Talking to Saints

One of the most incredible stories I’ve found regarded a sailor in the time of Richard 1 I think. He was so badly injured in battle he was not expected to live. His abdominal wounds stank so badly he was put in a boat to die in peace.

But he prayed to St Elmo the sailors patron who was martyred by having his intestines exposed, so the saint understood his pain. After many days in the boat together the sailor miraculously survived.

This story is not only about miracles; it points to something near more modern, of being able to identify with someone who shares your problems.

I always found images of saints gruesome but they were this identified with specific problems hence people went on pilgrimages to find help. Many female saints were claimed to help with pains of childbirth, hence the destruction of their altars by Henry viii’s reformation hurt women particularly hard.

I used to visit friends in the Netherlands and one day we entered a church and one of them excused herself to spend some time at a shrine. I had no idea she was a Catholic, but she explained she just needed a few minutes to talk with her patron saint.

Talking to an inanimate object seems a bit odd, but it’s a ritual she valued. A chance to share her problems with someone who understood her and who kept all confidences.

I’ve unfollowed people who claim stuff like Christianity is the cause of all wars. There’s no records of how many people have been helped by visiting churches, how many have found a few minutes peace, to escape their problems. I’ve seen people quietly crying. They write prayers. This is their therapy; there’s no side effects and it’s free.

I sometimes imagine what life was like centuries ago for most people. The bad diet, hard work, the bone chilling cold of Europe’s winters.

Imagine the church full of paintings, altars, colours glass, the scents of rushes underfoot, of incense and candles. The miracle of the massses, the processions, rituals of decorating the church at Christmas and Easter.

All these provided escape for people from their hard lives. By doing things together it also helped bind communities together. This could mean the difference between life and death.

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