Friday, November 28, 2008

James of the Marche

I really cannot do any better than the introduction from the calendar itself: "Meet one of the fathers of the modern pawnshop!" That his day should fall on what is traditionally the day we overspend, following the day we overeat is one of the first gifts of this holiday season.

James of the Marche has more or less the standard saint bio. He studied, he fasted, he founded something or other. But instead of the usual (school for young women, shelter for plague victims orphans & other abandoned people, ministry for lepers, etc.) he established the Montes Pietatis. Interest rates were high & the working poor needed to be able to get a loan. & so he created this nonprofit organization that accepted small/portable items as collateral on short-term loans.

I have to admit, I do not usually think of Franciscans having this much sense. Charisma yes intelligence yes passion yes but common sense. Not so much. & I admit I was wrong. They are selling t-shirts on their website. That makes a whole lotta sense (I am sincere; more people read t-shirts than pamphlets).

Like it or not, the whole pawnshop idea makes sense, too. & it always did. The problem with pawnshops is not that they exist, it is who might pawn (maybe a thief) & why (maybe to score). In the inevitable time & place where an ordinary person needs a leg up, grandma's old rings will not feed the family, unless they can be pawned. It does seem to run headlong into that whole "teach a man to fish" thing, but not everyone can fish everyday.

Another interesting thing I learned about pawning in general is that while James of the Marche is the father of the pawnshop, pawnbrokers have their own patron saint. You will never guess who it is.

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