Veterans Day/Martinmas


Today is Veterans’ Day, instituted first as Armistice Day after WWI, then Veterans’ Day after WWII (although my mother occasionally still called it Armistice Day) as a tribute to veterans of both world wars. It’s also the Feast of Martinmas, which is less well known in this country, although having been raised Catholic I grew up familar with the story of Saint Martin of Tours. It seems somehow fitting that Veterans Day is celebrated on the festival of a former Roman soldier.

Martin was born in the 4th century in what later became Hungary but what was then Pannonia, a province of the Roman Empire. His father, an important officer in the Roman army, naturally expected his son to follow in his footsteps (Martin had been named for Mars, the god of war, presumably to encourage that military spirit). But apparently young Martin was an easy-going, sociable fellow, more curious about strangers (and generous with handouts) than aggressive toward them, so to get him into the army his father arranged for his kidnapping and forcible enlistment by his soldiers, hoping that Martin would grow accustomed to military life through daily exposure. I bet Dad didn’t get many loving letters from the front. Today this method of recruitment is frowned upon.

However, there was Martin, a soldier at last, obliged to serve the Emperor for three years, outfitted with a Roman uniform and a sword. Even in the army, Martin was open-handed, and his military salary usually found its way into the hands of the unfortunate. His unit was sent to Gaul, as part of an ongoing attempt to civilize the native barbarians. Civilization in Gaul was eventually attained at a level far beyond their wildest dreams, but that’s another story.

One winter day, the story goes, Martin arrived at the gates of Amiens, where he encountered a poor ragged beggar shivering by the side of the road. Martin had already given away all his extra clothing, but, taking pity on the beggar, Martin unsheathed his sword and cut his warm woolen (army-issue, uh-oh) cloak in half and wrapped one half around him.

That night, Martin dreamed that Jesus appeared to him wrapped in Martin’s half-cloak saying, “Martin has covered me with this garment.” This made him determined to leave the army permanently, at the end of his term. When he attempted it, however (inconveniently during a barbarian invasion), he was accused of cowardice, in response to which he offered to advance alone against the enemy. Instead he was imprisoned. Eventually he was released at the conclusion of an armistice, and was finally able to pursue his vocation, settling in Gaul, founding an order, living very simply and developing a reputation for feeding the hungry and healing the sick.

Over the years our homeschooling group has celebrated Martinmas (sometimes in combination with Diwali, Festival of Light, which can occur at around the same time—this year it falls on the 12th) with storytelling, a night-time walk in the park carrying lanterns and singing songs about light, and afterward gathering to share dessert. Happy Martinmas! Happy Diwali! Happy Veterans Day, everyone!

St. Francis of Assisi


Tomorrow, October 4th, is actually the Feast Day of St. Francis, not today, but I am celebrating him a day in advance because today is the Blessing of the Animals in his honor at Washington National Cathedral. (And many other churches have similar events.) Come at 2:30 to the west steps of the Cathedral for a brief service followed by individual blessings for your dog, cat, rabbit, goldfish, or any other pet not actually life-threatening to the clergy in attendance. There will also be representatives from the Humane Society and the Animal Rescue League to accept donations of pet food and toys and to share information about adopting homeless animals.

These drawings are from my daughter’s second grade Saints, Heroes, and Heroines main lesson book.



This is a perfectly legitimate image for my post, if you consider dough to be an alternative art form, which I do.

Today is the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, whose annual dragon-conquering celebration is one of a number of fall festivals of reflection, review of our darker sides, and re-commitment to inner transformation—Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali, Martinmas—coinciding appropriately with the shrinking daylight. Take heart, dress in festive red, light the candles, recite poetry, sing songs, bake dragon bread to share with family and friends, and resolve to befriend, digest, and tame that inner dragon.


Rain or Shine?


Look out the window. Doth it rain today, or doth it shine? Prepare yourself. Today is the feast day of St. Swithin, and for the next forty days you can plan your activities and wardrobe according to the old verse.

Swithin was born in the 9th century—the precise year is unknown—in Winchester, England, during the reign of King Egbert of Wessex, who ruled from 802 to 839. There are but a few reliable facts of his life, drawn from church records. Nevertheless, there must have been something about the fellow, for, both during his life and afterward, he inspired numerous stories and customs that have endured for the last twelve centuries.

Swithin was ordained as a monk and gained such a favorable reputation that he was selected as a tutor to Egbert’s son Aethelwulf. When Aethelwulf himself became king, he appointed his former tutor as bishop of Winchester, where for the next ten years Swithin built numerous churches as well as the town’s first stone bridge. Nevertheless he apparently remained a modest, unassuming fellow, charitable and sensible, preferring to go about on foot, avoiding ostentation. He also managed to convince Aethelwulf to donate a tenth of his own lands to pay for some of the church-building. Swithin’s dying request was to be buried not indoors within an elaborate shrine, as was customary with prominent folk, but outside in a simple churchyard grave, where “the rain may fall upon me, and the footsteps of passers-by.” When he died in 862, his request was granted…for a while.

