A few days ago a favoured concubine of mine, mademoiselle Bernadette, a woman of infinite intrigue equipped with a disarming demure and an ample bosom called upon my favour. In a state of panic she reported to me that her ample bosom, so admired and envied in equal quantities, had popped a beloved button on her lace corset. The button flew across her boudoir at an astonishing velocity, bounced off the marble vanity and promptly disappeared. What’s more the button had once belonged to Madame de Pompadour, a vivacious woman of wily wit famed for – among other more salacious things – being a fashionista of her time. The button, Bernadette told me sadly, was irreplaceable, a one off, no match could be found in any fashionable haberdashery from here to ‘Hooker-hole’ Louisiana.
At first I tried the orthodox approach, text book stuff like, for example ‘where did you see it last’ and ‘are you sure you’ve looked everywhere’. This line of interrogation was met with her usual cool stare of disdain. Then the most remarkable thing happened, Bernadette, a woman of sound judgement and intimidating intelligence, dropped to her knees and began to pray! Now I’m not one to cast aspersions or make irrational claims, but I always thought that religion was a realm reserved for nincompoops. Not so, it seems young Bernadette often prayed, not to God directly but to the appointed Patron Saint. In the case of the missing button she prayed to Saint Anthony, the Patron Saint of lost things. No sooner had she put the call through the button magically reappeared, right next to her, there on the shag pile!
This minor but nevertheless impressive miracle got me to thinking, how could I capitalise on this shortcut to God? Saints, and particularly Patron ones, are it seems a kind of middle management or head of department, each authorised to deal with prayers that fall into their specialised category. So it was that I embarked on a voyage of discovery, forsaking the Harem and purposefully neglecting my thrice nightly duties I dedicated the evening to the pursuit of knowledge. I, in other words, familiarised myself with the Saints.
First off I looked at Saint Anthony the Patron Saint of lost things, who was he and why spend eternity in the celestial lost property section? A man born to religious servitude, a scholar and persuasive orator, he was well liked by his Franciscan brethren and laymen alike. Attributed for several miracles including appearing in two different places at the same time, speaking to a donkey and praying so hard for the return of a valuable Psalter that the book was returned! Thirty years after his death – at 36 – his body was exhumed and his tongue was found to be in perfect working order! Also – and perhaps more importantly – he is known now as the Patron of lost souls.
Dusty leather bound books, seldom or possibly never read soon covered the floor of my study. So engrossed was I that at first I didn’t notice the tap at the door. It was the tanner from the village come to fit Bernadette with a new bodice; on opening the door he proclaimed that Saint Bartholomew himself would wear the article with pride.
Saint Bartholomew it transpires is the Patron Saint of those who deal with skins and leather. After the messy business of his master’s crucifixion Bartholomew, an Apostle of Christ, went out into the world to preach and spread the word. He made it as far as Armenia where his evangelical preaching offended the local Pagans so, as I’m sure custom dictated; they skinned him alive and hung him upside down on a cross. So for all his efforts, his devout life, his discomfort suffered in the name of Christianity he is now best remembered for his services to handbags and Italian footwear!
Then there was poor Saint Apollonia a ‘virgin’ deaconess of advancing age, who lived in Roman occupied Alexandria during the persecution of Christians. Many Christians were set upon and offered the option of denouncing their God in favour of the popular pagan deities of the time. The ruling Roman authorities turned a blind eye to the violence, still at that time, worshiping multiple gods themselves. Apollonia had all her teeth knocked out by the furious horde before a ‘pile of faggots’ were set alight outside the city walls. She was given to choose between pagan worship and denouncement of her own beliefs or to be burned alive! Surprising her capturers, Apollonia freely threw herself onto the fire therefore depriving them the pleasure. These days if you are suffering from tooth decay through gluttony or poor oral hygiene you can, if you are a catholic, call upon the toothless virgin Apollonia for help.
Saint Christopher –meaning Christ carrier- is perhaps the best known Patron and yet conversely the most mythological. The legend extends back to the Diocletian age of the Roman Empire approximately 280 years after the birth of Christ. A man was captured by the Romans during battle, his name was Reprebus – later Christopher – who might or might not have been a ‘cynocephali’ or a dog headed man to you and me, a barbarian of immense strength and inhuman proportions. Reprebus, after meeting the Christ child – 280 years after Christ died – took up Christianity. He allegedly ferried the infant messiah across a river, then, depending on who you believe either took on human form or kept the dog face to ward off female advances.
I woke the following morning with my face stuck to ancient parchment, the fire boasting nothing but a few pitiful embers. I called for my man servant who promptly furnished me with fresh coffee, a clean blouse and a new nib for my pen. While the chambermaid tried desperately to coax life back into my inadequate coals I inquired after her children, mine it seemed was doing fine after a tricky birth; thanks she said to St Margaret of Antioch. Content that all was well I fancied I would resume my studies into the mysterious and often beguiling world of the Patron saint.
Saint Margaret of Antioch was once no more than the simple daughter of a pagan priest in, what is now, modern Turkey. At a young age she switched religion, to her father’s fury, and became a Christian. Her Father disowned her and Margaret grew up under the care of a Christian Sheppardess. While Margaret was one day busy watching her flock she caught the eye of a Roman prefect, he offered her marriage on the condition she gave up devotion to Christ. Margaret refused and in doing so caused the jilted suitor to fly into a rage. He had her imprisoned, where the Devil appeared to her in the form of a dragon – two mythical creatures in one day – and promptly swallowed her whole. Margaret’s crucifix didn’t however agree with Lucifer’s digestive system, causing him to wretch and spit her out. Then the pagans tried to burn her but that didn’t work so they drowned her instead and that too didn’t work. In the end the exhausted and I’m sure exasperated Pagans beheaded her, this seems to have done the trick as she’s not been seen since; well just once actually, when she appeared in a vision to Joan of Ark. St Margaret is commonly called upon by childbearing mothers, having effectively been born twice Margaret knows a thing or two about it.
There are, when you start to look into this business of Patrons, plenty of them, all waiting for your prayers. Some are Patrons of entire countries or places, like Saint Denis Patron Saint of Paris martyred by pagans for converting too many folk to his dark Christian ways. They lopped his head off – a returning theme in martyrdom- thinking that would put a stop to his forked tongue, but no, Denis managed to walk 7 miles, head tucked under his arm preaching all the way.
There’s a Patron Saint for everything and everyone, some must be busier than others, take St Benedict of Nursia his patronage includes against witchcraft and sorcery, nettle rash, Italian architects and gallstones. He also looks after children, servants who have broken their master’s belongings, Europe and coppersmiths, to name a few! Genesius an actor who also chose decapitation over renouncing his religion is the Patron Saint of clowns, attorneys, comics, epileptics and torture victims.
Eventually, exhausted of all this study, I employed a worthy pensmith and scholar to compile an almanac to guide me though my daily life. I also, rather cleverly I believe, took on an alcoholic priest with a penchant for livestock to do the praying. This done I returned my attentions to the delightful Bernadette to whom I owe so much…………