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February 3, 2003

The patron saint of the internet
Posted by Teresa at 12:19 AM * 46 comments

Priscilla Olson and Laura Mixon both sent me a CNN story about how some Italian Catholics have started a drive to get a patron saint named for the internet, and are taking votes at an online site. More about that site later; here’s the story:

(CNN) — Fed up with hackers, a flood of spam and lousy connections, Italian Roman Catholics have launched a search for a patron saint of the Internet. And they hope their online poll will yield a holy Web protector by Easter.

Will it be Archangel Gabriel, whom the Bible credits with bringing Mary the news that she’d give birth to Jesus? Or Saint Isadore of Seville, who wrote the world’s first encyclopedia? Or perhaps Saint Clare of Assisi, a nun believed to have seen visions on a wall?

So far, about 5,000 visitors are casting their votes daily …

I pooh-poohed the story at first because as far as I knew, they’d already settled on a patron saint for the internet: Saint Isidore of Seville (560-636), a most excellent choice.

Saint Isidore was the Bishop of Seville during a time of great change, when the old structures of the world were passing away and new ones were evolving to take their place. He was the most learned man of his time, a polyglot who spoke Latin, Greek, and Hebrew (though the language in which he wrote was in the process of turning into Spanish), who both founded schools himself, and exhorted others to do the same.

Saint Isidore never had to be told to RTFM.

As one who argues long and hard in a newsgroup, he fought against the errors of the Arian and Acephalic heresies. Like a sysop coping with an online world in which it’s always September, he strove to civilize and enlighten the incursive Goths, a barbarous people who held learning in contempt. Like a blogger, he concentrated not on producing independent works of his own, but on usefully directing his readers to the works of others and putting them into context, with many references and quotations along the way.

And as one who compiles an FAQ—or indeed, in the spirit of the internet itself—he set himself to write the Etymologiae, which gathered, systematized, and condensed all the learning of his time. It has been called the first encyclopedia—unnecessarily so, in my opinion. The Etymologiae was the most commonly used school textbook of the Middle Ages, and was still so popular during the Renaissance that it went through ten editions between 1470 and 1529. (Thus it was that Isidore’s tripartite world map became the first map printed in Europe, in 1472.)

Friends, is this not a fine saint for the internet? Sancte Isidore, ora pro nobis! Here are some additional links:

The entry on St. Isidore from the Catholic Encyclopedia
Another site about Saint Isidore, including a prayer to say before logging on.
A somewhat livelier page from the (Pisky) Diocese of South Florida, with a humorous poem, and a photoshopped picture of St. Isidore with a laptop.
The inscrutable Virtual Order of Saint Isidore of Seville.
Cheesy but fervent vernacular art depicting St. Isidore, a sure sign that there’s genuine devotion going on out there.
Send someone a St. Isidore greeting card!
(By the way, that vernacular image of St. Isidore comes from a favorite site of mine, Matthew Brooks’ Art for the Catholic Restoration. It features a gallery of Brooks’ unusually vigorous religious paintings. I’ve been studying the saints for a long time now, but some of these are beyond my interpretive skills. This one, for instance, is surely not “St. Theotonius becomes Emperor of Dragaera.” It only looks like it is. The Dream of St. John Bosco is something of a tour de force. But you should look at the rest of them. I’m particularly fond of his St. Michael the Archangel, which owes more to Frank Frazetta’s Conan than it does to Raphael.

But I digress.)

Let’s go back to that CNN story. Apparently the recommendation of St. Isidore hasn’t been finalized; thus the campaign.

The Archangel Gabriel and St. Clare of Assisi are undoubtedly very wonderful, but they’re just not as appropriate. St. Clare is (among other things) the patron saint of television. This is because late in her life, whenever she was too ill to get out of bed and attend Mass, an image of the service would miraculously be projected on the wall of her cell. This makes her a good patron saint for many-to-one communication systems.

I can’t say a bad word about the Archangel Gabriel; he’s the patron saint of publishers, book distributors, and news agents. (Their feast day is the Feast of the Annunciation. It’s only logical.) But really, he’s a patron saint for one-to-many communications systems.

