The position that saints hold within Catholicism is very important and powerful. Catholics pray to saints and every saint has a festival day such as St. Patrick's Day. Many cities are named after saints such as St. Louis. Interestingly, most occupations have a patron saint and when Catholics are confirmed they choose a saint's name to become part of the name. Saints have had a huge influence on the world even for those who aren't Catholic. The prominence of saints within everyday society is undeniable. We will concentrate on the lives of four saints, St. Thomas Becket, St. Bernadette Soubirous, St. Monica, and St. Adelaide. St.Thomas Becket and St. Bernadette Soubirous are directly tied to historical landmarks to which people make pilgrimage. We will explore the issues of power and gender within this context to better understand these saints' influence upon religion and society.
The Life Of Thomas Becket
|Saint Thomas Becket was born in Normandy in 1118. He grew up a wealthy son of a merchant. He was known for his charisma and his intelligence and after being schooled in Paris he returned to England and became the Archdeacon of Canterbury. Becket befriended King Henry II, became his Chancellor and eventually gained the highest ecclesiastical position in the land, that of Archbishop of Canterbury. Soon the friendship between King Henry and Becket deteriorated, mainly because Becket often opposed the King. Henry wanted to extend his judicial power to encompass the church but Becket became his main opposition in accomplishing this goal. King Henry was enraged but before he could punish Becket the latter escaped to France where he remained in exile for six years. In France Becket excommunicated the Bishops of London and Salisbury for their support of King Henry. By 1170 Becket and King Henry resolved their problems and Becket returned to his post as Archbishop of Canterbury. However, the friendship between the two did not last, for Becket refused to follow King Henry's orders to absolve the bishops. What occurred after King Henry heard about Becket's refusal is widely debated. One account of the incident claims King Henry shouted, "What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?" The king was obviously upset and whatever he said inspired four knights to assassinate Becket. The knights found Becket at Canterbury Cathedral praying at the altar and they brutally murdered him there. Reportedly, many miracles occurred at Becket's tomb which led to his canonization.||
More notably known as a martyr, the power surrounding Becket as a saint is often overlooked. Initially, he became a powerful figure when healing miracles occurred at his tomb. Canterbury became a famous place of pilgrimage and tourism became the city's prime industry. People flocked to the site of the altar and to the tomb, most people leaving riches behind. It is rumored that after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, that it took twenty-six wagons to remove the treasures that had been left at the shrine. Another rumor claims that the forests surrounding the tomb was littered with crutches, as many cripples tossed them aside after being healed there. The violence of Becket's death, his unconditional support of the Church and the healing powers surrounding his tomb, led to his legacy of power and prestige.
The Life of St. Bernadette Soubirous
|Bernadette Soubirous was born in Lourdes, France in 1844. One of six children the Soubirous' family lived in poverty. Illness plagued Bernadette her entire life and eventually led to her death. In 1858, she visited the Grotto of Massabielle and experienced the first of 18 apparitions. All 18 of them occurred from February 11 till March 4. The apparitions were visions of Mary and all of them occurred at the Grotto. The most famous of these apparitions occurred on February 25, when Mary instructed Bernadette to dig within the Grotto. As she dug, a spring emerged even though their had been no previous sign of water. Mary told Bernadette, "Go, drink of the spring and wash yourself there, you will eat the grass that is there." when she spoke publicly of her visions there legitimacy was questioned publicly. However, the spring became famous for healing the sick. In 1866, Bernadette was sent to the Sisters of Notre Dame in Nevers. Soon after, Bernadette was diagnosed with an incurable disease and died in 1879.||
The Virgin Mary at the Grotto
After Bernadette died, her body was buried in a small chapel dedicated to St. Joseph. In September of 1909 her body was exhumed, as part of the process leading to canonization. Her tomb was humid, the rosary she held was rusted, her crucifix had turned green, yet her body was preserved perfectly. Bernadette's body is still intact today in the chapel of the convent of Saint-Gildard at Nevers. It can be viewed by the public and is enclosed within a gilt and crystal reliquary. Pope Pius XI beatified Bernadette in 1925; her canonization occurred in 1933.
