Hagiographies

Saint Abo of Tiblisi

(Commemorated on January 8)

In the 8th century a Saracen army tyrannized Kartli as a first step towards overturning the Georgian nation. The invaders were certain that the best way to conquer Georgia was to uproot the Christian Faith. The Georgian people were alarmed, and the clergy and the best sons of Kartli sought desperately for a resolution to this calamity. Much blood was shed in 766 when the Muslim invaders crushed an uprising in the eastern region of Kakheti.

In 772, Caliph Al’Mansur (754-775), dissatisfied with the provincial governor of Kartli, Duke Nerse, summoned him to Baghdad. Nerse spent the following three years in captivity. During that time he became acquainted with a seventeen-year-old perfumer named Abo, and when he was released he took Abo back with him to Georgia. Abo was amazed at the great piety of the Georgian people, and he began to learn the Georgian language, attend the divine services, and speak with local priests. Abo sought with all his heart to become a Christian, and he was eventually baptized in Khazaria, while in the company of Duke Nerse.

Later, Abo accompanied the duke to Abkhazeti, to escape the Saracen raids. Discovering an entire population of Christians praising Jesus Christ with one heart and mouth, Abo gave great thanks to God for the opportunity to visit this area. Nerse later returned to Kartli, but Abo remained at the request of the Abkhaz king, who feared that the Saracens would torture Abo for his devout faith in Christ. Soon, however, Abo became restless and told the king, “Let me go, and I will freely declare my Christian Faith to those who hate Christ!”

Abo labored in Tbilisi for three years, preaching the Christian Faith. Then his own former countrymen betrayed and captured him, but he was released soon after at the request of the duke Stepanoz.

A new emir was appointed to rule in Tbilisi, and when the Christians heard that he was plotting to capture Abo, they begged him to conceal his identity. But Abo simply rejoiced and told them, “I am prepared not only to be tortured for Christ, but to die for His sake as well.”

As predicted, the emir’s servants captured Abo and brought him before a judge. The judge tried in vain to entice him to return to the faith of his ancestors. Then, in a rage, he ordered that Abo be cast into prison and that his hands and feet be fettered in chains. But his suffering for Christ filled the blessed Abo with even greater love, and he asked his Christian brothers and sisters to sell his clothes and use the money earned to buy candles and incense for local churches.

On the day of his execution Abo washed his face, anointed it with holy oil, partook of the Holy Gifts, and prepared for his death as though preparing for a feast. “Weep not, but rejoice, for I am going to my Lord. Pray for me, and may the peace of God protect you,” he cheerfully told the faithful Christians who surrounded him in his last hours.

When his time had come, St. Abo placed his arms on his breast in the form of a cross and joyously bowed his head beneath the sword. The executioners swung their swords three times in hopes of frightening Abo into denying Christ, but the blessed Abo stood unyielding until his last breath. Finally, convinced that all their efforts and cunning were in vain, the executioners were given a sign and they beheaded the holy Abo. Defeated and ashamed, Abo’s godless executioners tossed his body, his garments, and the earth that had been soaked with his blood into a sack, dragged it outside the city, and burned it near the Mtkvari River. Then they wrapped his ashes in sheepskin and cast them into the river.

In the evening a sign was given from above. Next to the Metekhi Cliff, by the bridge, a shining star hung over the river with its bright light reflecting in the water where the remains of the saint rested. Later, a chapel was built in honor of St. Abo on the left bank of the Mtkvari.

Saint Casilda of Toledo

(Commemorated April 9)

According to her legend, St. Casilda, a daughter of a Muslim king of Toledo (called Aldemón or Al-Mamún), showed great compassion for Christian prisoners by frequently sneaking bread into the prison, hidden in her clothes, to feed them.

Once, she was stopped by guards and asked to reveal what she was carrying in her skirt. When she began to show them, the bread turned into a bouquet of roses.

She was raised a Muslim, but when she became ill as a young woman, she refused help from the local Arab doctors and traveled to the north of the Iberian peninsula to partake of the healing waters of the shrine of San Vicente, near Buezo, close to Briviesca..When she was cured, she was baptized at Burgos (where she was later venerated) and lived a life of solitude and penitence  not far from the miraculous spring.

She is said to have lived to the age of 60, although there are some accounts that say she died aged 100.

There are also some accounts that she was martyred, but we have found no details to corrorobrate that.

En español:

Casilda nació en los amaneceres del siglo XI en la ciudad de Toledo. Hija del rey moro Aldemón de Toledo (conocido por al-Mamún), quedó huérfana de madre poco después de nacer (debido a una incomprensible enfermedad que más tarde heredaría Casilda).