And as for that Italian voting site—well, hmmmf. They don’t even list Isidore of Seville. Here’s their list:

Sant’Alfonso de’ Liguori (St. Alphonsus Liguori)
Santa Chiara (St. Clare)
San Gabriele (Gabriel Archangel)
Ven. Giacomo Alberione
San Giovanni Bosco (St. John (or Don) Bosco)
San Massimiliano Kolbe (Maximilian Kolbe)
Gabriel and St. Clare we’ve already discussed. Of the remaining list, note that all but one are Italians (as was St. Clare). I figure the other, Maximilian Kolbe, is on the list because he’s a newish saint and they’re still trying to pin down what he’s patron saint of.

Alphonsus Liguori is a conservative 18th C. saint, founder of the Redemptorist order, and patron of confessors, final perseverance, theologians, and vocations. What this has to do with the internet is beyond me.

The Venerable Giacomo Alberione is a very conservative figure, and again has no perceptible relevance to the internet. He founded the Society of Saint Paul (1914), the Daughters of Saint Paul (1915), the Sisters Disciples of the Divine Master (1924), and the Sisters of Jesus Good Shepherd (1936), so maybe they’re all voting for him in hope it’ll help him get canonized.

St. John Bosco is the patron saint of editors, and he shouldn’t be. (More on this in a moment.) On the other hand, it’s hard to dislike a saint who, when he decided that his vocation was to work with children, went and studied juggling, acrobatics, and sleight-of-hand magic so he could hold their attention. (That unexpected practicality is something you find in a lot of saints. It’s one of the things I like about them.) Again, his career has no detectable relevance to the internet. But since he founded the Salesians of Don Bosco (1859), the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians (1872), and the Union of Cooperator Salesians (1875), it could be that he’s got his own voting bloc too. It’s still a bad idea. St. John Bosco is supposed to be the saint-protector of Catholic youth, especially Catholic boys. You’ve got to figure the guy’s busy just now.

Gotta be Saint Isidore of Seville.

On the mis-assignment of patron saints for writers and editors: It used to be that the faithful decided which saint to pray to on specific issues in much the same way they now find a new dentist: “Try so-and-so, I hear he’s good for that.” Along the way a few odd things happened, like St. Erasmus, a.k.a. St. Elmo, picking up the intestinal disorders/abdominal pain account. Almost nothing is known of his life, other than that he existed; but an early story about him preaching to sailors was illustrated with a picture that happened to have a windlass in it. Landlubbers mistook the windlass for the method of his martyrdom, and figured those were his guts getting wound up on it. They accordingly figured he’d know a thing or two about abdominal distress.

Saint Margaret of Antioch is a wholly dubious—she was denounced as apocryphal clear back in the Fifth Century—but perfectly unkillable saint. Like Saint George, she had a run-in with a dragon; but where he killed his in good knightly fashion, she was swallowed up by hers. But Margaret was armed with a crucifix and perfect faith, and blew up her dragon from the inside; wherefore she is invoked by women in labor.

I very nearly digress.

Thus the vox populi method of assigning patron saints, which can be detected in books of saints’ lives by the phrase “traditionally associated with—”. These days, patron saints are officially appointed by the church. It’s not as much fun, and (in my opinion) mistakes still get made. This is where the patron saints of writers and editors come in.

Saints John the Apostle and Paul the Apostle are traditionally associated with all the book-related trades, most likely because Paul is normally shown holding a book, and John is normally shown writing one. Writers are also listed in the grab-bag of patronage assignments of St. Lucy of Syracuse; and if I had to make a guess at the connection, it’d be because St. Lucy is invoked for problems with eyesight.

But those are just the traditional associations. As of the twentieth century, the official patron saint of editors is St. Francis de Sales, and the official patron saint of writers is St. John Bosco. When you read their lives, you just can’t see the connection. Forgive me for thinking that both assignments have a lot more to do with the influence of the large, well-organized, and vastly energetic order of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

It’s absurd. The obvious saint for editors is that awful old crank St. Jerome, who spent 30 years revising and editing what is now know as the Vulgate edition of the Bible. It’s still in use. He’s also noted for having taken much longer on the editing than was originally anticipated, and for quarreling at one time or another with most of the prominent figures in the church.

