St. Elias & Ilinden

August 2-3 (Gregorian) every year; July 20 (O.S.)

The traditional feast day for the saint known as Elijah, Elias, or Ilya is July 20. In and around the Balkan states where St. Elias is most venerated, July 20 in the Eastern Orthodox Calendar falls on August 2 in the Gregorian.

In the Old Testament, Elijah is the Hebrew prophet who rode to heaven in a chariot and who would come back to earth to foretell the coming of the Messiah. He could make fire fall from the sky, as in the case of the showdown at Mt. Carmel, which is how he came to be associated with thunder and lightning among formerly pagan cultures of South-eastern Europe.

In the New Testament, Elijah is one of the prophets—along with Moses—that Peter sees talking with Christ during the Transfiguration. The New Testament also describes St. John the Baptist as an incarnation of Elijah, who came back to announce the coming of Christ.

Elijah’s Greek translation “Elias” suggests the prophet may be a form of the Greek sun god Helios. Helios drove the sun across the sky in a chariot.

Elijah taken to heaven in a chariot
Elias taken to heaven in a chariot

Elias is especially revered in the countries of Macedonia and Bulgaria, where he’s also known as St. Ilya.

In many of the villages of old Macedonian Bulgaria, all the weddings for each town that year would take place on the same day. The most popular days for weddings were St. Peter’s Day (June 29), the Assumption (August 15) and, July 20, St. Elias’s Day, or Ilinden.

“After the conclusion of the liturgy, the oldest inhabitant, flanked by the village priest and the headman, would go to the centre of the village, call the young men together and declare: “God willing, the weddings will commence’. Everyone present then fired a few shots into the air to confirm the start of the wedding ceremonies. This was the signal for red wedding banners, topped with apples wrapped in gold foil, to be hoisted on the houses where weddings had been arranged. The customary preliminary rituals, lasting the best part of a week, were performed by each family individually, but all the couples, with their respective entourages, went to the church to be married one after the other on the same Sunday, and then all assembled on the village green, where they danced the horo together before returning to their separate homes to feast and to carry out the remaining rituals.”

Bulgarian Folk Customs, Mercia MacDermott (summarizing Stefan Verkovich’s account of Ilinden in A Description of the Way of Life of the Macedonian Bulgarians)

In the early years of the 20th century the saint’s feast acquired a whole new meaning. Macedonia at that time was still under control of the Ottoman Empire. In 1903 Macedonian insurgents planned and launched a widespread uprising beginning on Ilinden (August 2, Gregorian). Though the Turks put down the insurrection the following month, the Ilinden Uprising became a symbol of Macedonian nationalism.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

July 31

ALMOST 500 years ago in the Basque country in the north of Spain, a young man sat in bed recovering from a long and brutal operation. Inigo, an officer in the Spanish army, had been struck during a French siege by a small cannonball which had shattered one leg and severely wounded the other.

After 15 days, doctors…

decided that the leg ought to be broken again and the bones reset because they had been badly set the first time or had been broken on the road…This butchery was done again; during it…he never spoke a word nor showed any sign or pain other than to clench his fists… — Culture and Belief in Society, David Englander & Rosemary O’Day

But as he healed, one of the bones remained on top of the other, shortening his leg. A self-admittedly vain Inigo didn’t want to live life deformed. He opted to to undergo a third operation to fix it, even though it would be the longest and most painful, as the bone had already healed.

Having cut into the flesh and sawed off the projecting bone, the surgeons set themselves to the task of reducing the shortness of the leg…and continually stretching it by means of mechanical devices, which for several days on end cause him great torture. — Saint Ignatius Loyola: the Pilgrim Years, James Brodrick

In recovery Inigo asked for some books to occupy him. All they had to read were two books, De Vita Christi (Life of Christ) by Ludolph of Saxony and a book on the lives of the Saints, both in Castilian.

St. Ignatius of Loyola
St. Ignatius of Loyola

(On a personal note, I was once stuck in a laundromat for three hours where the only book I could find was “The Valley of the Dolls.” We are glad that was not the case with Inigo, because) After reading these tomes and healing from his operation, he tossed aside three decades of vanity and materialism, to found the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

It didn’t happen overnight. It began with a competitive pursuit of “besting” the saints, to be more ascetic than this one or to fast more stringently than another. But each exercise and pilgrimage slowly transformed his faith. He spent several months living in a cave. He begged his way across Europe to Jerusalem. He preached on the streets of Barcelona. He was interrogated during the Inquisition, and briefly incarcerated in Salamanca.

About what do you preach?” Loyola was once asked.

He replied, “We do not preach, we speak to a few in a friendly manner about the things of God, just as one does after dinner with those who invite us.

