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6 Saints With Rather Intense Stories

November 1st is All Saints Day, a day to commemorate all the saints, known and unknown. In recognition, here are the stories of six known saints.

1 & 2. Perpetua and Felicity

Perpetua was a 22-year-old noble and Felicity was her slave. The two women were persecuted for their Christian beliefs in Roman-owned Carthage while Perpetua was breastfeeding and Felicity was pregnant. Perpetua documented their tortures, and her writings are the earliest surviving text written by a Christian woman.

When they were tried, Felicity was exempted from the death penalty because she was pregnant. Two days before they were to be put to death, though, she gave birth, allowing her to be martyred with her friends and loved ones.

On the day of their execution, the women were first whipped and then led into an amphitheater, where they were to be torn to pieces by a wild cow. The animal brutalized them, but they were not killed. They were then to be put to death by the blade of a sword. Felicity’s execution went smoothly, but Perpetua’s executioner’s hand slipped and pierced between her bones, failing to kill her. Perpetua then grabbed the man’s hand and guided the sword to her own neck. It was later said that she was so great a woman she could not be slain unless she herself willed it.

3. Symeon the Stylite

Fasting for a few days is difficult for even the most dedicated religious observer, but Symeon Stylites brought fasting and silent worship to a whole new level. In fact, Symeon was kicked out of the first monastery he joined after he abstained from food and water throughout Lent until he completely passed out. He then spent a year and a half in a small hut, where he again went without eating and drinking for all of Lent. When he emerged from the hut alive, it was considered a miracle.

After leaving his hut, Symeon moved to a small cave that was less than 20 meters in diameter. He sought solitude at the cave, but crowds of pilgrims began gathering outside the cave, seeking his counsel and prayers. Symeon felt he didn’t have enough time to dedicate to his worship, so he then moved onto a 13-foot-tall pillar in Syria.

While living there, his only sustenance came from boys in the village who would climb up the pillar and provide him with bread and milk. Throughout the next 39 years, he continually moved up to higher and higher pillars. Eventually, his last pillar was over 50 feet tall. Keep in mind that this was in Syria, where the weather can range from over 100 to -50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Symeon eventually passed away on his pillar. After his death, many other worshipers followed his example and, for a while, seeing Christians living atop a pillar was a common sight in Syria. These days, Symeon still holds the Guinness Record for longest pole sitting session.

4. Pope Clement I

Like many Christians of the Roman era, Clement was prosecuted for his beliefs. In fact, he was banished from Rome and forced to serve in a stone quarry in Russia. Upon arriving, Clement discovered the prisoners were being denied water and were dying of thirst. He then saw a lamb on a hill and struck the ground where the lamb stood with his pick axe, releasing a gushing stream of water. The miracle resulted in many of the prisoners immediately converting to Christianity. As a punishment for this deed, the soldiers working at the mine tied Clement to an anchor and threw him from a boat into the Black Sea.

When Clement’s followers went to recover his body, the sea drew back three miles and Clement’s remains were discovered to already be enclosed in a stunning shrine. On the anniversary of the date every year after, the sea would again pull back and reveal his shrine. One year, a woman’s son got stuck in the shrine after the sea rolled back in. A year later, the boy was discovered to be completely unharmed, still asleep in the shrine.

Eventually, Clement's bones were removed; they are now enshrined in the Basilica di San Clemente in Rome.

5. Agatha of Sicily

Agatha was a virgin who dedicated herself to God. Unfortunately, a Roman prefect named Quintianus set his lustful eyes on her. When she rejected his advances, she was persecuted, first by being thrown into a brothel. When even a stint in the brothel didn’t change her mind, Quintianus ordered Agatha’s breasts be cut off. He refused her any medical treatment, but when Agatha was in her cell, she saw a vision of Saint Peter, who restored her breasts and healed her wounds.

Eventually, Quintianus ordered Agatha be put to death by being rolled naked across a bed of hot coals. While she was being tortured, an earthquake suddenly occurred and the walls collapsed, killing two men, both of whom had played a major role in her torture. Agatha was then returned to her cell, where she died from her wounds.

6. Saint Sebastian

Sebastian originally hid his Christian beliefs from the Romans so that he could work as a prison guard and allow people to visit their relatives who were imprisoned due to their beliefs. When he did come forward about his faith, he was exceptionally convincing—to the point that he even ended up converting the local prefect and his son, who wound up becoming a saint himself. Sebastian also converted another local official and his wife, Zoe, who hadn’t spoken for the last six years. After Zoe became a Christian, though, her speech was suddenly returned to her.

The prefect was so moved by Sebastian’s words and actions that he set all the Christian prisoners free from jail and resigned his position of power. The new prefect was not so easy to convert. He was enraged by Sebastian’s actions and ordered him to be executed by a squad of archers. The archers loaded Sebastian with arrows and then left him for dead. When one of his followers went to find his body to bury it, she discovered he was still alive. The woman nursed him back to health.

As soon as he recovered, Sebastian went before the emperor and condemned him for his treatment of Christians. The emperor accordingly had him beaten to death by his guards and thrown in the city sewers. An apparition appeared to a local Christian widow telling her that Sebastian’s body could be found in a nearby field, completely undefiled.

Because he was believed to have been killed by the archers and then went on to be killed by the same emperor, Sebastian is often referred to as the saint who was murdered twice.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between a Church, a Cathedral, and a Basilica?
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What is the difference between a church, a cathedral, and a basilica?

Mills Baker:

A church is a "house of worship," a building in which Christians gather to perform the rituals of their religion and interact with one another and hold religious functions and so on. They can be very plain, very simple.

A cathedral is a church which is also the "seat," in the bureaucratic sense more than the literal sense, of a bishop (or, in some denominations, another comparably high-ranking ecclesiastical figure). You therefore ordinarily see just one cathedral per denomination per city. Because bishops are responsible for an area—in Catholicism a diocese—a cathedral can also be thought of as the church associated with the administration of an area.

In common usage, people call really big churches cathedrals pretty often, but this is imprecise and technically mistaken.

A basilica was originally a Roman building featuring certain architectural elements that supported its use as a public, open facility for business, trading, etc. These typically—but not always—included colonnades, naves, and aisles, not unlike a modern pedestrian mall.

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City
St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City
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When some churches were built with similar features in the time of early Christianity, they were called basilicas. Later, in Catholicism, the term acquired a new meaning: the pope designates some churches basilicas for a variety of reasons, and they become important sites:

The papal or major basilicas outrank in precedence all other churches. Other rankings put the cathedral (or co-cathedral) of a bishop ahead of all other churches in the same diocese, even if they have the title of minor basilica. If the cathedral is that of a suffragan diocese, it yields precedence to the cathedral of the metropolitan. The cathedral of a primate is considered to rank higher than that of other metropolitan(s) in his circonscription (usually a present or historical state). Other classifications of churches include collegiate churches, which may or may not also be minor basilicas.

So basilicas as Christian buildings are mainly a Catholic phenomenon. And indeed, the world's most famous basilica is of course St. Peter's in Rome, designed in part by Michelangelo, its plaza and baldacchino by Bernini, its balcony where crowds see their pope, etc.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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holidays
10 Things You May Not Know About the Easter Bunny
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Whether you attend a church service, decorate eggs, or devour Peeps, no Easter celebration is complete without a visit from the Easter Bunny. Check out these 10 things you may not know about the Easter Bunny, from its contested origins to its surprising iterations around the world.

1. IT MAY HAVE COME FROM A PAGAN GODDESS OF FERTILITY—WITH SOME HELP FROM A BROTHER GRIMM ...

"Ostara" (1901) by Johannes Gehrts.
Eduard Ade, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

While we don’t know its exact origins, some believe the Easter Bunny has its roots in Anglo-Saxon paganism. According to Bede, a prolific 8th-century English monk, the Anglo-Saxon month Eosturmonath (broadly the Easter season) "was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honored name of the old observance." Whether Eostre was real or an invention by Bede has long been controversial, but scholarship on the goddess didn't really pick up for over a thousand years.

In his 1835 book Deutsche Mythologie, Jacob Grimm (of the Brothers Grimm) speculated that Eostre was connected to a German goddess named Ostara (whose existence, again, is controversial). Almost 40 years later, Adolf Holtzmann wrote that "The Easter Hare is unintelligible to me, but probably the hare was the sacred animal of Ostara," and a contemporary named K. A. Oberle hypothesized that "the hare which lay the parti-coloured Easter eggs was sacred to [Ostara]."

Over the years, other writers repeated these speculations as fact, and the idea that a hare was one of Eostre's sacred animals spread. Although hares and rabbits are different species, they're often conflated because the animals look alike and are both associated with fertility.

2. … OR IT MAY COME FROM A MYTH ABOUT THAT GODDESS'S BIRD.

baby chick and bunny cuddling in a field
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Other scholars, however, think the Easter Bunny originated from an Anglo-Saxon myth about Eostre. According to the myth, the goddess was entertaining a group of kids one day. To make them laugh, she transformed her pet bird into a rabbit, giving it the ability to lay colored eggs. Eostre then gave the eggs to the children. A similar myth portrays a more malevolent Eostre, who turned her pet bird into a rabbit or hare because she was enraged. But other historians, noting the lack of any information outside of Bede regarding Eostre or Ostara, have speculated that these stories are possibly corruptions of Ukrainian folktales that explained that country's practice of making pysanky—essentially highly decorated eggs. An alternate hypothesis is that Oberle (or perhaps Holtzmann) made the decision that because the rabbit lays eggs it must have at some point transformed from a bird, making this story an entirely late-19th century invention.

3. THE PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH INTRODUCED THE OSCHTER HAWS TO THE U.S.

nest of colorful Easter eggs
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In the late 17th century, groups of Christian German immigrants began settling in Pennsylvania. They taught their children about the Oschter Haws (or Osterhase), a hare from German folklore that gave colorful eggs to well-behaved children on Easter. To prepare for the Oschter Haws's arrival, German and German-American kids built a small nest or basket for the hare's eggs. Over time, the Oschter Haws character gained popularity and was Americanized, morphing into the Easter Bunny.

