DeFlip Side #111: Saints Perturb Us


Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

You’re probably gearing up for your St. Patrick’s Day festivities this weekend, looking forward to parades, kicking up your check trews in the jig competitions at your local pubs to impress the lassies, singing shanties over pints of ale, your celebrations redolent of boiling meat and potatoes and cabbage. Nothing says fun like boiled meat. Trust me. I’m part Irish.

Unfortunately, this yearly excuse for socially acceptable public drunkenness is ostensibly done in the name of a saint who isn’t exactly a party guy. Sure, you know that St. Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland, who converted the nation’s heathen masses to Christianity using the shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. You might also be aware that he’s credited with driving all the snakes out of Ireland—which might be pretty cool if most scholars didn’t agree that there were no native Irish snakes and that the whole thing is probably just an allegorical myth (snakes = evil, get it?).

The opening chapters of Patrick’s life read like an adventure story for boys—he was kidnapped, sold into slavery, escaped with the help of an angel who came to him in a dream and a wild boar who rooted up enough gold to pay for his ransom, only to return to Ireland and conquer it, in a spiritual sense. But from there, the story strays into piety and church politics and what kind of fun is that?

Sorry, but in terms of saints, Patrick is pretty much a milquetoast. Most saints lived and died in ways that would make you spit out your Guinness, and a few of them ranked as high as Charlie Sheen on the crazy meter.

So we’re going to push Patrick aside and party like Charlie this year, as he and I bring you the stories of saints whose whacked-out lives are truly worthy of remembrance. You with me, Charlie?

“Just sit back and enjoy the show.”

So let the cavalcade of hagiographical horrors commence!

“Bring it!”

Okay, in the spirit of the holiday we’ll start with the patroness of Ireland, St. Brigid, who was such a hottie that she prayed God would strike her ugly so she wouldn’t tempt men. God had no problem with that. According to legend, one of her eyes withered away and the remaining one parked itself in the middle of her forehead, turning her into a Cyclops, or a Sci-Fi cartoon heroine, depending on your point of view. This hideous deformity gave Brigid her fondest wish because with no prospects of marriage, her father—a pagan Celtic chief—allowed her to enter a convent. Once there, she returned to normal. How would you rate that one, Charlie?

“Duh. Winning!”

I’ll say. Next up is the legend of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, a nun from the 14th Century who would run around the convent whipping herself and rolling around in thorn bushes, writhing in ecstasy while begging her fellow nuns to tie her up and douse her with hot wax. Now that’s a party! Her passion for suffering was so epic that she’s often depicted with her breasts on fire. Kinky, huh Charlie?

“I want to hang out with these two smoking hotties and fly privately around the world.”

Who wouldn’t? We head south of the border for one more saint in the crazy/hot category: St. Rose of Lima, patron of Central and South America. She was so upset at her beauty that she purportedly cut off all her hair, stabbed herself in the face with chunks of glass, rubbed hot peppers in the wounds and used lye for lipstick. For fun she would whip herself with chains, wear a crown of thorns and then relax on a bed of more broken glass.

“Epic behavior. I love you violently with the fire of 1,000 suns.”

So did the church apparently. They made her the first saint of the New World for her devotion.

But in most cases the suffering wasn’t self-inflicted. And a lot of the time it was just downright gross.

Take the legend of poor St. Seraphina, who was struck down by a mysterious paralyzing illness when she was 10 years old. Compelled by her circumstances to contemplate the suffering of Christ, Seraphina insisted that she be laid down on a hard board instead of a bed. In due time the bedsores appeared, complete with flesh-eating vermin; to add further insult to her injury, her wounds attracted rats, which gnawed at her as she lay helpless. This went on for five years until she finally died. What do you think piety like that will earn you?

“Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body.”

Maybe so, but when they scraped her putrid 15-year-old corpse up, they found the wooden board coated in white violets. To this day the white violets that bloom in her Italian hometown are called Santa Fina flowers. She’s usually portrayed in iconography accompanied by violets and rats.

Another paralyzing tale recounts the life of St. Lidwina, who was born on this day, March 18 in 1830. Lidwina fell while ice skating at age 15 and was also never able to get up. Only her suffering lasted for 37 years. She was unable to move, pieces of her body fell off and she would bleed from her nose, mouth and ears. She eventually went blind and ended up choking to death on her own phlegm. For her life spent in pain and holy contemplation, the church rewarded her by making her patron saint of… can you guess… ice skaters!

“I can’t process it!”

I hear you. So let’s end with a saint who kicks it old school, Fantasy style, St. Margaret of Antioch. Margaret converted to Christianity and vowed chastity, spurning the advances of Antioch’s Roman governor. So he threw her in the dungeon. Between her tortures, the devil repeatedly visited her cell, taking the form of a dragon and eventually swallowed her whole. So she did what any self-respecting, ass-kicking Fantasy heroine would do: she used her crucifix and split the beast’s belly open from the inside out. For this miraculous and unique method of slaying dragons, the church has made Margaret the patron saint of birth and pregnant women. But unfortunately her victory over evil was short-lived. The governor had her beheaded.

But talk about ten out of ten for style! How’d she manage it, do you suppose?

“Tiger blood and Adonis DNA.”

Could be. In any event, it’s a feat far more worthy of celebration than the banishment of some imaginary snakes by some old sheepherding fart. So to Brigid and Mary and Rose, to poor Seraphina and Lidwina, and to Margaret the dragon slayer, this weekend I’ll be tipping my green beer to you! Anything you want to say to the saints, Charlie?

“Sorry my life is so much more bitching than yours…”

Indeed. Now get out there and party it up, Irish style!


More Weird & Wacky Saints! The 8 Most Bizarre Patron Saints
Five of the Wackiest Saints in History
Listverse: Top 10 Unusual Patron Saints
The Daily Edge: Top 10: Weird Patron Saints