Friday, April 04, 2008

ST CHRISTINA THE ASTONISHING: patron saint of insanity; lunatics; mental health caregivers; mental illness; psychiatrists; etc

1150 - 1224 AD

I stumbled across a saint whose life makes St Francis' seem almost tame by comparison, if ever that were possible. Christina was born to a peasant family, orphaned as a child and raised by two sisters. At 21 (or maybe 22) she appeared to have a major siezure and died. At her funeral she sprung out of her coffin and levitated up to the roof of the church (apparently to get away from the stench of human sin). All the mourners fled the church in terror except for Christina’s oldest sister and the priest who continued with the Mass! The priest ordered her down afterwards and she descended upon the altar and stated that she had been to hell, purgatory, and heaven, and had been returned to earth with a ministry to pray for souls in purgatory. In Heaven Christ offered her a choice: to remain with Him then, or to return to earth and by her sufferings and example bring many sinners to repentance. Christina chose to go back to earth and save souls. Then she warned her friends to not be surprised by anything she did from then on because God had directed her to act in ways “never seen before among mortals".

Thereafter her life is reported as one bizarre occurance after another. She climbed up trees to perch on the smallest branches to sit with birds; she prayed balanced on hurdles or curled up like a fetus; she handled fire and endured icy water for long times without ill-effects; she would roll in fire and scream in agony, yet remain unharmed; she climbed into ovens and threw herself under mill-wheels, where she would be carried around in the water without suffering apparent injury. One time a priest, who didn't know her, was so shocked by her appearance that he refused to administer Communion to her; she tore insanely through the streets, threw herself into the Meuse, and swam away. She was thought to have been possessed by devils, and became a constant source of embarrassment to her sisters and her friends. Many tried to capture her, but she always managed to escape. A man once broke her leg in the process of subduing her, and tied her to a pillar for safety, yet she got away and lived in the trees for awhile, nourished by milk dripping from her virginal breasts. She lived as homeless, dressed in rags, and generally terrifying people. She went to graveyards and cried for the dead who had died in sin. One night she woke all the dogs in town and led them in a pack into the woods where she threw herself into a dense growth of thorn bushes.

Christina could smell the sin in people and could not stand the odor. She would climb trees or buildings, hide in cupboards or ovens, or even levitate out of contact to get away from the stench of their sin. She lived exemplifying poverty (something good ole St Francis would have heavily endorsed!); sleeping on rocks, dressing in rags, begging, and eating whatever came her way. If she received food from a 'bad' person, she would bear the burden of that person's sin; the food, once swallowed, would cause her tremendous pain.

Some thought she was schizophrenic, or epileptic, or anorexic, or completely possessed by demons.

When Christina felt she was ready to die she retired to the convent of St. Catherine in Saint-Trond where her friend Beatrice was a nun. Beatrice secured Christina a room and arranged for a priest to bring the Last Rites. When the priest left Beatrice asked Christina to reveal some holy secrets but Christina would say nothing. Beatrice thought to leave her to rest and come back to ask again in a bit. When Beatrice returned to Christina’s room she found her dead. The nun threw herself on the body, calling Christina to return from the dead and tell her the secrets. Suddenly Christina’s eyes opened and she asked why Beatrice had disturbed her death just as she was being led to see Christ face to face. So to satisfy Beatrice she answered all the questions. By this time the entire convent had assembled to Christina’s room. She made the sign of the cross over the nuns, and died—for the third (and final) time.
Christina died in 1224 of natural causes, aged 74.