The obvious saints for writers are St. Teresa of Avila, whose writing life was frequently vexed by straying manuscripts, inexplicable rejections, misreadings by those who should either have known better or kept their mouths shut, and all the other misadventures that afflict writers once the words are on paper. St. John of the Cross, in a heroic act of composition under trying conditions, wrote The Dark Night of the Soul in his head during the nine months of his imprisonment in the tiny, fetid guest latrine of a medieval friary in Toledo.

There is no official saint of copyeditors, but I know exactly who it should be: Saint Columba. If you’ve ever dealt with the tribe, you’ll recognize the true voice of the copyeditor speaking here. This is from Adamnan’s Life of St. Columba, Chapter XVII, “Of the Vowel I”:

One day Baithene came to the saint and said, “I want some one of the brethren to look over with me and correct the psalter which I have written.” Hearing this, the saint said, “Why give us this trouble without any cause? In that psalter of thine, of which thou speakest, there is not one superfluous letter to be found, nor is any wanting except the one vowel I.” And accordingly, when the whole psalter was read over, what the saint had said was found to be true.
Comments on The patron saint of the internet:
#1 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 03:16 PM:

Hmm, what I'd like to know is, where could St. Bede fit in all this?

(BTW, Happy 25th Anniversary of the Blizzard of '78!)

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 03:25 PM:

Bede? Certainly. Caedmon, too. There's no rule that says you can only have one saint per slot, and writers need all the help they can get.

#3 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 03:28 PM:

Bede seems only to have one portfolio, which he shares with Pollio and Sabas -- lectors.

Pity. I'd rather wanted him for the patron saint of historians (it would make sense). Perhaps I'll start a campaign.

#4 ::: Scott Janssens ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 04:12 PM:

Perhaps St. Isadore can be the Blogger's patron saint. I need one to guide me while I wait until my host tells me why they've taken down my site.

#5 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 04:23 PM:

St. Isidore of Seville is already the patron saint of computer users and technicians, so I think both the internet and bloggers would be sensible extensions of his portfolio.

#6 ::: Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 05:09 PM:

Considering that a large part of the Internet is used for the transmission and reception of various sorts of pornography, a patron saint would seem to be a little incongruous.

#7 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 06:08 PM:

It would seem that what is desired is someone who is far longer dead than the 300-bps modem (I speak somewhat abstractly here, as my I "S" "P" is wont to offer me 0.1Kbps downloads), or a figure as abstract as Microsoft security, as in St "Oo, what an uncomfortable knife I've got in the Noble Collection" Michael, but I offer the following potential candidates should this get bogged down by celestial server loads or the Worm Which Dieth Not or something:

And verily did St. Kevin wander in the wilderness for, lo, eight years; and he returned, saying, Wow, and the people did Google upon him.

Thus saith St. Bruce, Patch thy goddamn SQL, servers, yea, with thine own patch, or thou shalt know chastisement, and stupid shalt thou look, and many spiteful instant messages shalt thou receive.

St. Jon bore forth the loaves and the fishes, and brake them in pieces, and anointed them with the shoyu, and there was much rejoicing.

For mine treasure -is- in heaven, and I desire thy aid in bringing it forth.

And the people did look upon St. Richard, and bore witness to his professions, and said with one voice, Nobody's perfect.

Hearken thee unto St. Tux, for he doth -still- eat fish.

#8 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 06:55 PM:

I'd go with St. Brigid - the saint of libraries
AND beer. Seems appropriate!

#9 ::: Bill Higgins ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 07:05 PM:

I'm disappointed you overlooked the
prayer to St. Isidore
I wrote the last time this came up.

I'm afraid it doesn't have ecclesiastical approval, unlike the other prayer to which you linked.

You write:
> These days, patron saints are officially appointed
> by the church. It's not as much fun, and
> (in my opinion) mistakes still get made.

I have the impression that the "patron of the Internet" story was PR by Isidore enthusiasts who would like very much for this to happen, but was not officially endorsed. True? Is there a database one can check? Where's Isidore when you need him?

#10 ::: Elayne Riggs ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 07:14 PM:

My husband suggests St. Anthony, the Patron Saint of Lost Things. Because on the Internet, you need to know how to go about finding what you're looking for.