Both Becket and Bernadette are powerful religious figures within Catholicism. They are symbolically intertwined with their religious sites. After all these years, their power may still be felt as Canterbury Cathedral and The Grotto of Massabielle continue to be the destination of pilgrims. The power of these two saints directly stems from these sites, since it is there that their power is manifested. How do we deal with the idea of gender with these two saints? At first glance it may seem as if there is a disproportionate amount of power based on gender. After all, Becket was martyred inside a church, while Bernadette's apparitions were inside a cave. However, this has little to do with gender. It has more to do with the way history unfolded. Besides, many would argue that Bernadette was more holy. She is the one that interacted with the Virgin Mary. Becket's martyrdom, not his holiness is what most people remember. Becket attained a high ranking position within the Catholic religious hierarchy, where no such position could be attained by a woman, even one who had spoken with the Virgin Mary. Their strong relationship with a physical destination on earth is where their power is now manifested and this accessibility brings people to worship at these sites.
The Life of St. Monica
Monica is one of only a few married women to be canonized as a saint. She was a very devout Christian and is the mother of renowned Saint Augustine of Hippo. Her concerns were not with this earthly world, as she expressed in the follow conversation with her son.
Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know that you have even renounced earthly happiness to be his servant. So what am I doing here?
Roughly five days later this was no longer a concern for she was taken ill by fever. When her other son, not persuaded to the Christian faith, suggested she be taken to their homeland to die she rebuked him for having such earthly concerns. Following her Christian beliefs, she spoke further saying "Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be."
Her patronage includes abuse victims, alcoholics, alcoholism, difficult marriages, disappointing children, homemakers, housewives, married women, mothers, victims of adultery, victims of unfaithfulness, victims of verbal abuse, widows, wives.
The Life of St. Adelaide
Adelaide was born in 931, the daughter of Rudolph II, the King of Burgundy. Her father was warring with Hugh
of Provence, who wanted to usurp the crown. When they came to a peace, they decided that Adelaide should marry
Hugh's son Lothaire. At the time Adelaide was merely two years old. When she was sixteen they were wed. By this
point the Marquis of Ivrea, Berengarius, decided to claim the crown of Italy by helping his accomplice gain the
throne and then poisoning Lothaire. Berengarius then decided that Adelaide should be married to his son. Adelaide
refused and as her punishment she was kept in solitary confinement in a castle tower. She was rescued by a priest
and while she was hiding out in the woods the Duke of Canozza retrieved her and took her off to his castle. Berengarius,
meanwhile was fast losing popularity with his people and when Otho decided to invade he met little resistance.
When Otho met Adelaide, he took her as his wife, she was twenty years old.
She was adored by the people of Italy due to the romantic nature of her life. Though she had to go into seclusion twice because of a jealous daughter-in-law while her son and grandson held the throne. When her daughter-in-law suddenly died Adelaide was invited back to be a Regent. During her time there she helped to strengthen the church by spreading monasteries and convents, by sending missionaries to convert those in the north, and by treating her court in a forgiving, Christian manner.
Her Christian life gained a permant place in the Catholic Church upon her canonization in 1097. Her patronage includes: abuse victims, brides, empresses, exiles, in-law problems, parents of large families, people in exile, princesses, prisoners, second marriages, step-parents, victims of abuse, and widows.
Most of female saints are unmarried, virginal women celebrated for their pious lives. But there are a few married women who have attend sainthood. St. Adelaide and St. Monica are two such women. These saints provide a patronage for women who experience marriage, marital abuse, the life of a housewife, divorce, and being a widow to name a few.
As Brown writes in "The Body and Society," marriage was generally seen in a positive Christian light. Itís purpose and desirability varied according to different theologians. For both Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom, marriage among the laity allowed for the containment of sexuality that would otherwise run rampant; the theologies of each are, however very different and expansive. But it is in the story of Theodoretís mother that I find a link to marriage, sexuality, and the possibility of sainthood. Brown explains that Theodoretís mother was only one of many women known to us who plainly felt that only a child marked out for a sacred life would redeem their own loss of virginity and exposure to the remorseless physical disruption of childbirth.
Here I return to St. Monica, a Christian from her birth. Though of saintly nature, Monica would have been shuffled into the mass of wives and mothers dedicated to their faith without recognition had it not been for her sonís exalted life. It is because of Saint Augustine's praise of his mother's religious nature and that she was awarded sainthood.
The trend of the canonization of royal women as saints developed provided a route of recognition for Adelaide's religious devotion. As a woman of royalty she was a
woman of power. Her status endowed her with the resources and opportunities to be a Christian leader, primarily
through the founding of monastaries. If she had not held such a position of prestige, her devotion to Christianity
would have had no outlet and recognition of her faithful life would have died with her.
Bernadette from Catholic saints online
On Bernadette's beatification from Catholic online
A profile of Saint Adelaide
Brown, Peter. The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity. Columbia Univ. Press: New York, 1988.