St. Christina the Astonishing and the Holiday Stinkiness

Alright, let’s face it. Is this the time of year, just after Thanksgiving, when you start dreading the impending “Holiday (Don’t call it Christmas) Season?” You know, the season of nightly news stories about how schools won’t allow the display of Christian symbols, the already beginning onslaught of commercialism and advertising, the atheist sloganeering that degrades an event so sacred, and all the politically correct puffery about how to speak of the Holy Celebration of The Birthday – Christ’s Mass – without actually saying it.

It’s almost intolerable and almost ruinous, like the odor of the hydro-treated petroleum distillates of Goo Gone® invading a warm and apple-cinnamony glowing kitchen. Pee-yew!

How to rise above it all? Well, there’s a unique, if not peculiar, saint who would probably react the way I’d like to react in the middle of holiday nonsense, St. Christina of Liége, also more appropriately named, St. Christina the Astonishing. She frequently tried to escape, well, worldly stinkiness.

St. Christina the Astonishing was born in 1150 and left an orphan at the age of fifteen with two elder sisters. She astonished her community at a most unexpected time.

“When she was about twenty-two Christina had a seizure, was assumed to be dead, and in due course was carried in an open coffin to the church, where a Mass of requiem was begun. Suddenly, after the Agnus Dei, Christina sat up, soared to the beams of the roof, and there perched herself. Everyone fled from the church except her elder sister, who, though thoroughly frightened, gave a good example of recollection to the others by stopping till the end of Mass. The priest then made Christina come down (it was said that she had taken refuge up there because she could not bear the smell of sinful human bodies). She averred that she had actually been dead; that she had gone down to Hell and there recognized many friends, and to Purgatory, where she had seen more friends, and then to Heaven.” [Butler’s Lives of the Saints]

That’s right, she levitated at her own funeral. She did some other astonishing things too – fleeing into remote places, climbing trees and perching on tiny branches, scaling towers and rocks, and crawling into ovens. Why? She could not bear the smell of sin. Interesting gift, no?

“Used with permission from the artist, Cynthia Large.”

There are many accounts of saints levitating, flying off the ground in deep meditations of ecstasy because they were so close to God spiritually: St. Teresa of Avila, St. Gemma Galgani, St. Gerard Majella, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. John Bosco, St. John Joseph of the Cross, St. Peter Claver, and St. Thomas Aquinas, to name several.

Some think of it as the body moving physically closer to Heaven because the soul is already so in communion with God’s will.  Some physicists have suggested that levitation is the result of the mind tapping into the quantum vacuums zero point energy, whatever that is exactly.

Whatever it is, it happens and it has been well-documented in the lives of the saints. I don’t expect I’ll fly up to the rafters if I see some tasteless advertisements, but I definitely will stop and smile at the astonishing ideas any time the stinkiness threatens to lower my spirits.

“A Pelican in the Wilderness” Used with permission from the artist, Cynthia Large.”

I have already warned my husband that if he sees me standing by the kitchen window wistfully staring at the tops of trees like I’m about to go out and climb them, or if he finds me sticking my head in the oven and lingering there just a little too long like I might try to crawl into it, or if I stand up from the table and run out into the woods and hide behind some rocks, it’s only because I’m pretending to be St. Christina, trying to forget about the world and get closer to Heaven.

He’ll probably understand.

There is much more to her story. Enjoy this essay, “Christina’s Life,” by the artist, Cynthia Large, to read more about St. Christina of Liége and to visit the gallery of Cynthia’s other beautiful works, or to purchase prints of them.

  1. Hilarious! Too funny.

    As for the whole “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” war…I always thought it was kind of a joke on those who wanted to get rid of the religious aspect of the greeting. Why? Because the word “holiday” comes from the phrase “holy day”. So, next time someone says, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, make sure you tell them “…and a Happy Holy Day to you also”. Maybe that’ll put a smile on their politically correct face.

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  3. My family cuts our trees together and then we go back and watch George C. Scott’s version of A Christmas Carol.

    Charles Dickens articulates the same irritations through Scrooge’s statements about Christmas being an “humbug” and “a false and commercial” time of year “for the buying of things for which you have no need, no money”.

    It is comforting to think that the same irritations plagued them as us. So, on those rare occasions where the bad behavior of others intrudes on my increasingly good mood – and my mood improves every day of Advent – I think “how Scrooge of you” and then wish a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come on them.

    So, Happy Holidays TAC! May you all find peace and joy in the company of those you love.

  4. Bob, Happy Holy Day! Perfect, I did not know that, but certainly will remember it. Thank you!

    DMinor, Hitting the ceiling over sin! Good one. This little saint always makes me smile, as does the artist’s depiction of her. :-)

    PM, succession! I succeed from shopping malls.

    G-Veg, Happy Holidays to you too. Yes, it would be good to watch that movie.

    Hope you all are having a great weekend.

  5. More annoying is the “no one knows when Jesus was really born. You, know they chose December 25th because it was a pagan holiday.”

    Yep. I do know that. Thank you ever so much for sharing your knowledge with me. Merry Christmas, on whatever day you ecide to celebrate it.

  6. I believe the X in X mass is fom the Greek alphabet. and represents the letter Chi,
    the first letter of Christos. Perhaps not as blasphemous as you think since X or Chi has been used for hundreds of years in religious writings even to the extent of Xtians as an abreviation of Christians.

    Happy Holy Day!!

  7. I like to say ‘Have a happy and meaning full Advent’, ‘Have a blessed and joy filled Christmas’ and a ‘have a happy and healthy new year’.
    I see Advent as an opportunity to renew the spiritual journey inward following Mary and Joseph as they travel to Bethlehem where as we travel we empty our hearts to be filled by Him.

  8. Oh my goodness! How absolutely refreshing to see an open acknowledgment of the “stinkiness” of craven commercialism in and even before the Holy Season of Anticipation, Advent. I for one do my Christmas buying only in the last 2-3 days before Christmas. The time before that is for soul-searching, preparing for a New Beginning in Christ. The joy of waiting. The peace of fasting in anticipation of the Feast. Living with Mary our Mother and her most chaste spouse St. Joseph in their humble faith and obedience…

  9. Some fun urban or guerrilla art might improve the appearance of “Xmas”: carefully draw or paint a “P” atop the “X” to make the Chi-Rho. No vandalism advocated. . . Just sayin’, bro. . . :-)

  10. Proving once again the truth of what C.S. Lewis wrote in 1957:

    “Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians, but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a ‘view’ on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business….

    We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write it off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.”

    Several paragraphs are omitted, and I wasn’t able to find them on short notice, but I know one of them describes how a family who seriously tries to “keep Christmas” in the third or commercial aspect — by making a serious effort to find all the “right” gifts for everyone they know — is in “no trim for merrymaking” by Dec. 25 but rather looks as if there “had been a long illness in the house.”

  11. Jason, I remember reading that too. There was some question, I think, about her heroic virtue.

    Leslie, thanks!

    Elaine, that’s great from C.S. Lewis, thank you.

    For the record, I did ALL of my Christmas shopping in less than an hour on the day before Thanksgiving. That’s right, one hour! I used to be like the people C.S. Lewis describes though. So glad to have left that behind. Our small children simply don’t expect much because we’ve never showered them with gifts even at birthdays.

  12. Going to hell and seeing friends there and then to purgatory and seeing more friends would make me want to flee from sin also. Society becomes immune to the stench of sin and allows more and more outrageous behavior. This decline of morality has happened before and it took a great shaking from God to correct it.