But I love your suggestion, Teresa!

#11 ::: Berni Phillips Bratman ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 09:21 PM:

St. Maximilian Kolbe is the patron saint of the media. He was a priest (Franciscan? I forget) who was put into a concentration camp because he refused to run Nazi propaganda in his magazine. While he was there, a group of prisoners were selected to be put into a building with no food or water, left to slowly starve/die of thirst. St. Maximilian volunteered to take the place of one of the men, a man with a family. It was expected that the men would all turn on one another in such a desperate situation. St. MK kept their spirits up with songs and prayers. After two weeks, he still hadn't died, so the guards shot him.

St. Clare is also patroness of this, our Silicon Valley, which is a point in her favor. Add to that her patronage of those suffering from eye strain.

St. Teresa of Avila is also invoked by headache sufferers. Besides being a voluminous writer and one of the few female Doctors of the Church, she said many cool things. ("God save me from somber saints." To God, "If this is how you treat your friends, it's not surprising you have so few." And when a young nun asked whether she should refrain from sharing an amusing thought with others, Teresa said, "It is bad enough to be stupid by nature. Let us not also be stupid by piety," or words to that effect.)

Other cool, contemporary Catholic art is by Bro. Mickey McGrath at

#12 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 09:31 PM:

Well you should also remember that, for the things you're not supposed to do, there are usually Patron Demons in charge of that. I'd say Lilith, mother of all the incubi and succubi, would be in charge of all the porn sites and cam-whores, especially since in one of her legends she says "Those alone in the house at night are my rightful prey," which really sounds like someone surfing to porn sites.

For blogging, however, hands down your Patron Demon is Titivullus. Here read the standard medieval legend:

One frequently encountered version of this story described a deacon who breaks out laughing in church during the service. Afterward, the priest reproaches the deacon, who defends himself by saying that during the service he had seen a demon writing down the idle words of some of the members of the congregation. The demon quickly filled the parchment on which he was writing, and to make more space pulled at the top with his teeth. The parchment was so overstretched (with the record of so many idle words and mumbled prayers) that it tore, and the demon was sent tumbling onto his back, making the deacon laugh. The priest is duly impressed and the story is later conveyed to the congregation so they realize that their chat during the service will be held against them on Judgment Day, because somewhere there among them is the recording demon observing the prayers "stolen from God" by their negligence.

He'd also be the Patron Demon of Copyeditors because without him, they wouldn't have gainful employment, since he's responsible for adding errors to manuscripts.

More on him here.

#13 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 01:45 AM:

Matthew Brooks' stuff is nice, but I have a preference for the icons written by Brother Claude Lane of Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon. Conception Abbey has a page about him and Mount Angel has a page and gallery.

To the best of my knowledge he hasn't done St. Isidore yet.

#14 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 08:17 AM:

I think the patron saint of writers should be St. Matthew. There's a picture of him by Barent Fabritius, a pupil of Rembrandt, in the Musee de Beaux Arts here, and in it he sits there with the book he's writing in front of him and his pen in his hand, listening to an angel.

It isn't that he didn't already know the story when he started writing. It isn't that it's a surprise to him in any way. It's just that he's come to that bit of it, and he has to write it, and he knows he has to write it, and it's not that he won't write it or can't write it, just that it's sad,and he has to go on be true to it. It would be the same whether or not there was an angel.

There is an online reproduction of the picture, but the colour values are awful and it's been reversed, so you can't see the expression properly, which ruins it.

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 08:29 AM:

For me, Matthew Brooks' paintings are more interesting to think about than to look at. If I were looking for something to put on my wall, the modern artist I'd pick would be David Lentz.

Otherwise, I'd go with Caravaggio or Fra Angelico. Or maybe a good Tiepolo; though I'm distracted by how often those have a nice big empty space at the top that's just perfect for laying in the author and title type. Not Botticelli, definitely; he makes very pretty pictures, but I'd get irritated with that Neoplatonic overlay. Oh, and Rembrandt! He did splendid religious art. Sneaky, too -- he enlisted members of the local Jewish community to model for him.