But a hundred years later, when the bishops of Canterbury and Winchester were renovating the church and undertaking reforms, they cast about for relics of a saintly candidate to inspire their parishioners. Swithin had the fortune, or misfortune, to be associated with numerous miracles both before and after his death, among them the healing of ailments of the eyes and the spine, and the kindly repair of an elderly woman’s broken eggs so that they were good as new, a miracle that would certainly come in handy in any household. What luck to find a local guy that no one had yet claimed! The two bishops decided to elevate unpresumptuous St. Swithin to more prominent status. What better way than to remove his body from its humble grassy setting and place it in a more visible shrine within the newly renovated church?

Well, as the story goes, when they set about digging up Swithin, the sky clouded over, and a heavy rain began that continued for the aforementioned forty days. This would certainly indicate heavenly displeasure, if one were inclined to interpret such signs. But it did not deter the church authorities, who persisted in their plan and not only dug up St. Swithin’s body but sent his head to Canterbury Cathedral and his arm to Peterborough Abbey, rather than selfishly keep the entire saint in Winchester. They also rededicated the church (formerly dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul). At some point along the way Swithin acquired the title of “Saint,” although he was never formally canonized by the church. He is what is known as a “home-made saint,” and churches all over the British Isles are named after him.

However, despite—or perhaps because of—all this unsolicited attention, St. Swithin still has his say every July 15th, determining the weather for the following month or so. According to a study conducted in Great Britain in the last decades of the 20th century, around mid-July the weather tends to settle into a pattern that lasts until late August, and this is true for about seven out of ten years. It either has something to do with the jet stream, or with Swithin’s periodic annoyance at being kept indoors. When it rains in August, the saying goes, “St. Swithin is christening the apples.”

Something’s Lost That Can’t Be Found

If you grew up Catholic, and you couldn’t find your homework or your lunchbox or your gym shorts, then you knew what to do. You went straight to St. Anthony, the Patron Saint of Lost Things, whose feast day it is today.


St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) was born in Lisbon, Portugal, into a prosperous noble family. Although his parents arranged for his education at the cathedral school in Lisbon, at fifteen he left the school, against his family’s wishes, to join the followers of St. Augustine outside the city. His friends from Lisbon kept dropping in to visit him, so eventually he transferred to an even more remote priory in order to devote himself to study and prayer without distractions. Not exactly a party guy.

A visit from a group of Franciscans on their way to Morocco who were subsequently martyred there inspired him to join the Franciscan order and head straight for Morocco. (Frankly, such an episode would not motivate my career choice, but that is one reason I am not a saint.) But his Africa-bound vessel went off course and landed instead in Italy. There he was appointed to a remote hermitage.

However, sometime later, on the occasion of an ordination, when told to come forward and speak extemporaneously, he was so eloquent that he was reassigned as a traveling preacher. Much of his time was spent in Padua, so he has come to be associated with that city. As for his position as patron saint of lost things—and also of travelers and watermen—well, perhaps that derives from his having been lost at sea, yet having nevertheless reached his destination, both physically and spiritually, in the end.

So, the next time you misplace those car keys, try this:

Something’s lost that can’t be found
Please, St. Anthony, look around.

Maybe it will be useful this summer if you’re traveling without GPS.

St. Ronan


There are probably a dozen St. Ronans, some Irish, some Scottish, all with different feast days. And the one I’m choosing actually had his feast day YESTERDAY, June 1, but that day was taken by John Masefield. So I’m noodging Ronan onto June 2nd. Being saintly, he surely won’t mind.

This St. Ronan was an Irish missionary who had left Ireland and lived in a forest overlooking the Bay of Douarnenez in Brittany, a location I would select myself if I were an Irish missionary. The story goes that his wife disliked his proselytizing among their Breton neighbors, so she accused him of being a werewolf. When you want to reform your husband, drastic action is required. But when Ronan was brought before the authorities, the nearby hunting dogs failed to attack him, thus proving his innocence. He went on to become a wandering healer of the sick and was buried in what is now Locronan.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with the picture above? Well…it’s a stretch, but the CD Lord Ronan’s Return (for which I painted this cover) was named for another wandering Ronan. And you can learn more about that one, as well as how to obtain this CD of lovely music by by Linn Barnes and Allison Hampton, by going to their website. Happy St. Ronan’s Day! (yesterday)

Martin Luther King, Jr.



These are pages from a book created by my daughter for a second grade Saints, Heroes, and Heroines lesson block. Born in 1929, King would probably have thought it a fine birthday gift to see one of the fruits of his labors, an African-American in the White House. Happy birthday, Dr. King.

“The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers.” —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

You can listen to Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech.