Saint of the day:
Saint Margaret of Antioch (Martha)
Patron Saint of childbirth, pregnant women, dying people, kidney disease, peasants, exiles,
falsely accused people; Lowestoft, England; Queens' College, Cambridge; nurses; Sannat and Bormla, Malta
The Story of Saint Margaret of Antioch
She was the daughter of a pagan priest at Antioch in Pisidia. Also known as Marina, she was converted to Christianity, whereupon she was driven from home by her father. She became a shepherdess and when she spurned the advances of Olybrius, the prefect, who was infatuated with her beauty, he charged her with being a Christian. He had her tortured and then imprisoned, and while she was in prison she had an encounter with the devil in the form of a dragon. According to the legend, he swallowed her, but the cross she carried in her hand so irritated his throat that he was forced to disgorge her (she is patroness of childbirth). The next day, attempts were made to execute her by fire and then by drowning, but she was miraculously saved and converted thousands of spectators witnessing her ordeal-all of whom were promptly executed. Finally, she was beheaded. That she existed and was martyred are probably true; all else is probably fictitious embroidery and added to her story, which was immensely popular in the Middle Ages, spreading from the East all over Western Europe. She is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and hers was one of the voices heard by Joan of Arc. Her feast day is July 20th.
St Margaret's, Westminster
20 Dean's Yard
+44(0)20 7222 5152
Saint Marina is known as Saint Margaret in the West. Whereas Saint Marina has always been highly esteemed and enjoyed wide popularity among Orthodox Christians of the East, in the West it was not always so. Her Acts were declared apocryphal by Pope Gelasius I in 494, but devotion to her revived in the West with the Crusades. Margaret is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and thus one of the saints who is said to have spoken to Joan of Arc, thus increasing her veneration among the people. According to the Roman Martyrology she is celebrated on July 20, as opposed to July 17 in the East. Pope Paul VI in 1969 removed her from the list of saints because of what was considered the entirely fabulous character of the stories told of her and thus disputing her historical existence. One of these disputed legends involved Marina being swallowed by Satan who appeared to her in her jail cell in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon's innards. The 13th century Golden Legend describes this incident as "apocryphal and not to be taken seriously". Greek tradition does not mention this incident of Saint Marina emerging from the stomach of the dragon, but instead through the cross she transforms the dragon into a dog which she strikes with a hammer. Saint Margaret bursting forth unharmed from the belly of the dragon was deemed in late Medieval Western Europe to be analogous to the pains and perils of childbirth. Furthermore, Margaret's mother is said to have died a few days after her birth, and before her death, Margaret intercedes for her executioner and encourages devotees to call upon her in various needs, promising to be especially attentive to the needs of pregnant women. These promises largely account for her widespread popularity. Thus it became common practice to place the life of St. Margaret on the stomach of a woman as she was delivering her child; in France there were at least four famous belts of St. Margaret used in childbirth (two in Paris, one in Amiens, and one in Dol). The veneration of St. Margaret became very widespread in England, where more than 250 churches are dedicated to her, most famously, St. Margaret's, Westminster, the parish church of the British Houses of Parliament in London. In western art, she is usually pictured escaping from the stomach of, or standing above, a dragon.
The legend of the Tarasque is reported in several sources, but especially in the story of St. Martha in the Golden Legend. ]The creature inhabited the area of Nerluc in Provence, France, and devastated the landscape far and wide. The Tarasque was a sort of dragon with a lion's head, six short legs like a bear's, an ox-like body covered with a turtle shell, and a scaly tail that ended in a scorpion's sting. Other legends report it as living on the modern site of the Chateau Tarascon; i.e. on a rock in the midst of the Rhône. According to the Golden Legend "There was, at that time, on the banks of the Rhône, in a marsh between Arles and Avignon, a dragon, half animal, half fish, thicker than an ox, longer than an horse, with teeth like swords and big as horns, he hid in the river where he took the life of all passers-by and submerged vessels."
The Tarasque was said to have come from Galatia, which was the home of the legendary Onachus, a scaly, bison-like beast which burned everything it touched (this creature is similar to the Bonnacon). The Tarasque was the offspring of the Onachus and the Leviathan of biblical account; disputably a giant sea serpent.
The king of Nerluc had attacked the Tarasque with knights and catapults to no avail. But Saint Martha found the beast and charmed it with hymns and prayers, and led back the tamed Tarasque to the city. The people, terrified by the monster, attacked it when it drew nigh. The monster offered no resistance and died there. Martha then preached to the people and converted many of them to Christianity. Sorry for what they had done to the tamed monster, the newly Christianized townspeople changed the town's name to Tarascon.
The story of the Tarasque is also very similar to the story of Beauty and the Beast and King Kong. The monster is charmed and weakened by a woman and then killed when brought back to civilization. A similar idea is found in the myths of Enkidu and the unicorn: both are calmed by sending them a woman. The description and legend of this creature is curiously similar to other dragons of French folklore such as Gargouille and Peluda.
St. Martha in Tarascon
A further legend relates that Martha then went to Tarascon, France, where a monster, the Tarasque, was a constant threat to the population. The Golden Legend describes it as a beast from Galicia; a great dragon, half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than an horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent, that dwelt in a certain wood between Arles and Avignon. Holding a cross in her hand, Martha sprinkled the beast with holy water.
Placing her sash around its neck, she led the tamed dragon through the village.
here Martha lived, daily occupied in prayers and in fastings. Martha eventually died in Tarascon, where she was buried.
Her tomb is located in the crypt of the local Collegiate Church.
The dedication of the Collegiate Church at Tarascon to St. Martha is believed to date from the 9th century or earlier. Relics found in the church during a reconstruction in 1187 were identified as hers, and reburied in a new shrine at that time. In the Collegiate Church crypt is a late 15th-century cenotaph, also known as the Gothic Tomb of Saint Martha. It is the work of Francesco Laurana, a Croatian sculptor of the Italian School, commissioned by King René. At its base are two openings through which the relics could be touched. It bears three low reliefs separated by fluted pilasters representing : on the left, Saint Martha and the Tarasque; in the center, Saint Mary Magdalene born aloft by the angels; on the right, Lazarus as Bishop of Marseille with his mitre and staff. There are two figures on either side: on the left, Saint Front, Bishop of Perrigueux, present at the funeral of Saint Martha, and on the right, Saint Marcelle, Martha's servant.
One of the patron saints of nurses, St. Margaret of Antioch, has a nutritious recipe, Margariten lebkuchen, associated with her feast day. Her “cake” contains spelt flour, which comes from a non-wheat grain. The ancients believed spelt can cure many ailments, probably because it is easily digested and contains more protein than wheat flour. Because of its health properties and biblical references, spelt is considered a wonder for one’s body and soul.
St. Hildegard von Bingen, creator of the Margariten Lebkuchen recipe, was a multi-talented Benedictine nun in the medieval period who believed in the holistic and natural approach to healing. She was a prolific composer and writer, and she published a cookbook from which the above recipe is adapted.
The original recipe calls for one cup whole-meal spelt flour and 2 ¼ cups spelt flour. If spelt flour is unavailable, whole wheat flour may be substituted.
Spelt is mentioned in Ezekiel 4:9: “Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof …”
This aromatic spice “cake” had the consistency of a loaf or coarse gingerbread with a smidgen of sweetness.
2 cups spelt flour, sifted
¾ cup sour cream
¾ cup plain yogurt
¾ cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon cardamom powder
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 teapoons baking soda
3 tablespoons milk
In a large mixing bowl, combine the sour cream, yogurt, sugar and salt until creamy.
Mix in the coriander, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom powder, cloves and nutmeg. In a small cup, dissolve the baking soda in milk and stir well.
Blend the baking soda-milk mixture into the batter. Gradually add the spelt flour and mix until a dough is formed.
Spread the dough into a greased, 10-inch round cake or springform pan.
Bake on the bottom rack of a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 35-45 minutes.
Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Slice into wedges and serve with a sprinkling of powdered sugar (optional).