Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Sharing with a saint

St. Cyriacus

In Hoorn, a nice little town a two-hour bike ride up the road from Amsterdam, there is a church dedicated to Saints Francis and Cyriacus, aka "Terror of Hell," whose saint's day is tomorrow.

Other than Saints Peter and Paul, I can't think of any saints who didn't get their own church, but had to split the title with another saint. But I do not wear the title “giver of names to churches,” so what can I say?

If you’ve ever wondered where the word “title” came from, by the way – as in the title to your house, or the titles and subtitles of all the books in your library – I can tell you. It comes from the Latin titulus, which meant something like label, and more particularly inscription on a work of art telling you who the figures are. The title of “best known title” goes probably to the placard they put over the head of Jesus on his cross: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum to mock him. Jesus of Nazarus, King of the Jews.

Another well-known titulus, to people who know about this kind of thing, at least, is Hic jacet sepultus inclitus Rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia, which Google Translate tells me means: Here lies buried the glorious King Arthur in the island Avalon.

What does all this have to do with Francis and Cyriacus, you ask?  Сейчас я вам скажу ("Now, I'm telling you!")

You already know who Francis was – he fed the birds. Let me tell you about Cyriacus. Or “Cyriac” to his friends.

You will recall that the Roman Catholic Church has raised Pope John Paul to the status of saint, saints being the kind of people who can persuade God, who would probably not otherwise give a shit about something to give a shit about something. In JP’s case, that meant convincing God to pause in his busy schedule to stop the gastrointestinal hemorrhaging of a nun in 1966. That accomplishment justified in the current Pope’s, Francis’s, mind an “equipollent” canonization. That’s the word you need to use to describe the kind of canonization that doesn't require two miracles to prove you’re a saint. One will do. Particularly if you’ve dedicated your life to opposing birth control.

Francis is causing a ruckus among the traditionalists. He’d be perfectly happy calling a saint somebody who convinced a divorcing couple to get back together, maybe, or somebody who got a kid to kick drugs. The traditionalists, on the other hand, are holding out for real miracles. Not growing back a severed limb, necessarily, but at least making a corpse smell like a rose after ten years.

Lady with something in her eye
 and banderol
But back to St. Cyriacus. You know what a phylactery is, right? The tefillin Jewish men use when they pray, those black leather boxes containing scripture, and some say magical powers, they slap against their forehead and tie to their left arms during morning prayers. Well, another meaning of phylactery is banderole. Banderoles are those speech scrolls in medieval paintings to represent speech, the comic book speech balloons of the Middle Ages. Then there are the phylacteries used in Dungeons and Dragons, which, in Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling called a horcrux, for some reason. Banderoles went out of fashion in Medieval paintings about the time when halos also became passée, I’m told.

But I digress.

Back to St. Cyriacus. You learned in Sunday School that sometimes the Lord giveth and sometimes the Lord taketh away, right? Well, just as with granting sainthood to somebody, one can grant a “title” and also take it away. A “titulus church” is a church which carries the name of a patron saint. Well, back in the 4th century, a certain Roman nobleman named Cyriacus converted to Christianity and was apparently successful at exorcising the demons from two young girls, Artemesia and Jobias. And, as luck would have it, Artemesia was the daughter of the Emperor Diocletian, and the miracle convinced her and her mother, Serena, to convert to Christianity, which gave Cyriacus a leg up in the inner circle. That didn’t stop Maximian, Diocletian’s co-emperor from cutting off Cyriacus’s head, but that’s another story. Important thing is, the two miracles were sufficient for Cyriac to acquire sainthood – non-equipollently, I mean.

Since then dozens of bishops have taken the name Cyriacus as their own, so to distinguish the real deal from all the other guys, he’s known by the suggestive name, Saint Cyriacus of the Bath Houses of Diocletian (San Ciriaco alle Terme di Diocleziano, in Italian). For a time, in 494, he had a titulus church in his name, but a millennium later (how soon we forget) Pope Sixtus IV took the title away from him and gave it to Saints Ciro and Giulitta. Then, some sixteen years later, the new pope, Alexander VI, gave it back to him. And then, about a hundred years later Sixtus the Fifth took it away again. 

Not to worry. At least he got to be patron saint to the town of Cirie, just outside Turin, in the Italian Piedmont district because the locals thought it was great their names were so similar. (No kidding – check out Wikipedia on Cirie.)   He also got a Puerto Rican hurricane named after him, the 119th anniversary of which is also tomorrow.

You know what the Tridentine Calendar is, right? The book of saints days. Cyriacus has to share August 8 with two of his friends, Saints Largus and Smaragdus, because there aren’t enough days in the year for everybody to have their own. I'd stop to ask what kind of mother would name her child Smaragdus, but I'd be digressing again.

Point is, Cyriacus shares a church in Hoorn, the Netherlands, with St. Francis, the "Cupola Church," which has a lovely organ, on which my current favorite organist, young Gerd van Hoef, made a YouTube video of himself last week playing his own lovely meditation on Danny Boy.  

Мiki and Bounce
Cyriacus' saint's day happens also to be the birthday of my brother-in-law Tadashi, younger brother of my girls’ – Miki and Bounce’s – other daddy.

And the birthday of my dear dear cousin Betty, who taught me how to milk a cow.

Photo Credits:

No comments: