Sunday, March 02, 2008
No Big Fat Greek Wedding
Can you tell me what's up with St. Philomena? I was reading your archives and saw you had her associated w/ the St. Christopher legend type saints. Isn't there a church in Italy w/ her remains.
Well, there is a church with some remains, alrighty, but the Church has decided that we really don't know whose remains they are.
St. Philomena was a rock star of a saint for quite some time. And yet just the other day when I was out on a medal scout, she was MIA, although I did see several St. Philomena novena booklets. I've also often seen St. Philomena novena booklets in the back of churches I have visited.
Talk about confusing.
Here's the story. Back in 1802 the Catacombs were all the rage. Someone found a burial vault with the name "Philomena" and some inscriptions, symbols of a virgin martyr. Originally, when the bones were found they were catalogued and put away in the Vatican reliquary. Three years later, Canon Francis de Lucia was digging around in there and when he reached the relics marked "Philomena", he experienced a 'spiritual joy'. He wanted to take the relics to a chapel to be enshrined, but there was an argument about it until Canon Francis himself was cured of something or another after prayers to Philomena for her intercession. (So there are your remains in the chapel.)
That's when the Philomena bottle was uncorked all together, with miracles galore. She is the only person to become a saint solely on the basis of miracles.
I have to stop here for a second and mention that this is exactly why, when a person has a cause for sainthood, the Church digs the person up to make sure the person is really in there and that the miracles that are being attributed to St. Bob aren't emanating from the tomb of Bob's faithful dog.
No, there weren't dog bones in St. Philomena's vault. But someone did figure out later that the inscriptions on the tomb had been lifted off some other tomb at some time and stuck onto this vault. In hunks.
It's confusing. It means, however, that we don't know who was in the tomb or if there ever was a virgin martyr named Philomena. There is absolutely no historical evidence of her existence, let alone her sainthood. We only have a mismatched inscription on a set of bones.
So where did we come up with the story of St. Philomena? OH. I forgot to tell you the story.
St. Philomena was a Greek Princess. Her parents converted to Christianity and she was raised a pampered Christian Greek Princess. At thirteen, when the Emperor Diocletian asked for her hand in marriage, Philomena refused a Big Fat Greek Wedding as she wished to remain a virgin.
We've heard the story before, more or less...St. Agnes, St. Lucy, St. Agatha...the list goes on.
So poor Philomena was tossed into jail, flogged (angels cured her with balm), had anchors tied around her necked and was thrown into the sea (saved by angels with a rope), shot full of arrows (healed by angels again). But this time the arrows turned around and killed the bowmen.
Miraculous enough for you? I have to pause. If the arrows turned around and killed the bowmen, how come Philomena had to be cured by angels again? It just doesn't add up.
Anyhow, now accused of witchcraft due to the bowman incident, Philomena was at last decapitated.
I have to pause again. These ancient legends where a person is endlessly tortured and then at last decapitated always remind me of that old Batman TV show where the Joker hangs Batman over a vat of something and then leaves. Of course, Batman uses his utility belt to escape. Why didn't the Joker just shoot him and have done with it? These ancient stories always end the same way, too. "No head" always seems to end the story, except in the case of St. Denis, who was unhappy with the part of town in which his head was removed, so he picked it up and walked to a better area and died there.
Here is another good rule we have in the Catholic Church. You don't have to believe anything that has come to us through private revelation.
St. Philomena's life story has come to us because she paid a visit to a nun. Don't get me wrong. We've had some wonderful private revelations from nuns (and you don't have to believe them, either)--St. Mary Margaret, St. Catherine LaBoure....
It's just that St. Philomena's story just doesn't add up, so the Church has let it alone. Backed off, so to speak.
What about all the miracles? Here are my thoughts. Certainly there were girls who
lived parts of St. Philomena's story. They were burned, flogged, shot full of arrows, boiled in oil, made to drink lead, chopped into pieces, flung into the sea and had their heads removed. Perhaps the reason there were so many miracles, is that there were so many girls and they have banded together there in heaven under the Philomena banner and brought their heavenly intercession to bear.
The Church leaves you to sort it all out for yourself.