I've never thought about this before, but it suddenly occurs to me that I have far more opinions about religious art than I can afford to get into on a morning when I have to get showered and dressed and go to work.

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 12:51 PM:


1. That's not true.

2. While I hate to suggest that you are perhaps not being an asset to the conversation, it's a question you might consider on your own.

#17 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 02:11 PM:

Yep, Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, and Tiepolo -- how about El Greco?

#18 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 04:06 PM:

Perhaps there should be a patron demon of the Internet. There's a patron demon of calligraphy: Titivolus (try writing that in Gothic).

I'm not sure whether this sort of thing is actually decided by the Church, or whether it's just a tradition among calligraphers...if so, it goes back to medieval times...saw an illo of Titivolus in a mumbleth-century manuscript (can't remember, but it was pre-Renaissance).

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 05:05 PM:

Bill, I'm truly sorry I overlooked your prayer.

Berni -- St. Clare is the patron saint of Silicon Valley? It's not St. John of Cupertino?

Titivullus, whose name (of course!) has many variant spellings, I know from wall paintings in churches. Along with typos, he collects idle remarks made by the congregation during services, and particularly encourages female parishioners to engage in vain or malicious gossip.

There's an interesting page about him here.

#20 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 05:50 PM:


Silicon Valley is just the new industrialized name for the Santa Clara valley, so Saint Claire has been here for a long time.

There's a rather nice 1960s modern statue of her near Highway 101, which has been nicknamed Our Lady of the Freeway.

#21 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 06:11 PM:

So are we to assume that the dotcom collapsees are now properly Poor Clares?

#22 ::: Berni Phillips Bratman ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 08:35 PM:

I like the idea of a patron demon as well. It would explain spam, pop-up ads, obnoxious animations, and so many other things.

Teresa, it's St. Joseph of Cupertino, not St. John (easy to confuse). He's the patron saint of pilots because he levitated and reportedly flew through the air (without an airplane, of course).

When we were in Italy, we saw so many Fra Angelico paintings -- it was wonderful. The convent of San Marcos in Florence has each of its cells decorated with a painting by Fra Angelico and/or his students. I just marveled at seeing these paintings which I'd seen in books and realizing that they were on someone's bedroom wall.

We picked up a calendar at the Vatican Museum. February's picture is Caravaggio's deposition. I like his style, but the picture makes me laugh. The woman in the background with her hands in the air looks like she's nagging and saying "I told you so." The man in the foreground, the one holding Jesus' knees, looks like he's about to tell her off. Caravaggio is amazing with his realism.

Henri Nouwen's _Return of the Prodigal Son_ goes into detail explaining the famous Rembrandt painting, pointing out things I would never have noticed on my own. Things like, the father's hands are mismatched: one is masculine and supporting, the other feminine and caressing. The son's head is like a baby's -- all kinds of good "reading" of the painting.

Kevin Andrew Murphy, the statue you're thinking of (if I'm thinking of what you're thinking) is Our Lady, not St. Clare. It's attached to Our Lady of the Humongous Statue -- er, Our Lady of Peace parish. (This is the most retro parish in the diocese, I might add. It also is extremely active with 3 to 4 daily Masses, 6 on Sundays, and 24-hour eucharistic devotion. If you want a Latin Mass, they have one on Saturday nights.) Anyway, this is the statue that overlooks highway 101 near Great America in Santa Clara. There is a statue of St. Clare, much smaller, at one of the entrances to University of Santa Clara.

John, there is also a convent of Poor Clares locally (in Los Altos) so those dot.commers would have a place to go -- at least the females. There's also a convent of cloistered Carmelites in Santa Clara. They hosted the local viewing of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux when they came here a few years ago.

#23 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 09:56 PM:

Oops. I failed to notice that Titivollous (whose name cannot be spelled correctly, no matter how you try) was mentioned earlier. Egg. Face. Sheepish.

Caravaggio may have used a camera. Several of his contemporaries did, but I'm not sure about him. Even with a camera, though, you still need a pretty towering talent to paint as realistically as he did.

(Cameras were used in ancient Greece. It's film that's new, but I bet you all knew that already.)

