December 30 — The Day Nothing Happened?

St. Felix, St. Egwin and Blessed Margaret of Colonna, pray for us!

This stained-glass window depicting St. Egwin was made for St. Lawrence church in Evesham, England, by Geoffrey Webb in 1943.
This stained-glass window depicting St. Egwin was made for St. Lawrence church in Evesham, England, by Geoffrey Webb in 1943. (photo: Jules & Jenny / Wikimedia Commons)

This day — this date, Dec. 30 — has always made me feel a little bit sad. Or to put it more precisely, I’ve always felt a sort of sorrow for this day. It is the only day in the Octave of Christmas that does not have some big-name (or for that matter any-name) saint to go with it.

This after the almost saintly fireworks display of St. Stephen (protomartyr and deacon), St. John (Apostle, Evangelist, and the “Beloved Disciple” who took Mary herself into his own home), the Holy Innocents (who, especially in our infanticide-is-still-the-law-of-the-land society speak more importantly by their witness than ever before). Then St. Thomas Becket, the most famous martyr of medieval Europe and whom every writer from Geoffrey Chaucer to T.S. Eliot has paid homage to, and finally, on New Year’s Eve, Pope Sylvester I, whom I’ve written about at length here.

So what happened to Dec. 30?

Well, I can almost hear the liturgists arguing that being a ferial day in the Octave of Christmas makes it unique in and of itself and reflects back on Christmas and the Christ Child himself. Which is, I guess, true. Still, just looking at the liturgical calendar there almost seems to be a hole in it.

And this is not some post-Second Vatican II innovation (like the dropping/exchanging of St. Valentine on Feb. 14 to Sts. Cyril and Methodius, leaving St. Valentine nowhere to be found), but true of the old calendar as well.

For those of you who pray the Office of Prime (suppressed under St. Paul VI, but liberated for usage in the Divine Office by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008), in the reading from the Roman Martyrology (which comes in the middle of the office) there are a number of saints for the penultimate day of December. 

First, and by far foremost, of these saints is Pope St. Felix — a “martyr, who ruled the Church in the reign of the Emperor Aurelian.” However, before one wonders why on earth this pontiff-martyr is not recalled the way his next-day confrere Pope St. Sylvester I is, the Martyrology notes, “His festival is, however, observed on May 30.”

Still, one could make a case that at least a commemoration of the following martyrs might be made, namely:

“At Spoleto, the birthday of the holy martyrs Sabinus, Bishop of Assisi, Exuperantius and Marcellus, Deacons, and Venustian the governor, with his wife and children, under the Emperor Maximian. Of these Marcellus and Exuperantius were first of all stretched on the rack, then grievously beaten with scourges, afterwards torn with hooks and roasted by the burning of their sides and so fulfilled martyrdom; but Venustian, not long after, was slain with the sword, with his wife and children, while St. Sabinus, after his hands had been cut off, and he had suffered a long imprisonment, was scourged even to death.”

Again, it seems that a Christmas-tide observance might be in order, but this codicil clarifies why it may not be the case: “The martyrdoms of these saints, although they took place at various times, are remembered on the same day.”

For as expansive an entry for the aforementioned martyrs (and Pope St. Felix I), the martyrology then laconically lists: 

“At Alexandria, SS. Mansuetus, Severus, Appian, Donatus, Honorius, and their fellow martyrs. At Thessalonica, St. Anysia, Martyr. Likewise, St. Anysius, Bishop of that city. At Milan, St. Eugene, Bishop and Confessor. At Ravenna, St. Liberius, Bishop. At Aqulia in the Abruzzi, St. Rayner, Bishop.”

While The Roman Martyrology is the official text for saints’ days, the inestimable Butler’s Lives of the Saints, in its redacted form, provides Dec. 30 with St. Egwin who died around the year 717 and was the Bishop of Rochester, England. However, his main donation to history was the founding of the “famous abbey of Evesham, under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin.” Alban Butler reminds the American reader that “Evesham became one of the great Benedictine houses of Medieval England.” Indeed, St. Egwin himself is buried there.

The 12-volume, heavily-revised Butler’s Lives (of which I have mixed feelings, as it is a lot less Alban Butler and a lot more revisionist historians of the 1980s using his name) has only a handful of entries: St. Anysius (mentioned in the Martyrology) and St. Egwin (supra), Blessed Sebastian of Esztergom, Bishop (d. 1036) and Blessed Margaret Colonna (d. 1280).

Of the former, Butler’s tells us that “the memory of Archbishop Sebastian, together with that of St. Stephen [King of Hungary, and the man who firmly planted Christianity among the Magyars] and his queen has long been reverenced as symbolizing Hungary’s golden age.”

Last, but certainly not least, we have Blessed Margaret of Colonna, who has two lives (biographies) or acta to support her historical personage, and they are not without adventure and edification. She was the daughter of Prince Odo Colonna (the Colonnas, as Sir Kenneth Clark notes in his Civilisation are one of Rome’s oldest, important and most powerful ruling families, along with the Barbarinis, Borghese and, later, the Medici and Spanish-imported Borgias, all of whom provided popes to the Church in Rome). She lost both of her parents when she was still a child and was raised by her four brothers and a sister (who became a Poor Clare and wrote one of her sister’s biographies). The brothers tried to arrange a marriage for Margaret, but she was having none of it, preferring to retire to a villa in Palestrina with two attendants. “There she put all her energy and everything she possessed into serving the sick and the poor.”

Her health was never very good and this prevented her from joining the Poor Clares at Assisi. Undeterred, she founded a convent of the Poor Clares at Palestrina. In this, she was helped by her brother, Giacomo, who had since been elevated to a cardinal — and her brother Giovanni who had become a Roman senator. This branch of the Colonnas seems to have produced a progeny of overachievers!

However, it was a bit of pyrrhic victory: Margaret was so sickly she was never allowed to formally join the community itself, or take any real active part in it. Worse, she was diagnosed with cancer, which ate away at her for seven years, during which she suffered terribly. However, at this same time she acquired the reputation as a miracle-worker before dying at a young age. Her great determination, courage, ability to suffer for what was the better part of her life, along with her miracles performed while alive almost immediately began her cult. So it seems strange that she was not beatified until nearly six-hundred years later by Blessed Pope Pius IX.

Perhaps this day will one day officially belong to Blessed Margaret. But as with all things we leave this to the will of the Church.

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