wilgefortis

Of typhoons and Santa Librada

Scanning social media these past few days has been a very tiring, very infuriating, very crushing experience. Everywhere one sees tallies of the dead, harrowing scenes of truly obscene destruction, impotent goading of the Government, doom and gloom. There are prayers, too, and words of comfort, but this beast of a storm has caught everyone off guard that these familiar facets of civic life seem to have taken a backseat to the nay-saying and the hand-wringing. And I can understand that perfectly.

Amidst all the furor, I saw a comment on Facebook that made my blood boil: “God has a plan for everything and everything happens in His time.”  What an utterly insensitive and callous thought, especially as hundreds, if not thousands, still lay uncollected, buried among the debris like so much refuse, rotting under the tropical sun. But I suppose I should be thankful, because if anything, it made me come to terms with how profoundly secular my outlook in life is.

This is not to say that I’ve ceased believing in God– far from it. Only that I am as modern as they come, because I cannot conceive anymore of God acting as truly omnipotent– that is, outside of the boundaries of rational thought. I have, whether consciously or otherwise, boxed Him into my categories of familiarity, and I expect Him to behave benevolently,in accordance with the rules. The older, more unforgiving folk Catholicism of my forefathers never conceived of such a civil God. Older Catholics might recall the story of Santa Librada (Wilgefortis to the Germans), who had been promised in marriage by her father to a heathen king. Rather than marry a pagan, she begged God to make her ugly and undertook a vow of virginity; God acquiesced, and the beautiful girl sprouted a beard. But her father found out, and in sheer anger, had her crucified. In the end, however, Librada is vindicated, and is given the crown of martyrs.

Is this how God saves? Modern, sanitized, suburban sensibilities say ‘No.’ But for hundreds of years, this marvel was celebrated as a singular act of God’s great mercy, elevating a soul to the altars of high heaven rather than soil herself with marriage to an idolater. Intellectually, this is not hard for me to accept: but viscerally– when you are confronted by images of corpses hanging from trees, and lives and homes smashed beyond all hope– it becomes a little harder.

We have all ceased trusting in the monstrosity of God’s mercy. I don’t know if it necessarily makes me a better Christian. I am no longer sure about many things.

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Holy Wilgefortis, by Madison Aston (me)

Saint Kummernis

I was looking at Grimm’s Fairytales on Wikipedia and found a list of stories that are no longer included in the book.

This is the synopsis for one of the stories called “Die heilige Frau Kummernis” and I have no idea what the fuck it’s about.

Once upon a time, there was a princess who was very devoted to her religion. The virgin vowed to God that she would never marry anyone. Her father was opposed to that. Then she prayed to the God, wishing for a beard to grow on her face. Her prayer was answered, but the King decided to crucify her. She became a saint and people had placed her statue in a church.

One day, a poor musician knelt down to pray in front of the statue. The Saint was very happy and she gave him a golden boot. The musicians happily brought the boot home.

Later, however, a notice came out that one side of the golden boots had been missing. They found it on the musician and arrested him. The musician begged them to bring him to the church. As they arrived as the church, the Saint dropped the other side of the golden boot and showed his innocence. The musician was set free. The name of the Saint was Kummernis.

A beard. A beard. She prayed for a beard. And then gave some guy a boot.

Kudos to whoever wrote this entry.

*Alright so, the page for St. Wilgefortis (whom the story is based on) makes way more sense. She was locked in an unwanted marriage and prayed to be made repulsive, so God gave her a beard. As for the boot, a poor pilgrim was praying and it just fell off. Still, God gave her a beard. Not sure what the lesson is here.

Imervard cross, Brunswick Cathedral, Braunschweig, last third of 12th or beginning of 13th century.

(Image from the remarkable Zeit der Staufer, a 4-volume set that I covet - waiting for someone who doesn’t know what they have to sell it for 30 bucks on amazon)

Ah, my research assistant days.

This is a copy of the Volto Santo, an eastern crucifix originally thought to have been carved by Nicodemus, the guy who helped put Christ in his tomb, thus making it an “accurate” depiction of Christ by someone who had actually seen him. This crucifix was transferred to Lucca, Italy in the mid 8th century.

Then the centuries-long game of telephone that is medieval art happened, and we get the legend of Saint Wilgefortis. Around the late 14th century in the Low Countries and Bavaria, people somehow got the idea that this was a woman with a beard being crucified because the long Byzantine garment (ughhh can’t remember the name, starts with a C?) looked like a dress. So they invented the legend that a young virgin martyr grew a beard to prevent being married off to a heathen prince. Then her dad crucified her.

This legend is remarkable because it shows that text didn’t always influence images. It goes both ways!

(meanwhile)

signing a lease, taking on responsibility, trying to use my safety net to offer safe harbor to my friends. I’m so floored by the hospitality I’ve gotten on tour and want to repay that to trans women and others in need. excited to make a home. excited to have shrines up to various saints (Hildegard, Anthony, Christopher, Susanna, Wilgefortis at the very least, maybe Joseph), and have hand embroidered mountain goats lyrics hanging on the walls. my books on the shelves. my clothes in one place. band practice during daylight hours, returning down to clean. long tours or hours at the dunkin donuts, whatever pays rent. I’m three thousand miles from home and don’t get to return for a long while, but I can dream. not because I need to dream to survive anymore - I told myself a lot of lies and called them dreams out of need. sometimes a nice thing is just a nice thing. “Stay until you can breathe like normal people do / I’ve got room in my house for you.”

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Wilgefortis Stage 9

I finally have returned to Wilgefortis. Sitting back and observing has truly helped. I’ve defined the head region a bit more and completed the background in the upper half of the painting.

Below is a detailed image of the background on Wilgefortis. I’m really pleased with how it’s turning out.