Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

St. Frideswide, October 19 (also called St. Frithuswith).

Medieval stained glass in the chapel of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral. St. Frideswide is in the middle.
Frideswide was born in the late seventh century to King Didan and Queen Selfrida, rulers of a Mercian (the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the Midlands) sub-kingdom. At an early age, Frideswide showed interest in becoming a nun and requested that her father give money for her to establish a nunnery in Oxford, then the capital of Didan's little kingdom. She was successful in establishing and nurturing a prominent nunnery, and her reputation as a miracle worker and a holy woman in general contributed to the hallowed story that surrounds her. The legend, from a twelfth century life, is told as such: Frideswide established her community of nuns on the edge of Oxford when the King Algar of Leicester demanded that she marry him. Frideswide refused Algar's request but was sized by Algar's men, who were stuck blind upon touching her. Algar then decided to find her himself, but Frideswide was warned and escaped to the river Thames where she was transported in a boat by an Angel to Bampton, where she took cover with some of her companions in the house of a swineherd in the forest. There she stayed for several years, after establishing a community and gathering a reputation as a miracle worker. Algar was struck blind in his pursuit upon entering the city. Frideswide moved back to her Oxford nunnery from her community at Bampton where she ruled as abbess and where her fervent prayers yield still more miracles until her death in 727. Frideswide is associated with a particular well at Binsey where she hid for a time founding a chapel and working miracles and a cult grew around her simple grave. By the twelfth century, however, the monastery at Oxford had become a house of secular canons and so the Augustinians, whose special purpose, they believed was to establish centers of learning for priests hospitals for the poor and to revive shrines of saints who had fallen out of popularity. St. Frideswide's became an Augustinian monastery and in approximately 1180 after much fasting and keeping of vigils the canons were revealed her grave by miracles. The bones were translated into a shrine on 12 February 1180 and again in 1289 were they remained until the reformation when they were interred with the body of Catherine Martyr.
The Shrine of St. Frideswide at Oxford has recently been rebuilt and dominates a chapel to the north side of the high altar in Christ Church Cathedral. Frideswide is an example, as the first among the people of Oxford to give up the '"inordinate love of things of this world," for us to follow Christ by throwing away all the treasures of this world and dedicate our lives to his work. We can do this in little ways, by sacrificing small, everyday distractions so that we can focus more on Christ, what he gave to us and what we can do to spread his love. Frideswide, like many other saintly monastics, is a model for how we can do this, give up earthly distractions. Not everybody is supposed to be exactly like Frideswide, not everybody should hide themselves in the cloister, rather Frideswide's many works show us how we can do what she did on our own terms.

Heavenly Father, who inspired thy servant Frideswide to give up earthly desires for a life of prayerful dedication to the work of your son, Jesus Christ; inspire us also to cast off earthly distraction and clothe ourselves in a life in the footsteps of our savior, through the same thy Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Shrine of St. Frideswide. The widow tells her legend.

Monday, October 15, 2012

St. Teresa of Avila, October 15th.

St. Teresa was a Carmelite nun born in 1515 outside the Castilian city of Avila. Her Grandfather was a Jew making her family converts. As a child Teresa was inspired by the faith of the saints particularly martyrs and at age seven, trying to escape to the Moorish lands, was eager to display the same faith along with her older brother. She quickly returned to Avila, however, and became a nun in a Carmelite convent. There she came down with an illness which increased her faith and she became penitent. What followed was a series of visions culminating in an appearance of Christ him self. She recorded the experience writing,

"I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it..."

Teresa spent much of the rest of her life writing several books on theological subjects, including prayer, aestheticism, mysticism, and the soul, all in reaction to her visions. Her new thinking lead her to push reform for the Carmelite Order in Spain. She began to establish new monasteries under a rule even more strict than the regular rule. The first of such monasteries was the convent of San Jose in Avila, its members taking a vow of absolute, apostolic poverty. They lived among and for the poor, and since they were shoe-less  they came to be known as the "Discalced Carmelites." Throughout the 1560s, Teresa was granted permission to spread her order, which was unpopular because of its renunciation of property, not only on an individual basis but on a communal basis. Teresa, joined by another mystic, St. John of the Cross, traveled all over Spain and established monasteries for both men and women. The last of her seventeen convents was the Convent of the Annunciation in Alba de Torres, where she also spent time on writing about her visions and revelations before her death. 

The example that St. Teresa has left for the Church is essential to the Church's mission; to its likeness to Christ. It is the willingness of people like Teresa to live to help other, dedicating their lives to do Christ's work, that helps carry the Church from generation to generation. The Church is the body of Christ, and therefore its actions must be as true to Christ's actions as the human condition permits. St. Teresa's mission embodies a reciprocal relationship: the Church's duty is to draw people under its protective wing, in doing so it must comfort them with the saving words of Christ, and in doing that it draws them into his body; the Church. 

