St. Fiacre

chilly, pouring rain, bare trees, blue/gray finger-paintings of “November” in the Melrose School art room, a lunch of baked root vegetables and a cooked salad of all their tops, chants for the octave of All Saints

Bill found a statue behind the Long House. He’s a saint with a spade and a box or book under his arm. He hangs inside a wooden hut, just his size, like the curved enclosure protecting the “Mary on the Half-Shell” you often see on suburban lawns. The sister who’s lived at Melrose the longest said he’s St. Fiacre, the patron saint of gardening.

I’d been looking for a structural focal point for the kitchen garden. Bill offered to put the saint and his little enclosure onto a pole in the garden and I eagerly accepted. The patron saint of gardening sounded like a good influence. A day passed before I could do any research.

Bede came over on Monday so that we could work on preparations for our annual Advent Retreat. After a tour of what is new on the farm – the jungle-gym greenhouse, the Dias de los Muertos altar in the chapel, the walls of corn and onions and the screens of drying beans in the “barn”, and a look at St. Fiacre in the kitchen garden, we decided to look him up in the dictionary of saints as well as online sources.

fiacreSt. Fiacre, an Irish monk, died in 628 in France where he lived as a hermit. He built a hospice for pilgrims and visitors and dedicated the complex to the Virgin Mary. He is indeed the patron saint of gardening, because he grew extraordinary vegetables around his hermitage. But he is also the patron saint of venereal disease sufferers, hemorrhoid sufferers, and people afflicted with fistulas. There’s even a special tumor named after him, “le fic de S. Fiacre.”

But there’s more. St. Fiacre would not allow women near the hermitage grounds or even to enter the chapel. In fact, women trying to visit the hermitage even after his death suffered negative consequences “as several rather ill-natured legends” attest, as Catholic Online puts it.

Bede and I had a good laugh. Maybe that box under his arm is not a book, we joked, but an early prototype of a Preparation H type poultice. And one sister comically objected to the bad vibes St. Fiacre might bring to our garden, seeing that even after his death, he objected to the presence of women and visited punishments on trespassers. “We have enough problems!” she said.

But another sister’s eyes met my glance. She sparkled.

“This will give us a chance to put into practice what Bishop Marc preached on All Saints: to pray for the saints in their ongoing journey of conversion and holiness.”

Yes! Maybe the kitchen garden of a little cluster of feminist nuns might be just the very holy place of ongoing prayer for St. Fiacre, master vegetable gardener, and no lover of women.

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