural causes too. Of the others who were martyred, one was scourged, one went to the furnace, and one to the stake. One was murdered, quite brutally too. A couple of them died in the desert. Licinus martyred one, but it doesn’t say how he did it. It is said that one of them is incorrupt. That means that his body has not decomposed. I’ll let you decide whether or not you believe that.

 

These saints are from all walks of life. Three were from the nobility, one was a slave, one had a doctorate degree, another was a maid at an inn. One was even an expat, like me.

 

They did lots of interesting things. They built churches, and convents, and things, two went on pilgrimages, one destroyed some idols, and one helped people who were victims of loan sharks. Ten were bishops, six were monks, four were hermits, and one was a miracle worker! Be honest, how many miracle workers are there in your parish?

 

Only one, though, Agricola of Avignon, has something that is his “representation.” That is, the thing that is his emblem. Agriocola’s emblem is the stork. Of all the reading I did about saints this week, this is the most interesting sentence: “His [Agricola’s] blessing ended an invasion of storks, leading to his patronage of them, and his emblem in art.” Think about that for a minute… An invasion of storks.

 

Lots of saints have emblems. For Saint Philomena it’s an anchor or a palm, for Saint George it’s a wheel. Saint Gregory the Great is often seen with a dove on his shoulder, and Saint Genevieve holds a candle. Saint Roch always has his faithful dog with him. I think Agricola is the only one who has a stork for his emblem.

After I recovered from the mental strain of trying to imagine an invasion of storks, I started to wonder what kinds of emblem my friends and I might have one day. Lots of saint’s emblems have to do with their martyrdom. The wheel, for example, is how Saint George died. I hope that none of us are martyred. You don’t have to be a martyr to be a saint or to get an emblem, though.  The symbol for Margaret of Scotland is reading. The famous Saint Swithun has broken eggs for an emblem, and Mary Magdalene has a red egg. Oda of Scotland is always shown with a magpie on her hand and a crown under her feet. None of them were martyred. They were just regular saints like you and me.

 

I made a list of some of my pals and tried to think of good emblems for them. I chose an airplane for one, and a baseball for another. After a little research I decided to grant one a piece of yellow sackcloth, but I won’t say who it is. I had a harder time coming up with an emblem for myself. It’s OK. Saints are usually dead before they get an emblem. It’s something to think about, though, isn’t it?

What kinds of things sum up your own life? What emblem do you think people might ascribe to you after you are dead? Do you want to give an emblem to someone who has already died? You can! Or, you can adopt an emblem for yourself while you’re still alive. Maybe you’ll choose something that defines you, or maybe something that you’d like to “lean into,” as they say. It’s a way of thinking about what’s important, distilling it all down.

 

Take a look at some of the links below and see if any colours or symbols seem to fit.

 

You can read about saint’s emblems here, and it tells something of the history of this practice.

 

There is a long list of saints and their emblems here.

 

You can read about the colours and symbols for the saints here. It might help you find an emblem for yourself or someone else.

 

Your own life, your particular sainthood, has meaning just like the saints of old. You should have an emblem too.

Linda McMillan has no symbol, except maybe for an empty Diet Coke can and a laptop.

Image: Pixabay

 

Some Notes of Possible Interest

 

This is my go-to site for information about the saints. There are other sites, and if you know of a more comprehensive one please let me know in the comments. But, I think this one is really good.

 

You can read about Saint Valentine of Strasbourg here.

 

You can read about the Martyrs of September here, including a list of their names.

 

Once a person is dead they may be beatified or canonised. If they are beatified we say that they are blessed, and if they are canonised we say that they are a saint. You can read all about it here.

 

You can read about the Martyrs of 2 September here, including a list of their names.

 

You can read about Concordius, Theodore, and Zenone, the Martyrs of Nicomedia, here.

 

You can read about Saint Margaret of Louvain who was murdered here.

 

You can read about Saint Justice of Lyons who died in the desert with a friend of his here.

 

Hagiography is from two Greek words which mean holy and writing. It is not to be confused with biography which is factual and historical. In hagiography we have to read between the lines, look for symbolism and try to figure out what the writer is really trying to tell us. It’s a little more difficult, but much more fun. I talked about it in this essay. There’s a paragraph about hagiography in there. And, for the overly-interested, I wrote about the saints here too.

 

The sentence about Saint Agricola is taken from here. You can read more about him here too.

 

You can read about saint’s emblems here, and it tells something of the history of this practice.

 

There is a long list of saints and their emblems here.

You can read about the colours and symbols for the saints here. It might help you find an emblem for yourself or someone else.

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