#24 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 10:38 PM:

St. Joseph of Cupertino?
That won't play in the Redmond diocese.

For anyone lost by Xopher's last (probably less likely here than most anywhere else) he apeaks of the camera lucida, a device (essentially a beam splitter) that allows the user to see an image of the subject superimposed on the paper or canvas. Johnson Smith used to sell one, whose illustration implied that, if you owned it, zaftig women would be sufficiently convinced that you were a Real Artist as to disrobe for your study. Sort of like carrying a Kodak disposable and a sticky badge reading "Hello My Name Is Helmut Newton," and hoping a lot.

#25 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 11:04 PM:

Our Lady of the Humongous Statue . . . my word.

I know that parish too well -- the co-location facility that a former employer leased a cage in was just down the street (Globix, not Exodus). I did various bits of system maintenance on many weekends and ended up going to Mass there early one Sunday morning. The problem was not conservative vs. whatever, but bad liturgy and a homily from an angry and not quite coherent priest. Never went back.

Actually, after looking at the statue up close (it's made up of sheets of aluminum), my preference was Our Lady of Recycled Cans.

Oh,well . . .

#26 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2003, 12:05 AM:

There are apparently some other candidates for Patron Saint of the Internet, too. I found a mention of some lesser-knowns such as San Pedro Regaldo, a 15th century global navigator (that seems to have possibilities!), and Titus Brandsma (only a "Blessed" so far, but he's 20th Century, having died at Dachau in 1942 "because of his promotion of a free press").

And Saint Gabriel seems to have already been ruled out "because he is already patron saint of social communication and the media." Archangels are busy folk!

Meanwhile, I'd like to announce that I've taken the plunge and started my own blog, at
It's pretty primitive so far; I only this morning figured out how to make hotlinks within my messages. And there's no comment feature, or links to other blogs yet. But you are all welcome to come visit!

#27 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2003, 12:42 AM:

Conan O'Brien just commented that the front-runner seems to be "St. Alyssa of Milano."

#28 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2003, 12:46 AM:

I looked up more about Pedro Regaldo. His last name is also spelled Regalado and the anglicized version is Peter Regalatus. Most of the English-language sites I found mention that he was a Franciscan friar and an ascetic, and don't mention navigation. (I also found a lot of Spanish-language ones. Unfortunately, I don't read Spanish that well. But this one had nice pictures: )

There was a sentence on one site that leads me to think he might become patron of laptop users: "No sooner had he died, than his brothers in religion opened a notebook to preserve the memory of many miracles."

That same site adds, "Other candidates include Franciscan St. Bernardine of Sienna (1380-1444), one of the most famous preachers in history, and St. Rita of Cascia (+1457), invoked as patroness of impossible causes." Bernadine was also on the online poll that started this thread.

Then there was this article, "Everybody needs a little help sometimes," from Michael Newman, who used to write a really good, and often funny, column on computer stuff for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He starts off with a little fun at the expense of other patron saints:

"Today [June 20] is the feast day of St. Alban, patron of converts and torture victims; St. Michelina of Pisaro, patron of the death of children, in-law problems, insanity, mental illness and widows; and St. Silverio, patron of Ponza, Italy.
"I know what you're thinking: What's the deal with St. Michelina? Unfortunately, I do not know."

To me, St. Michelina sounds like a candidate for patroness of talk show hosts and advice columnists.

#29 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2003, 02:28 PM:

Thanks, Lois, I had never thought of Bl. Titus as a patron for the Internet (which is surprising for me, as a sometime Carmelite).

He could be a good candidate. A Carmelite friar, mystic and university professor of philosophy (a co-founder and later president of the Catholic University of Holland), he was intersted in journalism as a young man and was appointed by the Archbishop of Utrecht in 1935 to be the spiritual advisor to the staffs of the several dozen Catholic Newspapers. He was openly anti-Nazi in his teachings and writings in that period running up to the invasion of the Netherlands in 1940. At that time the Catholic hierarchy there was in open opposition to the Nazi policies, in particular persecution of the Jews. In January of 1941 the bishops decided to bar any Nazi sympathizer from the Sacraments. Brandsma coordinated communication between the bishops and the still operating Catholic newspapers, and was arrested early in 1942 by the SS while passing a letter from the bishops ordering the papers to be shut down instead of being used to publsh Nazi propaganda. Fr. Brandsma was first imprisoned in Schvenigen prison, then the Amersfoort concentration camp, then was sent (as many clergy were) to Dachau. He was the subject of medical experiments, and was executed by lethal injection in July of 1942.