Merciful God, who by your spirit raised up your servant Teresa of Avila to reveal to your Church the way of perfection: grant that her teaching may awaken in us a longing for holiness, until we attain to the perfect union of love in Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

-Festivals and Lesser Festivals of the Church of England. 

In just 2008, the first Carmelite convent in the Episcopal Church was established in Rising Sun Maryland. The Convent is dedicated as The Episcopal Carmel of St. Teresa of Avila. It is a growing community, and it serves as a first for a hopeful revival in the Anglican Church for the religious life, dedicated to the work of Christ and prayer for our Church and our world. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Feast of St. Edward the Confessor, October 13th.

Medieval manuscript showing pilgrims at St. Edward's shrine.

St. Edward lived from about 1005 to 1066 and was the last great Saxon King. He was the son of Ethelred Unread and Emma of Normandy distantly relating him to Duke William of Normandy. Growing up in the disruption of his father's turbulent reign and enduring the last stretch of viking attacks with the occupation by King Canute of Denmark, Edward grew up to be very faithful in belief and in his actions as king. He endowed and rebuilt an abbey at what was then called Thorny Island and called the church the "West Minster" because it was west of London. There are several miracles associated with Edward, the most famous being that he came across a beggar out side a church dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, Edward presented his ring to him after he asked for alms. Yet  later the ring was presented back to some pilgrims traveling in the Holy Land by a man claiming to be St. John. The man asked them to return the ring to Edward and to tell him that they would be meeting in 6-months time. Edward died 6 months later on January 5, 1066. He was buried in his church at Westminster where his relics remain enshrined in the medieval tomb.

St. Edward the Confessor reminds us, along with other pious kings such as St. Louis or St. Henry II, that no matter how well known we are, how high profile our lives or jobs may be it is important that we outwardly confess our faith just as much as we inwardly practice it. These kings lived in a society where a pious leader was admired, but their positions also tested their faith. We now live in a time where it can be, in some cases, 'unpopular' to be openly Christian, and that religion should be restrained to one's private life. But the Christian faith was not meant to be hidden or private, and it has certainly suffered times where it was 'unpopular' before. We must then, as St. Edward did, live our lives, both private and public, ever-mindful of Christ and our faith in him.

Almighty God, who didst call thy servant Edward to an an earthly Throne that he might advance thy heavenly kingdom, and didst give him zeal for thy Church and love for thy people: Mercifully grant that we who commemorate him this day may be fruitful in good works, and attain to the glorious crown of thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Episcopal Feasts and Fasts. 
Shrine of St. Edward as it appears today in Westminster Abbey. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

St. Faith, 6 October.

St. Faith from a Norfolk rood screen. 
St. Faith, or Sainte Foy, was a martyr of the persecutions under the Emperor Diocletian in A.D. 303, tortured to death with a brazier in the Aquitaine city of Agen in France. Her remains were moved into a new church in the fifth century but eventually stolen and translated to the Benedictine Abbey of Conques, a later stop on the Way of St. James. The abbey became a pilgrimage church in its own rite and was rebuilt to be what remains a treasure of romanesque architecture. It retains the relics of St. Faith in a peculiar reliquary from the ninth century. Her cult spread, because of its location on an already popular pilgrimage route, to Spain, Italy, and England where numerous churches are dedicated to her. Near Norwich, Benedictine monks built an English shrine for the saint and kept here feast there, allowing her cult to assimilate among the names of popular English saints; her feast was added to the Sarum missal.

Martyrdom, does not always have to mean death like that of St. Faith. We can "take up the cross" of Christ everyday without death, and by doing so we show, as Faith showed, an ultimate dedication to Christ. The veneration of saints like Faith involve prayer that Church and its leaders will do all in their power to keep and maintain the faith, but also that we ourselves, in our private, everyday lives may be willing to accept any judgment against us as Christians for our deep faith. So when we think of St. Faith and her hallowed death, we must think of her 'faith' and our 'faith' and how we can follow in her footsteps in little, everyday ways that bring us closer and closer to Christ.

O God, Who dost hallow this day by the martyrdom of St. Faith, Thy Virgin, grant unto Thy Church the assistance of the prayers of her in who it doth glory. Through Jesus Christ our lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, now and forever. Amen.

-collect from the Sarum Missal.

A video on the Abbey of St. Foy in France. It covers the church's architecture as well as an account of its history as a pilgrimage church. It is best to skip to the end to hear how the church was built to accommodate the shrine of the saint.