Friday, July 29, 2011

Explaining the Saints to Children

Front of Angers Cathedral
 So, one of the great things about living in France is we get to visit all sorts of neat old stuff.  I cannot tell you how many castles and cathedrals we have seen since we’ve been here.  Interestingly enough, the more you see, the more finicky you get about your architecture.  You can imagine my surprise when visiting the Mont St. Michel, Boy states that he ‘wasn’t really impressed with the Gothic structure of the buildings and that the Romanesque influence kinda overpowered everything’.  I looked at him with the ever popular “where the hockey sticks did that come from?”

No matter how accurate Boy’s assessment was, it is true that after a time all the buildings start to look alike.  An odd side effect for my kids was the more buildings we saw, the more they started trying to find the differences.  I really expected to tune it all out but they didn’t!  They even got to the point that they started reading some of the plaques on the walls telling you about the structure.

This was all well and good until we visited the Cathedral in Angers.  Angers, pronounced Ahhnn-Jay, is a wonderful little town just west of the Loire valley in France.  Like every other slightly large town in France it has a Cathedral, so we went in to look around.

After a brief tour around of the building, the kids noticed the nice plaques explaining some of the stain glass scenes.  For reference, plaques always have varying degrees of detail, but typically it’s a 2 or 3 paragraphs in French, and 2 or 3 sentences in English.  Not in Angers!  In Angers, they had a stand alone plaque that was about 6 feet tall and explained ONE of the stained glass windows.  Normally, this isn’t any big deal because it’s just a big picture right?  Right!

Facing the alter
So Girl, excited about the find, starts reading paragraph #1 of 6, which states the window is about St Catherine of Alexandria.  For those of you who don’t know, in Christendom, it takes a lot to become a saint.  And for older medieval Saints, it takes a lot of blood, pain, and torture.  Christians love their blood, and ya ain’t gonna be a Saint without a good long extended torturing session.  Being a semi-good Christian, I knew I was in trouble but secretly hoped the French would at least minimally sanitize the story for me.  

So, as the panels start we learn that Catherine had converted much to the angst of some Emperor. She was imprisoned and after starting to convert the other prisoners, condemned to death.  So far so good.  Then we got to the paragraph where she was placed on a rack but God burned the rack down so she wouldn’t be hurt.

So, we talked about the rack and how people sometimes did bad things to other people.

Then she was stripped naked… and flayed… in front of the entire court.

The back of the church, where you enter
SOOOOO, we talked about why they took all her clothes away (because it hurts more) and the meaning of the word flay (skinning your knee but all over your body) and why everyone watched (because they thought it was good fun).  I’m telling ya, it was a great discussion.

Then we moved to the second window which involved St. Vincent.  He was: (1) skinned alive, (2) cooked on some crazy grill contraption over an open fire, (3) stretched on the rack, and (4) placed in a cell which had broken glass over the floor.  Then eventually he was put to death.  Oddly enough, discussing instruments and various forms of torture was not what I had planned talking about on that day.  By the end, Girl was just kinda mystified by the whole process but Boy was enthralled.  Later, Boy told me that was the best church we had seen in all of France.
Oh yeah, St. Catherine… beheaded.  We talked about that for an hour in the car ride to the hotel. 


  1. There's no better torture porn than the stories of the saints, from the earliest days of Christianity through the Middle Ages. You had to suffer for your faith to be exalted. No existential suffering, either.

    Good thing the Renaissance came around. All that human ingenuity at smiting one's enemies turned toward more productive things like art, science and commerce. Of course, daily driving in traffic often makes me pine for the return of a few tortures to larn all the morons on the road.

  2. I like how yesterday was Thank God for Waid and today is about Saints.

  3. Which one's more violent?

  4. I have had a crappy week - but this post made me laugh... thanks Lee