An estimated 1 million people will complete the Pilgrimage of the Virgen de Los Angeles today in Cartago, Costa Rica. The annual event sees huge crowds walk long distances to the city’s basilica (above), and it is traditional to make the last leg of the journey, from the church door to the altar, on your knees. The pilgrimage ends at a golden shrine containing a black, Madonna-shaped stone, 20 centimetres in height, discovered by a woman of African descent in the 17th century.
It is the feast day of Russia’s most famous holy fool, St Basil, who found his vocation in shoplifting, giving stolen goods to the poor, going about naked and in chains, and rebuking Tsar Ivan the Terrible for being a bit too terrible. He fulfilled the difficult calling of being a holy fool by going beyond humility and into humiliation, making himself look like a holy nutcase, and becoming an outsider in the society of his time. He would probably have disapproved of what happened after he died today in 1552. The Patriarch of Moscow took his funeral, the Tsar helped carry his coffin, and he was buried honourably under the colourful onion domes of the Cathedral in Red Square which now bears his name. He would surely have wanted to be buried in a ditch.
An early Church Pope, Stephen I, died today in the year 257, thereby avoiding schism with the African church, where St Cyprian was rowing with him over the issue of what to do about the lapsi, Christians who had betrayed their faith under threat of Roman torture or death. A contested account of Stephen’s death says he was beheaded while celebrating Mass by soldiers of the Emperor Valerian.
The feasts of St Gamaliel and St Nicodemus fall on this day in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Both of them have brief, walk-on roles in the New Testament. Gamaliel was Paul’s mentor, while Nicodemus was a leader who came to meet Jesus under cover of darkness. They make curious saints, as they were both Pharisees – not Jesus’s favourite religious party – and there’s no explicit report that they became followers of Christ. A more extreme example of unexpected sainthood is Pontius Pilate, celebrated as a saint every June by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, despite being notorious for sentencing Jesus to death.
Henri III of France, whose moderate policies towards Protestant groups enraged his Catholic subjects, was assassinated today in 1589 at the age of 37. The previous year, he had struck against his opponents by inviting their leader, the Duke of Guise, into a private room in his palace and having him (plus his brother, a Cardinal) murdered by royal guards. Henri’s own assassin was a fanatical friar, Jacques Clément, who stabbed him to advance the Catholic cause. Ironically, the throne immediately passed to Henri IV, France’s first Protestant King, but he soon had to convert to Catholicism to secure his reign.
Image: Mario Duran-Ortiz