IRFD: Saints edition
September 2, 2007
Today is International Rock-Flipping Day! I’m looking forward to seeing all the great photos people take of things and creatures found under rocks. I also know that there are a lot of smart folks out there who know considerable and wonderful things about bugs and other under-rock denizens. I thought I’d try to tailor my participation in IRFD to my own particular area of interest: Catholic saints and the protections they offer.
In a few days, September 7, will be the feast day of Saint Gratus of Aosta. Gratus is said to have been born in Greece but later relocated to Aosta in the Italian Alps. Around the middle of the 5th century he became the bishop of that region and died of natural causes later that century, not necessarily the best way to go if you’re planning on sainthood. As with many saints, a popular devotion to him developed much after his death; in Gratus’s case, his cult really got rolling in the 12th and 13th centuries. This included using his relics as powerful talismans against certain natural events including storms, floods, droughts–and of particular interest for IRFD–a plague of insects.
Not all of us are as intrepid about the monsters-in-miniature that we might find under our rocks. But take heart! Saint Gratus of Aosta is the patron saint against the fear of insects!
The rocks we flipped are arranged in circular pattern in the garden behind our house. The rocks themselves are angular and thick with fossils and crystals and are certainly not naturally-occurring in this precise spot. They were put here by the devout previous owners of our home, Catholics given to statuary. In fact, in the center of this center of stones was a large cement pedestal upon which stood the BVM, her hand raised in benediction on the hostas, roses, and other ground-cover that grew here. When they moved out, they took Mary with them and pushed the pedestal off to one side thus leaving a circle of stones with a palpable absence of holiness and presence in the center.
Protestants, we planted a hill of jack-o-lantern pumpkins in the circle, and now in September, large vines and leaves are beginning to brown around the big, orange pumpkins. I imagine that the etched face of St. Gratus is one of all the souls hovering right below the surface skin of the pumpkins, waiting to be revealed on Halloween. Gratus, according to legend, went to the Holy Land after receiving a vision that he should do so. When there, he discovered the head of John the Baptist in Herod’s decaying palace. He carried the head to Rome to present it to the Holy Father, but the head had apparently not improved with age. It fell to pieces, and Gratus was left holding the jawbone. My desire is that Gratus wield the prophet’s jaw, the jaw which ground many locusts in sweet honey, and bless our encounter. May the fear of insects be made holy among us and under our rocks, may the Gratus-o-lanterns of our garden look upon us with benevolence and subtle warning, and may all of you be blessed again and again.
Gratus was with us as we flipped our rocks. We found only veiny roots, dirt and a couple of roly-poly relics, rolled tightly in their own chitin reliquaries.
Happy International Rock-Flipping Day to all!
Update: Dave Bonta, convener of this event, has compiled a list of participants with their blogposts. Check ’em out!