4. IT'S NOT IN THE BIBLE, BUT IT MIGHT BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE VIRGIN MARY.

"The Madonna of the Rabbit," by Titian, circa 1530.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny is a secular symbol of a Christian holiday. Although the Easter Bunny doesn't appear in the Bible, some religious scholars argue that it was originally associated with the Virgin Mary, rather than the pagan goddess Eostre. Because rabbits and hares were so fertile, Ancient Greeks and early medieval Christians thought that the animals could reproduce without having sex. Consequently, artwork and manuscripts often depict the Virgin Mary with rabbit iconography, alluding to the view that both the Virgin Mary and rabbits were able to have virgin births.

5. IN AUSTRALIA, IT'S THE EASTER BILBY …

a chocolate Easter bilby
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Rather than celebrate Easter with bunnies, Australians are increasingly ushering in fall (which is when Easter falls in the southern hemisphere) with the Easter Bilby. Also called rabbit-bandicoots, bilbies are Australian marsupials with long, rabbit-like ears. Things began looking grim for bilbies two centuries ago, when new predators and diseases were introduced into their habitat. Then, European rabbits—an invasive species whose population really took off when a few were released more than 150 years ago so they could be hunted—drove them out of their natural habitat until only a few thousand of the animals remained. But in the 1980s and '90s, Australians began doing more to protect the bilby. A book called Billy The Aussie Easter Bilby popularized the concept of the Easter Bilby, and the establishment of the Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia educated Australians about the ecological harm that rabbits wreak. Today, you can find chocolate bilbies in Australia around Easter time, and some chocolate companies even donate a portion of their proceeds to organizations that save the animals.

6. … AND IN OTHER COUNTRIES, YOU'LL FIND THE EASTER BELL, WIZARD, AND CUCKOO.

Two women feed candy to fish while dressed as Easter witches at the Aquaria Vattenmuseum in Stockholm, Sweden in 2016.
Two women feed candy to fish while dressed as Easter witches at the Aquaria Vattenmuseum in Stockholm, Sweden in 2016.
JESSICA GOW, TT/AFP/Getty Images

While the Easter Bilby might sound strange to anyone unfamiliar with it, other countries have their own, even weirder versions of the Easter Bunny. In most of France, children believe that flying church bells travel to the Vatican and bring back chocolate treats in time for Easter Sunday. In Sweden, kids dress up as wizards and witches rather than bunnies. And in Switzerland, the Easter Cuckoo (bird) is a symbol of the spring holiday.

7. A SENSORY-FRIENDLY EASTER BUNNY CATERS TO KIDS WITH AUTISM.

Easter Bunny greets a small child
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sensory-friendly Caring Bunny greeted and posed for photos with children with autism and special needs on World Autism Awareness Day in 2017. Sponsored by Autism Speaks, the event took place in malls across the U.S., which dimmed the lights, lowered the music, and shut down noisy escalators and fountains to accommodate kids who were unable to deal with the visual and auditory stimulation of a normal mall.

8. FAMOUS PEOPLE LOVE DONNING BUNNY COSTUMES.

The Easter Bunny drops eggs on the field in between innings of a Cincinnati Reds game.
The Easter Bunny drops eggs on the field in between innings of a Cincinnati Reds game.
Joe Robbins, Getty Images

While most people enjoy dressing up for Halloween, celebrities can't seem to get enough of donning a big rabbit suit on Easter. Singers, actors, and sports stars such as Mariah Carey, Madonna, David Beckham, Miley Cyrus, Snoop Dogg, and Kanye West have all shared photos of themselves wearing Easter Bunny costumes, which range from a simple set of bunny ears to a full-body white, fluffy suit.

9. FORMER U.S. PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER WAS ONCE THE WHITE HOUSE EASTER BUNNY.

Then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reads a book to children during the White House's annual Easter Egg Roll in 2017.
Then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reads a book to children during the White House's annual Easter Egg Roll in 2017.
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

The White House's annual Easter Egg Roll, which began in 1878, draws children and families to the President's home for egg hunting and musical performances. Traditionally, a member of the president's administration dresses up as the Easter Bunny to entertain kids and their families. When George W. Bush was president, then-assistant U.S. trade representative for media and public affairs Sean Spicer wore the bunny costume. In March 2016, Spicer poked fun at his old role, retweeting a photo of himself with the comment: "The good ole days—what I would give to hide in a bunny costume again."

10. CHOCOLATE BUNNIES ARE INSANELY POPULAR.

chocolate bunny
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Halloween and Easter are the two big holidays for candy sales, with Easter sometimes coming out on top (at least in dollar sales). This year, Americans are expected to spend $18.2 billion on the holiday, and 89 percent of celebrants planned to buy Easter candy like chocolate bunnies, marshmallow bunnies and eggs, and jelly beans. About 90 million chocolate bunnies are produced every Easter, which makes for a ton of mouthwatering chocolate rabbits in kids' (and adults') Easter baskets.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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