Near this spot
Are deposited the Remains of one
Who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
And all the virtues of Man, without his Vices.
These words were Lord Byron’s tribute to his dog, Boatswain, but the sentiment might be familiar to many dog-owners. Mankind’s association with dogs goes back a long way, and they’ve been used for hunting and herding, as well as protection, companionship and a whole host of tasks that have led to them being called “man’s best friend”. They are regularly anthropomorphised, and, in mythology and folklore a dog could be your protector, your guide, or you friend. He might even be holy, which is where our story starts.
Growing up, I occasionally heard women talking about an old and sexist type of church service, one they had refused to take part in. When a woman had a baby, she could not leave her home, visit anyone, or go to church until nearly a month and a half had passed. When she did go to church, she had to undergo a special ceremony, because giving birth had made her sinful, and she had to be cleansed before being fit for worship. That special service was called Churching, and when I looked into it, I found some surprising things.
Today, my subject is St John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, a saintly man with an unparalleled devotion to the needs of his people. He was the very model of priesthood, an example for all priests to follow – but he was, I believe, very badly treated by his church.
In Catholicism, there is a saint for everyone, and many saints hold multiple patronages. Today’s saint, Drogo of Sebourg, is patron of shepherds, sick people, hernias, gall-stones, insanity, deaf people, cattle, people who work in coffee shops, and those whom others find repulsive, among others.
Mystery plays were popular in mediæval Europe. They began as liturgical dramas and reenactments of Biblical stories – a way of holding the attention of a congregation, and teaching them. In the beginning, they were written in Latin, probably by monks, but as they grew in popularity, the vernacular was used, and travelling companies of players emerged. They also branched out into non-biblical religious dramas, and then into secular comedies. They were sometimes performed in cycles lasting several days, organised by Guilds of tradesmen in a town. They did not always find favour with the church, and were banned several times. This is a modernised version of one of those mystery plays, dealing with the Purification of the Virgin Mary (Luke 2:22-40).
The Scandalous Life of Edmund Creffield
As a story, it had everything: sex, religion, murder and insanity – catnip for journalists. They made a small church in Oregon headline news, with breathless reports on the activities of the church leader. Readers thrilled with indignation and horror at the ‘high priest of nudism’, that debaucher of respectable women, Franz Edmund Creffield.
“The time has come. I tell the church universal everywhere, you have to do what I tell you … because I am the Messenger of God’s covenant.”
– John Alexander Dowie
Forty miles north of Chicago lies the city of Zion, founded by a maverick prophet as a place where God would rule, and sin and evil would be barred. That prophet was John Alexander Dowie, founder of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, healer, preacher, and possibly conman.