Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Interesting Saints on May 13th

May 13th is now occupied by two different feasts on the general calendar, one in the Ordinary Form, and one in the Extraordinary Form. For most of the history of the Roman Rite, it was not occupied by any feast of general observance at all, but an interesting collection of local feasts and observances is kept on this date.

St Robert Bellarmine, the second Jesuit to be made a cardinal, and one of the most famous scholars and controversialists of his era, spent much of his life in Rome as an adviser to a series of Popes in the later 16th and early 17th century. At his behest, Pope Paul V added the feast of the Stigmata of St Francis to the calendar on September 17th, the day on which it had long been kept by the Franciscans. By one of those particular acts of providence which seem to touch so many Saints, Robert himself then died on that day in 1621. When Pope Pius XI canonized him in 1930, and declared him a Doctor of the Church the following year, his feast was assigned to May 13th on the general calendar, the date of his beatification in 1923, since his death day was already occupied. September 17th was then freed by the suppression of the Stigmata of St Francis in 1960, and St Robert was moved to that date in the post-Conciliar reform.

A well-known photograph of Ss Francisco and Jacinta Martos (middle and right), together with their cousin Lúcia Santos, whose cause for canonization is in process. St Francisco died on April 9, 1919, at the age of 10, St Jacinta the following year on February 20, at the age of 9, both of them victims of the great influenza pandemic which raged though the years 1918-20, one of the greatest natural catastrophes in human history. (More deaths were caused by the so-called Spanish flu than by the First World War.) Sister Lúcia died on February 13, 2005, at the age of 97, almost 56 years after her profession as a Discalced Carmelite.
May 13th remained without any general feast until the promulgation of the revised Roman Missal of 2002, in which Pope St John Paul II assigned to it the feast of Our Lady of Fatima as an optional memorial. This was the date on which the three shepherd children had their first vision of the Virgin Mary in 1917; Ss Francisco and Jacinta Martos were canonized on this same date 3 years ago, the centenary of that first apparition. It is a well-known fact that it was also on this day in 1981 that John Paul II was shot in St Peter’s Square, while moving though the crowds at the weekly papal audience. His Holiness always ascribed the preservation of his life to the direct intervention of Our Lady of Fatima; as a sign of gratitude for his deliverance, the bullet which just missed his heart is now mounted in the crown of Her famous statue.

Less well known is the fact that in 1792, the same day saw the birth of Bl. Pius IX, the Pope who would later formally define the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. As a young man, he had suffered from some kind of seizure disorder (it does not appear to be precisely known which one), of which he was cured at the most important Marian shrine in Italy, that of Loreto. Even more remarkably, Eugenio Pacelli, who as Pope Pius XII would formally define the dogma of the Assumption in 1950, was being ordained a bishop in the Sistine Chapel at the very same time that the first apparition of the Virgin was taking place at Fatima.

Before St Robert’s feast was put on the general calendar, the first entry in the Martyrology for May 13th was the dedication of the Pantheon in Rome as a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and All Martyrs, which took place in the year 609, in the reign of Pope St Boniface IV. As I have noted on more than one occasion, the name “Pantheon” means “building of all the gods”, but there is no evidence that there was any kind of collective worship of all the gods in the ancient Roman world, and no evidence that the building was a temple. The idea is probably a misunderstanding which arose in the Carolingian period, when much of ancient Rome lay in ruins; to an early medieval Christian’s eyes, the imposing mass of the building, dominating the center of the city, could hardly have appeared as anything other than a religious building. Nevertheless, the legend persists that the building was dedicated to All Martyrs, and hence to All Saints, because it had previously been a temple of all the gods. On the basis of this tradition, when the Benedictines revised their calendar in 1915, they put the feast of All Relics on this same day.

Solemn Mass in the traditional rite celebrated in the Pantheon on May 13, 2009, the 14th centenary of its dedication as a church.
The entry that follows in the Martyrology is that of St Mucius (“Mokios” in Greek), a priest who was martyred at Byzantium in 304, during the persecution of Diocletian. His traditional legend is not considered historically reliable, but there is no doubt that he is an authentic martyr and that his cultus is very ancient. There was a church dedicated to him at Constantinople by the end of the 4th century, but it may even been built even earlier than that, by Constantine himself, as part of his first refounding of Byzantium as New Rome. In the Byzantine Rite, his feast is kept on May 11th, which is also celebrated liturgically as the anniversary of that refounding, while May 13th is the feast of another martyr of the same region, a virgin named Glyceria. Her acts are also historically unreliable, but she is also an authentic martyr, killed on that day at Heraclea in Propontis in the later part of the 2nd century. (As a Christian see, Byzantium was originally suffragan to Heraclea.) There are actually quite a number of cases where martyrdoms took place in the same place on or around the same date, but at a distance of many years or decades, as is the case with these two. This is because the officials who were in charge of the courts that tried and sentences capital crimes traveled from place to place, and the schedule by which they arrived on the same date in the same city each year was maintained for long spans of time.

In the Low Countries and many other parts of northern Europe, May 13th is traditionally the feast of St Servatius (“Servais” in French, “Servaas” in Dutch), bishop of Tongres in modern Belgium, who is said have come to that area from Armenia as a missionary, to have received St Athanasius during his exile to Trier, and defended the Catholic Faith against Arianism at various councils in the mid-4th century. The see of Tongres was later transferred to Maastricht, where a large and very beautiful church dedicated to him preserves the relics of his body, and several items said to be his. ~ In the Dominican Rite, his feast was kept on May 22nd, because of the story given as follows in the Order’s Breviary. “When Louis of Bavaria, who was very hostile to the Church and to the Order, learned that the friars had been summoned to hold a general chapter in his domain, he laid plans to put them to death. As historical records testify, St Servatius appeared in a dream to one of our brethren, and warned the friars to flee to another city; thus did he save them from certain slaughter. Wherefore, because the Order was delivered from such great peril, the fathers decreed that henceforth his feast should be forever observed.” In his History of the Dominican Liturgy, Fr William Bonniwell notes that this story rests on very shaky historical foundations, and the feast was suppressed from the Dominican calendar in 1962.

A reliquary bust of St Servatius, 1579; image from Wikimedia Commons by Kleon3, CC BY-SA 4.0
The last entry of the day in the traditional Martyrology is that of St John the Silent, an Armenian monk who was consecrated bishop, much against his will, in the year 482 AD, at the age of only 28. After serving for nine years, he determined to lay down his pastoral charge, partly out of a sense of his own unworthiness, partly from a desire to return to the monastic life. He did his, not by formally resigning, but by disappearing; making his way to Jerusalem, and led by a miraculous sign, he entered the famous Lavra of St Sabbas, then still governed by the founder for whom it is named. However, he told no one of his past, and was received as a layman, working as an ordinary laborer.

As has often been the case, it was impossible to hide the light of holiness under a bushel, and several years later, Sabbas deemed him worthy to be presented to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, St Elias, for priestly ordination. Before the ordination could take place, John insisted on having a private meeting with Elias, at which he revealed his past, and swore him to secrecy. Elias could not, of course, ordain him a priest, but also could not reveal the reason to John’s superior, who unsurprisingly feared the worst, but the true reason for the refusal was later made known to him by a revelation of God. St John lived for 56 years after this incident, to the age of 104, without ever resuming the function of the episcopal office.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: