July 24th is the traditional commemoration of one of the most remarkable of saint, aptly called Christina Mirabilis, Christina the Astonishing (1150 – 1224), dying the year before the birth of Thomas Aquinas, at the dawn of the apex of the mediaeval era. She was orphaned as a teenager, and spent her life tending sheep. That is, until an ‘epileptic seizure’ carried her off. Or so they thought. For as she lay in her coffin, she suddenly awoke, and not only sat up, but flew up to the rafters, unable, as she cried out, to bear the stench of the sin around her. She claimed she had seen Purgatory and Hell, describing the sufferings of the souls there, and spent the rest of her own long life in indescribable – and apparently miraculous – penances, throwing herself into burning fires, being mangled on mill-wheels, but always coming out unscathed. Innumerable miracles were attributed to her intercession. She eventually mitigated her expiation, entered a Dominican convent, and spent her days in humble obedience, dying at the age of 74, with the reputation of great sanctity.
To my surprise, Nick Cave, whose music is hard to describe (and, as one reader described, even harder to listen to – chacun a son gout, and I admit he is no Paganini), wrote a song about Christina, which quite accurately and hauntingly recounts her life. It’s not often you hear an alternative rock song about a contemplative – there should be more, for it makes better material than ersatz romance.
Christina the Astonishing Lived a long time ago
She was stricken with a seizure At the age of twenty-two
They took her body in a coffin To a tiny church in Liege Where she sprang up from the coffin
Just after the Agnus Dei She soared up to the rafters
Perched on a beam up there Cried “The stink of human sin Is more that I can bear”
Christina the Astonishing Was the most astonishing of all
She prayed balanced on a hurdle Or curled up into a ball
She fled to remote places Climbed towers and trees and walls
To escape the stench of human corruption
Into an oven she did crawl O Christina the Astonishing Behaved in a terrifying way
She would run wildly through the streets Jump in the Meusse and swim away
O Christina the Astonishing Behaved in terrifying manner
Died at the age of seventy-four In the convent of St Anna