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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Feast of All Hallows

Today - the day after All Hallows Eve - is still celebrated in the Catholic Church as All Saints Day. It is set aside to honor the unknowns who had achieved sainthood, but flew under the radar of the Church's basilisk eye. My childhood was full of saints, but not in the saintliest of ways.

Among the favorite books in our sibling library was a small red volume: The Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints. Intended to edify, its graphic descriptions of martyrdom were grist for our Gothic creativity, especially before Halloween. The nuns at school were determined to avoid the holiday's heathen roots by requiring that we dress as saints for our costume parade. We kids perused the pages of LPLS for costume ideas as if it were the Sears catalog.

There were lots of ghoulish choices: St. Sebastian, riddled with arrows and St. Brigid who washed her face in lye to avoid offers of marriage en route to the convent. Trials with nary an "ouch!" And St. Christina, one of my favorites.

When St. Christina (apparently something of a bad girl) destroyed her father's idols he had her whipped with rods and thrown into a dungeon. Tough love! Unrepentant, she was torn on iron hooks and fastened on a rack over a fire (which God turned on her tormentors). Then a heavy stone was hung about her neck and she was thrown in Lake Bolsena. She was rescued by an angel and outlived her father who, we are told, died of spite.


St. Christina! Victorian waifs and drudges had nothing on her.

Whatever the nuns had in mind, our little procession around the school yard was as macabre as any of Wes Craven's imaginings. Their good intentions may have been thwarted, but nuns are generally Pollyannas, so I'm sure they didn't see it that way. They'd have looked past our intention to appall and recreated it as soul-lifting dedication to faith, sacred emulations of the holy by the innocent. Lest ye become as little children...hmmmm.


I wonder why children are so grisly sometimes, and why we adults become more queasy about such things as we age. Maybe because, as Twain once noted, babies come into the world screaming with fists clenched like Munch-esque depictions of infantile outrage and horror. Life tames us and we leave silent, slack-jawed, our hands falling open to receive parting gifts-- surely, an equally disturbing image.

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