Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pelagia AKA Margarito

I backed into Saint Pelagia, not in a parking lot or anything but through the Boris Akunin series about Sister Pelagia (which I backed into because of my deep & abiding love for all things Erast Fandorin, also a Boris Akunin character).

There are a few different Saint Pelagias, conveniently celebrated on the same days (today or later this month, depending on which calendar you go with, but all together on whichever day):  a virgin who jumped from the roof of her house rather than be raped by soldiers, another who drove one man to suicide & his father to burn her alive for refusing to marry either of them, & a nun who saw a vision of Mary that told her where to find buried treasure, but today we are taking a look at Pelagia also known as Margarito the Courtesan.

Our Pelagia lived in Antioch (as did the roof-jumper, who is known as Pelagia of Antioch) & had quite a following as a dancer & professional mistress.  She was known for her outrageous costumes & public spectacles (think Lady Gaga) & was out one day with her entourage when she happened to hear Saint Nonnus preaching in the street.  In an unusual twist, as far as I can tell part of what got Nonnus the saint gig was baptising Pelagia & then getting her to renouncing her sinful ways.  Pelagia was a very big fish (imagine Lady Gaga; now imagine her joining Westboro Baptist Church).  She had a very public, very well compensated life of sin.  She was a walking-talking repudiation of be good & good things will happen to you, be bad & you get my point.  This was most excellent PR for the christians.

But Pelagia does not stop being interesting.  She was casting off her worldy goods & worldly life & really wanted to get to Jerusalem & live as penitent without attracting undo attention.  So she went disguised.  As a man.  No where else have I come across a saint who went cross-dressing to redemption.  I am just going to beat this Lady Gaga thing like a rented mule.

Pelagia spent three years disguised as a man, shut away in a monk's cell.  When she was found dead, she was buried without above ordinary ceremony.  I wonder what they thought of the babe in monk's clothing but maybe everyone secretly knew.  Also things were hopping in the Holy Land right about then.  In more scandalous death-news, the wife of the emperor also died- yes they die all the time but this particular wife had been banished to Jerusalem because of her adultery.  There were also a lot of religious schisms, the results of which are still seen today, hence Pelagia being a widely recognized saint in some churches & not so much in others.

That's it for our Pelagia really.  The second go-round of the hooker with a heart of gold story.   For another story about another Pelagia (no more holy than our saint & no less interesting, frankly) let me recommend Sister Pelagia & the White Bulldog.  It has everything:  religious schisms, sexual intrigues & behind the scenes look at champion dog breeding in Tsarist Russia.  Also, the sister wields a deadly knitting needle, what's not to love?

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