He is well known in the Netherlands with streets, churches, schools and colleges named after him. His case for canonization, like many others, was stalled for a number of years but is currently quite active. There is good information at this site (which does have some performance problems).

#30 ::: Toni ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2003, 06:02 PM:

At the risk of being rapped, figuratively, on the knuckles with a ruler by Saint Teresa, as Chuck was, I have to scoff at all but the few funny bits in this discussion. Saints? Miracles? Dragons? Fatuous flummery for the masses.

#31 ::: Jay C. Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2003, 09:35 AM:

Actually, I think Isidore is a good candidate for both the sacred and the profane amongst us in cyberspace. I don't know much about the proper standards for choosing a patron saint, but Isidore of Seville brings me a happy remembrance of "Confessions of a Crap Artist". Jack Isidore of Seville, California would have been a dynamite blogger. (Though perhaps a bit scattered...)

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2003, 11:23 PM:

The first one's free, Toni. May I make one request, though? If you're going to be casually rude, please don't use cliches.


The first thing anyone discovers when they read saints' lives is their tremendous range of subject matter and handling. Some are complex psychological biographies. Some are dry history: Did this, did that, did the other; got canonized later. Some are history and not dry at all; see the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales. Some are folklore through and through. And some, like those of SS. Nicholas and George, are ascertainably historical but have picked up folkloric bits along the way.

Are some of them dubious? Heavens, yes; nothing in the world so dubious as a dubious saint. Everyone in the conversation knows that perfectly well. I can, right off the top of my head, give you a weighted list of the characteristics of apocryphality. You may have doubts about a saint who:

-2 is a Celtic saint associated with a body of water
-4 is a Celtic saint known only through being associated with a body of water
-1 levitated
-2 flew
-3 performed significant actions after being dismembered
-4 performed significant actions after being beheaded
-1 is fun to draw
-1 has generated ex ossibus relics in excess of a single normal human skeleton
-1 is a popular statuary figure in the front windows of botanicas
-2 has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Saints which mentions the word "Antioch"
-3 performed numerically improbable feats (traveling in company with 11,000 virgins; simultaneously besting 50 philosophers in debate)
-5 had a run-in with a dragon
-5 is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (of whom there are nineteen)
-5 first turns up in martyrologies written several centuries after his or her supposed lifetime
-4 is mentioned in the Legenda Aurea
-8 is mentioned in the Legenda Aurea as a beautiful young virgin of noble birth who vows herself to Christ, is desired by a highly-placed official, and dauntlessly undergoes a long series of imaginative tortures before claiming the Palm of Martyrdom.
-8 appears to derive his or her entire existence from a medieval rhetorical trope (viz., St. James the Dismembered)
-10 appears to derive his or her entire existence from a misunderstood word or etymology (viz., SS. Expedite, Veronica)
-15 is a member of the current lineup of the X-Men
Finally, subtract one point for each 10% of the saint's life that can be mapped onto the folklore motif index.

What do you have when you're done? Probabilities; nothing more. George and Nicholas score high on that test, but are historically well attested. There are accounts of St. Teresa of Avila levitating (she very much disliked it, and considered it a distraction), and she's thoroughly real.

The miraculous multiplication of ex ossibus relics is an old phenomenon. In some cases it's nothing more than bad medieval recordkeeping. In other cases it's one of the oldest continuously operating con games in Western civilization, and may still be observed in progress on eBay.

One more thing about saints: Do not let yourself fall into the vulgar delusion that the gaudier and livelier saints' lives are fables that were foisted on an over-complaisant laity by their wicked church hierarchy. Quite the opposite. More often than not, it's the little people who come up with this stuff.

A few years ago my in-laws were visiting the famous church of San Xavier del Bac in Arizona. Right around lunchtime, an abuelita came trotting in, grabbed one of the carved wooden saints and tipped it toward herself, and started speaking rapidly and confidingly in its ear. My father-in-law's take on this was that it shows San Xavier del Bac is a working church, not just a tourist site.