He left his troubles (and his name) in Spain to study at the University of Paris. There ‘Ignatius’ of Loyola met six other like-minded men who formed Societas Iesu–the Society of Jesus. In August 1534 the men made a vow–to live in poverty and chastity, to devote themselves to missionary work and other good deeds, and to serve the Pope.

St. Ignatius de Loyola
St. Ignatius de Loyola

By the time of Ignatius’s (Inigo’s) death, on this day in 1556, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) had spread to three continents, where they operated dozens of schools. They made enemies among colonial powers while defending the the rights and lives of indigenous inhabitants of North and South America.

With over 18,000 members in 112 nations, the Jesuits are the largest male religious order of the Roman Catholic Church. Millions more have been educated at Jesuit schools and universities.

Prayer of Saint Ignatius Loyola
Teach us, Good Lord,
To Serve Thee as Thou deservest;
To give and not to count the cost;
To fight and not to heed the wounds;
To labor and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do Thy will.
Through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen.


St. Olav’s Day

July 29

Almost a thousand years after he sailed the fjords of Norway, King Olaf is remembered with Olavsfestdagen (Olaf’s Feast Day) — a week of music, entertainment, and partying.

Legends abound of King Olaf’s heroic deeds. According to “Scandanavian Folk-lore – Illustrations of the Tradition Beliefs of the Northern Peoples

When St. Olaf came to the farm of Sten, where his mother is said to have lived, he resolved to build a church there. A giantess, who at the time lived in the mountain…was not at all satisfied with this plan…and challenged him to a contest. “Before you are finished with your church,” said she, “I shall have built a stone bridge over Stensfirth.” Olaf accepted the challenge, and before she was half finished with the bridge, the glorious peal of the bells was heard from St. Olaf’s Church.

In a rage the troll seized the stones with which she had intended to complete the bridge, and hurled them…over the firth at the church, but as none of them struck it, she became so angry that she cut off one of her legs and let that fly at the steeple… [T]he leg landed in a bog behind the church, where to this day it causes a bad smell.

Despite the stories, Olav was not always the saintliest of saints. So scribed Sigvald the skald:

The youthful king stain red the hair
Of Angeln men, and dyed his spear
At Newport in their hearts’ dark blood;
And where the Danes the thickest stood–
Where the shrill storm round Olaf’s head
Of spear and arrow thickest fled,
There thickest lay the Thing-men dead!
Nine battles now of Olaf bold,
Battle by battle, I have told

King Olaf
King Olaf

Yes, Olaf had a tendency to convert Scandanavia’s pagan remnants, not with scripture and Bibles but with sword, fire, and battle-axe.

He was slain in battle in 1030, his body buried near the field, to be later disinterred and moved to Trondheim…

where it was deposited in the magnificent cathedral which rose upon the ruins of the temple of Thor. The recollection of his cruelties was forgotten, and such was the reverence paid to him as a hero and martyr that he might almost be said to have filled the place of the ancient idols in the affections of the nation.

In death the former king became more powerful than in life. Having uprooted centuries of pagan myth and tradition, Olaf himself replaced the Norse god Thor in some ways. He inherited the god’s red hair and beard, and the weapon of choice was changed from hammer to Olaf’s battle-axe.


In death, Olaf’s powers had no bounds. His shrines were said to heal the sick, make strong the weak, and even to heal crippled and severed limbs–though whether this is related to his encounter with the angry giantess at Stensfirth, and the smell emanating from the bog behind his church, the sagas do not say.

The Way of Saint James – Spain

July 25

Saint James

July 25th is the feast day of St. James.

James and his brother John, sons of Zebedee, were two of Jesus’s twelve Apostles. After Jesus’s crucifixion, James took the Gospel westward to unchartered territories—Iberia—and never looked back. Oh wait, he did look back, unfortunately. After receiving a vision of the Virgin Mary, James returned to Judea where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD.

But that’s not the end of James’s story. No, James’s hagiographers tells how James’s followers risked their lives to bring James’s body back to Iberia. They witnessed several miracles on the way, eventually laying his relics to rest at the edge of the western world: Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.

Santiago de Compostela is the destination for thousands of pilgrims who make the journey to St. James’s resting place each year. The route is known as Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James.

El Camino Frances, Spain
El Camino Frances, Spain

The most commonly traveled route is the Camino Frances. It starts somewhere north of the border in the French Pyrenees near St Jean Pied de Port. The trail winds 780 kilometers westward across Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, though many pilgrims continue a little further west to Cape Finisterre on the Atlantic. Finisterre comes from the Latin for “land’s end”.

The cape was once believed to be the end of the world.

On foot the pilgrimage takes about a month of walking. Peripatetic veterans recommend walking from 6am to 1pm. There are plenty of towns to stop in along the way, and such a schedule figures in nicely with the Spanish siesta, falling around 2pm each day.

The numbers of pilgrims have skyrocketed since the 1980s, when only a few thousand travelers would make the journey each year. These days that number is in the hundreds of thousands. Religious devotion varies among trekkers.

