Saints and Seasons was compiled in 2011 from notes written by the Revd Sue to introduce some of the heroes and occasions that mark the church year. Saints days are fixed and occur on the same date each year; festivals that relate to Easter, however, move with Easter: the months may or may not therefore correspond to the current year...
5th August: Oswald of Northumbria, Martyr
Oswald was born around the year 605, the son of King AElfrith of Northumbria. He was forced to leave home after his father’s death and he moved to Iona. There, influenced by the monks, he was baptised. Returning to Northumbria in 634, Oswald defeated the British king. He set up a cross as his standard and gathered his men around it to pray the night before the battle. A man of humility and generosity, Oswald worked closely with his friend St Aidan, travelling with him on his missionary journeys and acting as his interpreter. Oswald died in battle on this day in 642 defending his kingdom from the Mercians.
6th August: The Transfiguration of our Lord
The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus is told in the gospels of Matthew (Mt 17:1-9), Mark (Mk 9:1-9) and Luke (Lk 9:28-36). Peter also refers to it in his Second Epistle (2 Pet 1:16-19). They tell how Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain. There he was transfigured before them and his clothes became dazzling white. Moses (representing the law) and Elijah (representing the prophets) appeared and talked with him. They were enveloped in a cloud and a voice was heard to say, 'This is my beloved Son, listen to him!'
Michael Ramsey, who loved to preach and teach about the glory and the suffering that unite in the figure of Christ, said this about transfiguration:
He who was transfigured is the Son of Man; and, as He discloses on Mount Hermon another world, He reveals that no part of created things and no moment of created time lies outside the power of the Spirit, who is Lord, to change from glory into glory.
8th August: Dominic, Founder of the Order of Preachers
Dominic was born at Calaruega in Castile, of the ancient Guzman family in 1170. He became an Augustinian or Austin Friar and led a disciplined life of prayer and penance. He became prior in 1201 but three years later, whilst on a trip to Denmark with his bishop, he passed through France and came across the Cathars or Albigenses. They claimed to be Christians but they believed that the flesh and material things were evil, and that the spirit was of God and that flesh and spirit were in permanent conflict.
Dominic founded the Order of Preachers to combat this belief. The Dominican Order spread to many countries in just a few years and did much to maintain the credibility of the orthodox faith in late-medieval Europe. Dominic died on this day at Bologna in 1221.
10th August: Laurence, Deacon at Rome, Martyr
Laurence was one of seven deacons at Rome. One of his jobs was almsgiving and he is often pictured with a purse of money in his hand. He was closely associated with Pope Sixtus II, who was martyred just a few days before him. Laurence’s examiners insisted that he produce the church treasures. He promptly did so: assembling all the poor, he is reputed to have said, “These are the treasures of the Church.” He is traditionally believed to have been roasted alive on a gridiron, but he was more probably killed with a sword, which was used for execution at that time. He died on this day in the year 258.
15th August: The Blessed Virgin Mary
Mary was a young Jewish girl living in Nazareth when a messenger from the Lord announced that she was to be the bearer of the Son of God. (The Annunciation is wonderfully depicted in the painting behind the altar in the Lady Chapel.) Mary's response, "Let it be to me according to your word" (from the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55), revealed her natural sense of obedience to God and her reverence for his word. It showed her worthy to be the bearer of the word made flesh (Theotokos in Greek).
In the fourth century there were four festivals in honour of Mary: the Presentation in the Temple (2nd Feb), the Annunciation (25th Mar), her Nativity (8th Sept) and the Assumption (15th Aug). The Assumption started life in the legendary 'Lives of the Virgin Mary' that circulated in the early centuries. First of all, she is believed to have died and her body preserved and taken into heaven. Then she was regarded as having fallen asleep only, and her body thereafter assumed into heaven. The final stage is that she was taken straight to heaven without falling asleep at all. The notion of falling asleep, often translated as 'dormition', remains the title for this day's feast in Eastern Christianity.
People either like these niceties or find them difficult to comprehend. They arose at a time when people wanted to completely spiritualize Jesus and it was important to emphasize that Jesus was born of a woman, into human history, at a specific time and place. When we come to think of the Virgin Mary we have to give her due place. She was the first of the redeemed and hailed as blessed by the angel. When we are dealing with the language of devotion, we have to realize that this is sometimes the language of poetry rather than the language of precise definition.
This day is now celebrated as the major feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout Christendom.
20th August: Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux
Bernard was born at Fontaines, near Dijon, in France in the year 1090. He entered the Benedictine abbey at Citeaux in 1112, taking many of his companions with him. He was a leader of the reform within the Benedictines at this time and in 1115 he was sent to establish a new monastery at Clairvaux, valley of light. Though times were hard, he built up the community with his remarkable qualities of leadership. Bernard preached widely and powerfully and proved to be a theologian of renown. Literally hundreds of houses were founded on the Citeaux or Cistercian system and Bernard’s influence was immense. He died on this day in 1153.
24th August: Bartholomew the Apostle
Bartholomew appears in all the New Testament lists of apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14; Ac 1:13) but nothing more is heard of him. It has long been assumed that Bartholomew is the same person as Nathanael, though this is not a certainty. John's Gospel tells of Philip bringing Nathanael to Jesus, who called him an Israelite worthy of the name. He is also present beside the Sea of Galilee at Tiberias at the resurrection. Although he seems to be initially a cynical man, 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?', he recognises Jesus for who he is and proclaims him as the Son of God and King of Israel. This points to a struggle that we each have to undergo, namely the struggle to come to terms with oneself, our capacity not only to believe in Christ, but also to believe in ourselves.
It is thought that Bartholomew worked in India and Armenia - a copy of Matthew's Gospel in Hebrew was left there. It was thought to have been left by him. He was martyred for his faith - suffering a horrible death by being flayed alive. Because of this Bartholomew is the patron saint of butchers and he is often depicted with a butcher's knife. He is also the patron saint of tanners and all who work on skins. This probably explains the dedication of St. Bartholomew the Great in Smithfields, London, near the old meat market.
31st August: Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne
One of St Columba’s monks from the monastery of Iona, Aidan was sent as a missionary to Northumbria at the request of King Oswald. Aidan was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne in 635. He worked closely with Oswald and became involved in the training of priests. From the island of Lindisfarne he was able to combine a monastic lifestyle with missionary journeys to the mainland where, through his concern for the poor and his enthusiasm for preaching, he won popular support. This enabled him to strengthen the church beyond the boundaries of Northumbria. He died on this day in 651.
Unless otherwise indicated, notes based on material in Exciting Holiness: Collects and Readings, Brother Tristram SSF; Following in their Steps, Eleanor and Rachel Sayers; and All the Company of Heaven, Kenneth Stevenson. Illustrations from Signs, Symbols & Saints: Images from Turvey Abbey, CD Rom, © McCrimmons Publishing, used under license.