It's a complicated thing.

#33 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 08:16 AM:

A number of years ago, I did the same sort of thing with named angels. I suppose if pressed I could resurrect the list. (Funny word to use here. Hmmmm. St Freud is at it again.) But there were angels of libraries and copyediting etc.

I wonder what the connection is, then, with said saints and named angels. Teresa, do you have any notions? Or nostrums?


#34 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 12:14 PM:

Hey, Jane! What'd St. Freud say comes between fear and sex?


I've mostly been staying away from angelology this past decade because the woo-woos got hold of it and turned it into cotton candy. (See "The Pastafazool Cycle", passim.) My basic impression is that angels are to cabalists as saints are to Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Anglicans, and other interested parties.

Someone named Kimba has a website about angels. I've found information I've needed there before. The front lobby's pretty woo, but if you go in by this door, you can get at the useful sections without all that other stuff.

#35 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2003, 07:23 AM:

Gee, T--I don't know. What'd St. Freud say comes between fear and sex?

Best angel stuff always goes back to Gustav Davidson's A DICTIONARY OF ANGELS. I knew Gustav and his wife years ago when he was finishing the Dictionary and was president of the NYC-based Poetry Society. I was a young poet they took under their wings. The Davidsons, not the angels. Well, maybe they were angels, too, certainly cherubic and welcoming and amusing and gossipy.

Hmmm--what would angels gossip about?


#36 ::: Donna Marie Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2003, 02:28 PM:

In the lists I've seen St. Francis de Sales is listed as the patron of writers and editors, while St. John Bosco is not mentioned.
He's not canonized yet, but once he is I'd nominate the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, C.O., as a possible secondary writers patron. He saw almost 40 books through the press in his lifetime, several more were published after his death, and his surviving letters and diaries take up 37 volumes !
By the way, I'd far rather have Matthew Brooks than a lot of the modernistic junk you see in parishes and the sacharinne images on the typical holy card. At least his St. Michael looks like he could actually protect us !

#37 ::: Donna Marie Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2003, 02:30 PM:

BTW, I believe St. Bede the Venerable is the patron of ecclesiastical historians.

#38 ::: Teresa Nieslen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2003, 06:06 PM:

Jane: ffcnf!

A while back I forgot to mention something about Caravaggio, which is that he was obviously a cheapskate. He uses the same woman as his model in about half his paintings, and she's always wearing the same dress. I mean, it's a very fetching dress; but you do start to feel for the poor woman.

#39 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2003, 06:40 PM:

Does that mean I got a five (and not a ten)? Or is it in answer to what angels gossip about and my German is just too poor to guess?


#40 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2003, 09:02 AM:

Count to ten in German and all will be answered.

#41 ::: Laverne ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2003, 06:48 PM:

Does anyone know if St. John Cupertino was also called St. John the Gapemouth?

#42 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2003, 10:52 PM:

I don't know about that, but St. Joseph of Cupertino was also called "The Dunce."

#43 ::: Laverne ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2003, 05:38 PM:

I'm looking for the patronsaint of pilots. I thoughtit was St. John not St. Joseph of CupertinoSt. John was also a dunce, and he tried many times to get into a monastery but je wasn't smart enough. His uncle had some pull with an order of monks and he paid them to take him in. He was called the "gapemouth" because he walked around with his headturned sideways and his mouth open. If anyone knows anything about the "gapemouth" Iwould really like to know. Thanks

#44 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2003, 09:28 PM:

That sounds a lot like St. Joseph of Cupertino, AKA (in his youth) Bocca Aperta.

According to you have a choice of Joseph of Cupertino, Our Lady of Loreto, or Therese of Lisieux as patron saint of pilots.

#45 ::: Jorge estrada ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2003, 12:27 AM:

You had better study more and investigate well about St. John Bosco before say something! If you really don't know please do not write stupid things! Check up: Memorie Biografiche (I - XX vol)
You can ask for bibliography.!

#46 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2003, 12:49 AM:

What would you like to know about St. John Bosco, Jorge?

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