“Modern Pilgrimages seems to be a lot less about religion and more about peace, finding something in their life, a time to think, and for some a challenge…

“I did not set out on a Spiritual or religious journey – but it ended being that way…”

All about El Camino de Santiago

anti-Valentine’s Day in Russia?

July 8

From Q++ Worldwide Public Holidays

“Russia’s First Lady, Svetlana Medvedeva, is chairing a comittee to celebrate July 8th as a Russian “anti-Valentine’s Day”, with emphasis on family, mariage and long-term faithfulness, rather than what she (and many in Russia) considers the shallowness of Saint-Valentine’s celebration of short-term infatuation.

“If this year’s first July 8 celebration of SS. Piotr and Fevronia (two 13th century Russian Orthodox Saints who were married and buried in the same coffin) is a success, Mrs. Medvedev has promised to make it an official public holiday in Russia.”

Running of the Bulls – Encierro

July 7 (St. Fermin’s Day)

14 people have been killed in the San Fermin Running of the Bulls since 1924, when they began counting. To give you an idea of the scope of the mayhem, that’s almost equal to the number of people killed by vending machines in the U.S. since 2001.

Running with the Bulls (aka the Encierro) has been a Pamplona tradition for centuries. Local organizers remind tourists to take safety precautions and warn them of the potential for serious injury. The warnings are often shrugged off, but last year two California brothers got the point in the end.Protesters aren’t so concerned with injuries to humans, but with cruelty to animals. 40,000 bulls are killed by the bullfighting industry each year in Europe. These and other facts about bullfighting are ‘exposed’ during PETA’s Running of the Nudes, which coincides with the festival each year.

Who knows which Run the good Saint Fermin would prefer?


Q: So who is this Saint Fermin anyway, and what does he have to do with bulls?

A: St. Fermin was the son of a Roman senator in Pamplona. He converted to Christianity, was named a Bishop in Amiens, returned to Pamplona to lead his flock, and was martyred back in Amiens in 303 AD. He was actually beheaded, not slaughtered by bulls. And in September, not July.

It was his predecessor Bishop Saturninus of Toulouse who had the honor of being tied to a bull by his legs and dragged to his death. The two saints’ martyrdoms are sometimes confused because of Fermin’s association with the Encierro.

The tradition of honoring St. Fermin in Pamplona dates back to 1186, though the liturgical festival was originally in October. It was moved to July 7 in 1591 to coincide with the summer market fairs and bull ceremonies.

The Martyrdom of Saturninus of Toulouse

So if you’re running with the bulls this week, stretch beforehand, wear good shoes, and be careful where you slip.

[Also on July 7: the Japanese celebrate Tanabata, the reunion of the lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi—stars in the heavens who are permitted to visit each other one day of the year—the seventh day of the seventh month. People create beautiful origami in their honor and write wishes on tanzuku to send up to the two briefly reunited lovers.]

Saints Cyril & Methodius – Slovakia

July 5

St. Cyril and St. Methodius, the two missionary brothers who gave birth to the written Slovak language, are celebrated by the Eastern Catholic Church in May. (The exploits of the Brothers are detailed here.) But in the early 20th century the Roman Catholic feast day for the saints, held on July 5, took on a new importance.

After the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Slovaks around the world struggled to defend their national identity. When the Czechs declared July 6 a public holiday, in honor of 15th century Protestant forerunner Jan Hus, Slovaks pushed for the feast day of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, July 5, as a national celebration as well as religious one. Today it’s celebrated in both Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Gettin’ Glagolitic with Cyril & Methodius

St. Peter & St. Paul

June 29

In a word,
Never let go on these three things:
Faith, hope and love.
And know that the greatest of these
Will always be love

I Corinthians 13:13

June 29 is the Feast Day of St. Peter and St. Paul. Each gets his own saint day, but in the Venn diagram of the Catholic Church, June 29 marks the intersection of the two.

The two Apostles couldn’t have been more different. St. Peter was Christ’s most devoted follower and leader of the Apostles. A simple fisherman, he was born as Simon. His name Peter comes from Petros for ‘rock’. Jesus referred to Simon as his rock, saying “Upon this Rock I will build my church.”

Paul was born Saul, a wrathful and often vicious persecutor of the early Christians, who never encountered Jesus outside his visions. It wasn’t until his vision on the road to Damascus that he was “blinded by the light”. Following his conversion, Paul became the most prolific converter of non-Christians to the faith the world has ever known.

The scriptures don’t detail the death of either saint. It’s believed St. Peter was crucified upside-down. As a Roman citizen, Paul was very likely beheaded. The saints are remembered jointly today because their remains were temporarily moved on June 29, around the year 258 AD to prevent their desecration during the Valerian persecution.

St. Peter & St. Paul

Leaders of the Apostles

Pauline Chronology