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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

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.


Jane said...

Who do you suppose picks up the slack praying for people whose patron saints turn out to not really exist? For example, I used to know a Sister Philomena. If the saint she was named after doesn't exist, who prays for her other than the Blessed Virgin who presumably prays for everyone, and the founder of her order if he or she is a saint, and all the patron saints of teachers, which is her profession...and maybe I've just answered my own question.

I suppose it's like asking who prays for you if you're not named after a saint. Answer: lots of folks.

Leigh said...

Honestly, when I try to keep all of the saint details straight, like who is the patron for what, it makes my head hurt. There is just so many of them--which is a good thing. Since we're taught that ANYONE who makes it into heaven is, by definition, a saint, I just send a prayer to Heaven and I figure whomever is available will intercede. Kind of like a customer service call center. For my life-and-death kind of prayers, I escalate those straight to the Blessed Mother. In my mind, she's the V.I.P. of the intercession operation. When it comes to God's ear, I imagine that she's got priority status.

Just my take.

Bethany said...

I really like your Team of Crusading Virgins theory.

Anonymous said...

Lord Have Mercy! Mary Martha, how long has it been? I was looking for another old friend, Mary Patrick and came upon your name associated with this Blug. I couln't help calling you up and when I saw your picture, 30+ years washed away. Remember me from Chicago? Sister Mary Armella? I fancied myself the roller skating queen back then. Ha. I still remember the night we laughed until past 10 down in the cafeteria. Sister Arthen wouldn't let it rest, God rest her soul.

I'm sorry to catch up to you this way. I should just write you a long letter and tell you what's been happening in my life since you were here. I plan to read some more of your writings later tonight after I get all my papers graded. Good to see you're still active and sharp as ever. Still grading papers yourself?

In His Service, Sister Mary Armella

Katy said...

Wait... you mean that's actually Sister Mary Martha's photo?! I thought she just used a generic old nun photo as an avatar (although I do believe she's a real nun.)

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

St. Laura was either
a. boiled in oil
b. boiled in molten lead
c. boiled in tar

depending on which story you read. I've always wondered if she even existed at all. Maybe it doesn't matter, but I'd like to think I really was named for a saint (especially a Spanish one, how exotic!). Anyway, I was born on the feast of St. Francis. I've always considered him my patron...even though I don't particularly like animals.

Anonymous said...

I have a strong devotion to St. Philomena ever since a friend introduced me to her. Whether or not there was actually a Grecian princess virgin martyr named Philomena, I know someone is praying for me when I ask for Philomena's intercession. I believe her prayers have helped me through some really difficult situations, and regardless of whether or not her life story is true, I don't believe that my prayers for her intercession go unheard. :)

Terry Nelson said...

LOL! St. Denis moving to a better part of town to die! Hysterical!

bill7tx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"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."

Do you think the guy who invented Batman was Catholic and these were his inspirations in ways to kill Batman? I mean honestly...drinking lead? Just shoot the girl!

"We've had some wonderful private revelations from nuns (and you don't have to believe them, either)--St. Mary Margaret, St. Catherine LaBoure...."

Don't omit yourself there! You have awesome revelations!

Anonymous said...

Is there a saint to invoke against infestations? Like, insect infestations? Ugh...

Anonymous said...

Laura: I named my daughter Laura (24 yrs ago, having to deny I named her for the General Hospital character...not..just liked it), but knowing there was no "St. Laura"...so now you say there is one...:) Our priest at Laura's baptism explained her name as derivative of "Loretto", home of our Blessed Mother, but her middle name covered all as it is "Elizabeth" ;) I'll have to look up the Spanish "St. Laura" and let my daughter know...thanks :)

Anonymous said...

so good to hear from you again!
Linda (also not a saint's name)

Anonymous said...

I don't know about saint for or against insects, but there are several good insecticides.

Anonymous said...

babybreederbabe: Maybe it's actually a photo of Sr. Arthen...

Ria said...

Philomena's a favorite of mine too, although I had never heard such a complete story of her tomb. Didn't St. John Vianney have a special devotion to her? Anyways great post!

Anonymous said...

if you go on her shrine's website they tell all the facts on how she did exist and the relics in the shrine are hers..

as st. padre pio said, 'philomena is a saint in heaven, anything said contrary to this is an attack of the devil.'