Friday, 2 September 2011

Saints on the run

I may have disagreed with my family on who might be my Mr Right but I've never had to grow a beard to escape a marriage. Which is exactly what happened to Saint Wilgefortis. Promised to a man she didn't like, she prayed she'd be made repulsive and woke on her wedding day with a full beard. Her father had her crucified. Years ago, I visited her shrine in Prague. It's bizarre. She looks like Jesus in a dress. I admire her pluck. Also her hirsuteness; how many men could grow a full beard (and moustache!) overnight?

Apparently her English name is Uncumber—and she's particularly venerated by women who want to escape (be disencumbered from) bad husbands. 
It's amazing how many saints started out as women on the run from marriage. I met another when I was on holiday in the Lake District. St Bega was a seventh century Irish princess who fled the man her parents wanted to marry, crossing the Irish sea to land in Cumbria. She found it "covered with a thick forest, admirably adapted for a solitary life", she became a nun and performed miracles including healing people with her bracelet (I love a miracle that involves good jewellery) and causing a snowstorm which saved some monks from people who were trying to steal their land. I took this picture at her church. I hadn't meant to go there but I was glad to have encountered her.

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