Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mad or Eccentric Saints

The other day, after the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, a group of fellow worshippers and I got to talking about the idea of a saint and how some saints were positively bonkers, mad as hatters, and generally loopy.

"Fools for God" always attract the attention of the devout, the less devout, and the outright indifferent. These men and women see little in life outside of the lens of faith, which tints and focuses all the persons, places, and events they encounter. I knew one such woman in Oxford, although out of respect for a degree of paranoia I will refrain from using her name. She would travel the churches on St. Giles Street on Sunday going to Mass after Mass and then to Vespers at Blackfriars followed by Vespers ad Benediction at St. Aloysius. Rumor has it that the priests of Oxford made a network to contact each other and find out if she had already received Communion on a given day! She has a very distinct walk, a French accent, and a bubbly mind that floats somewhere above High Street. A friend of mine swears that she can bilocate, having run into her at Sacre Coeur in Paris after having left her in England earlier that morning. Yet she does not approach the madness, or eccentricity if we are to be polite, of some other saints.

Mad in the best possible way
St. Philip Neri once encountered a prince approaching the Papal residence in Rome where he was to visit his brother who was a cardinal. The prince asked St. Philip to teach him humility. The Saint responded by finding a wet homeless dog, dropping it in the prince's arms, and compelling the nobleman to run around the courtyard in full view of the Papal Curia. When the Pope attempted to make Philip himself a cardinal the Saint removed the galero from his head, threw it into the air, and ran out of the room and into the streets yelling "Paradiso! Paradiso!" To this day no one has a clue what he meant. 

As a formerly eccentric person myself I find these sorts of saints more sympathetic and knowable than Dominic Savio. I have always harbored some suspicion of Pius X who, according to some stories, never smiled. Papa Sarto was too heart wrenched by the collapse of Baroque politics and the academic career of Duchesne to have a laugh supposedly. Perhaps saints of this quiet type of piety work for some, indeed for a great many, but only mad or eccentric works for me!


  1. Ditto. From my childhood, I remember a man, who used to live in a shack on a hill slope and who would come down to town on market days, dressed like a greyfriar. Of course, there was always a rather raucous procession of stray dogs, boisterous kids and mockers after him. My own great uncle, Michael, spent many years in a sanatorium and after his discharge, he would go from church to church in a sort of endless pilgrimage until his died before his hundredth birthday or so. And then, there's Mme Elisabeth in Paris, near Montparnasse, who, depending on the source, was a white Russian emigree, wife of a general, or a Romanov, or some other aristocrat who fell into holy lunacy.

  2. Pascal is also said, at the end of his life, to have gone from church to church in Paris, attending one service after another. Not bad company in my opinion.

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