Tres hijos nacieron del matrimonio contraído entre Aldemón y Casilda: Zoraida (que al ser bautizada más tarde tomó el nombre de Isabel de Toledo), Almoaín (que perdió la vida muy joven en una lucha entre moros y cristianos), y Casilda (en árabe Poesía) a quien nos referimos en la presente historia…

Entre mimos y halago, hacia los cinco años comenzó Casilda, como era costumbre, la tarea de aprender el Corán de memoria y sobre él a leer y escribir. Entre las historias leídas encontró una curiosa narración referente a la hija de un rey, la cual huyó de palacio para darse a la vida ascética. Se cree que esta leyenda se corresponde con la protagonizada por santa Marina.

Con tan sólo 17 años ya era una de las más discretas y sabias princesas de su siglo. Fue instruida por los mayores sabios del país y pronto comenzó a exponer sus dudas religiosas sintiendo ansias de conocer los principios fundamentales del cristianismo.

Estaba enterada de que en las cárceles de palacio se encontraban sabios sacerdotes y monjes con quienes poder discutir sus razones, pero su padre se opuso a que sus hijos visitasen  los calabozos de palacio.

Esto aumentó la curiosidad de Casilda que, aprovechando las ausencias del rey, visita los calabozos en repetidas ocasiones llevando medicinas y alimentos a los cautivos. Allí pide ser instruida en la religión cristiana hasta el punto de querer ser bautizada por los sacerdotes de la prisión.

Llegaron noticias al rey Aldemón del quebrantamiento de la prohibición que había hecho a su hija acerca del acceso a las mazmorras. Queriendo asegurarse, él mismo decidió descubrir la verdad. Para ello, organizó una cacería y regresando inesperadamente.

Con pretexto de coger flores en el jardín, bien ajena a otros cuidados que los de su corazón, llevaba, como cada día, la consabida limosna de su pan, a cambio de la cual recibiría la otra más preciada del alimento para su alma. Al verla allí Aldemón pregunta a Casilda qué es lo que lleva en el vestido recogido. Ella responde: -Rosas. Su padre le increpa -¡Enséñamelas!. Y abriendo los pliegues de su vestido le contesta: -¡Míralas!. A la vista de los presentes aparece un manojo de flores, de las cuales toma dos el rey, y acariciando a la princesa abandona el lugar. Al momento, aquellas flores vuelven a convertirse en su estado original, medicinas y alimentos.

Por aquella época Casilda recae en su enfermedad de flujos de sangre y poco a poco va empeorando su estado, sin encontrar ninguna cura. Los cautivos advirtieron cómo se ajaba el frescor en Casilda y alguien sugirió un extraño remedio: bañarse en los lagos norteños de San Vicente, en la Bureba y cercanos a la ciudad de Briviesca en Castilla. El cautivo, burgalés sin duda, se hacía lenguas de las maravillas que el señor hacía a través de aquellas aguas prodigiosas en su tierra burebana.

Una voz del cielo vino a confirmar aquella sugerencia. La tradición atribuye a la Virgen María la transmisión de este mensaje de esperanza en los lagos de san Vicente de Buezo.

Su padre organizó una comitiva para trasladarla y apenas se lavó con aquellas aguas quedó sana de su enfermedad.

No quiso regresar al palacio de Toledo, decidió llevar una vida eremítica despojándose de todos los objetos de valor y entregándoles en su mayor parte entre las parroquias cercanas y los pobres.

En todo este tiempo en que vivió fue adquiriendo el cariño y la admiración de la gente pues todo lo que tenía lo repartía entre los pobres. Los Ayuntamientos cercanos decidieron levantar una casa en honor a la Virgen que sirviera de morada para Santa Casilda.

Pero sucedió que todo cuanto construían durante el día, era transportado por “manos angélicas” a lo alto de la montaña y después de aparecérsele un ángel diciéndole que construyera la ermita en lo alto del cerro, se procedió a su construcción en el lugar señalado por el ángel. Algunas leyendas añaden que a los primeros golpes en la cueva salió de allí una leona que huyó sin más problemas.

En aquel lugar levantó una choza para orar, donde moriría y sería sepultada a la edad de 60 años.

Saint Perfectus of Córdoba

(Commemorated on April 18)

Saint Perfectus (San Perfecto) (died 850). Saint Perfectus was one of the Martyrs of Córdoba, whose martyrdom was recorded by Saint Eulogius in the Memoriale Sanctorum.

