I feel very fortunate that my office happens to be in a college library. I walk down the aisles, wishing I had the time to read every book on all the shelves towering over me.
I’m usually one of the first people in the building, and it’s always very quiet. Some mornings, when I’m still feeling a little sleepy, I’ll close my eyes as I walk down a row, imagining all the facts from all the books magically entering my head, making me a very formidable Trivial Pursuit opponent and Jeopardy! champion.
I often glance at the titles of the books as I stroll by, which is where this blog post really gets started (sorry for wasting your time for two paragraphs). This is the first of a series that I’ll continue until I get bored with it (or someone tells me to stop) where I will occasionally grab a book with an interesting title off the shelf, learn something new, and share it with you.
You won’t find any best-sellers here. You’ll be more likely to find books that have been checked out about 3 times since 1940 and have spent years only being unshelved for their annual summer dusting.
Neglected Saints by E.I. Watkin was published in 1955, and, according to the Date Due card in the back of the book, was checked out 4 times since then, the last being in 1997. It is currently #3,350,407 on Amazon’s list of Best Sellers, a number I feel is a huge exaggeration of its popularity.
Think of all the things you may have done between 1955 - 1973, or from 1997 until now. Birthdays, vacations, job changes, weddings, Christmases, births, deaths, and trips to Uhlman’s during the summer. During those stretches, this book never left the library.
Catholic Online has a very handy FAQ about Saints, of which there are over 10,000. With so many saints, some of them are bound to be forgotten, which has got to be a bit of a downer for those saints.
I wonder if up in heaven, everyone wants to hang out with St. Peter or St. Mary or St. Patrick, while poor St. Ignatius of Antioch (eaten by lions) or St. Lawrence (grilled alive on a spit) are just playing Scrabble with each other at a back table, shaking their heads and wondering what else they could have possibly done to be a little more widely remembered. I would love to hang out with St. Lawrence after reading this account of his death, which says he told his killers he was done on one side as he was being roasted. Any guy who can crack a joke while he’s being roasted is a guy I’d like to have a beer with.
The book sometimes rambles from dull topic to dull topic, so there was no way I could read it straight through. Watkin starts writing about St. Martin of Tours, then somehow ends up mentioning some nun who ate lettuce in a garden and accidentally swallowed a devil who was having a siesta on a leaf. I’m neither making this up, nor am I sure why he mentioned this; but, the lesson, as always, is to be sure to wash all your vegetables before eating them.
Here are some highlights from the book.
St. Martin of Tours was a conscientious objector, which was a problem at the time because he was born into a military family and was forcibly drafted into the Roman army.
One day, he was walking down the street and encountered a naked beggar. Martin took off his own cloak, ripped it in half, and gave half to the beggar.
A nice gesture, for sure, but would it have killed him to give the guy the whole cloak? I’m sure the beggar was happy to be half-naked rather than fully naked, but part of him must have been thinking the same thing. I’d like to know what happened to the guy afterwards. Does he just cover the top half, and let the bottom go cold, or the other way around? Or does he move the half-cloak up and down as each area gets cold? These are the kind of questions I want answered that Neglected Saints neglects.
St. Martin reportedly raised three people from the dead, although even the author admits that, with modern medicine, these people were probably comatose, or, in “Princess Bride” lingo, “mostly dead.” He was once beaten up by a bunch of Roman soldiers, whose mules refused to move after the beating. The soldiers figured something was up with this guy, asked his forgiveness, and, when St. Martin forgave them, the mules moved on. My guess is that they were just mules who needed a break.
I’d write more about some of the other neglected saints included in the book, but I think they were neglected for a reason - they’re kind of boring. After trying to read this book, I can understand why it’s barely been read in 50 years.
With so many saints with great stories about them, some of them just aren’t that interesting. I’m sure they were wonderful and holy people who would be excellent role models or great to chat with at a party, but not everyone can have a story like St. Brendan.
I’m borrowing blogger Gary Kelley’s ratings system and giving Neglected Saints a Red Light - save your time, unless you haven’t slept in several days.
Follow Jon McGrath on Twitter, @jonmcgrath01581.