A monk and priest, he was born in Córdoba when the area was controlled by the Moors  under the Umayyad caliphate. He served at the basilica of St Asisclus in Córdoba. Christians were tolerated in the area, but not uniformly. According to  legend, in 850, Perfectus was challenged by two Muslim men to say who was the greater prophet: Jesus or Muhammad.

At first he refrained from responding, so as not to provoke them; but they insisted that he give them an answer, promising to protect him from reprisals. He then told them in that Muhammed was a false prophet and that he was an immoral man for supposedly seducing his adopted son’s wife. The Muslims kept their promise and let him go, but several days later some of them changed their mind and had him arrested.

Perfectus was tried and found guilty of blasphemy by the Islamic court and was beheaded The legend says his final words were to bless Christ and condemn Muhammad and the Qur’an.

His martyrdom was one of the first in a period of Muslim persecution in Al-Andalus,  which began in 850 under Abd ar-Rahman II, continued under his successor, Muhammad I, and went on intermittently until 960.

Blessed Ramón Llull (Raymond Lully)

“Doctor Illuminatus”, philosopher, poet, and theologian, born at Palma in Majorca, between 1232 and 1236; died at Tunis, 29 June, 1315. Probably a courtier at the court of King James of Aragon until thirty years of age, he then became a hermit and afterwards a tertiary of the Order of St. Francis. From that time he seemed to be inspired with extraordinary zeal for the conversion of the Mohammedan world. To this end he advocated the study of Oriental languages and the refutation of Arabian philosophy, especially that of Averroes. He founded a school for the members of his community in Majorca, where special attention was given to Arabic and Chaldean. Later he taught in Paris. About 1291 he went to Tunis, preached to the Saracens, disputed with them in philosophy, and after another brief sojourn in Paris, returned to the East as a missionary. After undergoing many hardships and privations he returned to Europe in 1311 for the purpose of laying before the Council of Vienna his plans for the conversion of the Moors. Again in 1315 he set out for Tunis, where he was stoned to death by the Saracens.

Llull’s literary activity was inspired by the same purpose as his missionary and educational efforts. In the numerous writings (about 300) which came from his facile pen, in Catalonian as well as in Latin, he strove to show the errors of Averroism and to expound Christian theology in such a manner that the Saracens themselves could not fail to see the truth. With the same purpose in view, he invented a mechanical contrivance, a logical machine, in which the subjects and predicates of theological propositions were arranged in circles, squares, triangles, and other geometrical figures, so that by moving a lever, turning a crank, or causing a wheel to revolve, the propositions would arrange themselves in the affirmative or negative and thus prove themselves to be true. This device he called the Ars Generalis Ultima or the Ars Magna, and to the description and explanation of it he devoted his most important works. Underlying this scheme was a theoretical philosophy, or rather a theosophy, for the essential element in Raymond’s method was the identification of theology with philosophy. The scholastics of the 13th century maintained that, while the two sciences agree, so that what is true in philosophy cannot be false in theology, or vice versa, they are, nevertheless, two distinct sciences, differing especially in that theology makes use of revelation as a source, while philosophy relies on reason alone.

The Arabians had completely separated them by maintaining the twofold standard of truth, according to which what is false in philosophy may be true in theology. Raymond, carried on by his zeal for the refutation of the Arabians, went to the opposite extreme. He held that there is no distinction between philosophy and theology, between reason and faith, so that even the highest mysteries may be proved by means of logical demonstration and the us of the Ars Magna. This of course removed all distinction between natural and supernatural truth. Unlike Abelard’s, however, Raymond’s rationalism was of the mystic type: he taught expressly that, for the understanding of the highest truths, reason must be aided by faith. On the other hand, he held that, although reason needs the Divine assistance, faith is just as much in need of reason; faith may deceive us unless reason guides it. He who relies on faith alone is like a blind man who, relying on the sense of touch, can sometimes find what he wants but often misses it; to be certain of finding his object he needs sight as well as touch. So he held that a man, in order to find out the truth about God, must bring reason to the task as well as faith.

These principles were taken up by the followers of Llull, known as Lullists, who for a time had so great an influence, especially in Spain, that they succeeded in founding chairs at the Universities of Barcelona and Valencia for the propagation of the doctrines of the “Illuminated Doctor”. The Church authorities, however, recognized the dangerous consequences which follow from the breaking down of the distinction between natural and supernatural truth. Consequently, in spite of his praiseworthy zeal and his crown of martyrdom, Raymond has not been canonized.

(From The Catholic Encyclopaedia)