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Seeing Faith: The Martyrdom and Incorruptible Bodies of the Saints

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Joseph Bottum - published on 06/14/15

A popular tale of St. Germaine is that she would push her shepherdess’s crook into the ground whenever she heard the parish bell ring, and leave it standing there while she ran down for Mass. That was enough to keep the wolves of the forest away from her sheep, which would always stay gathered around her crook.

But I think the more-telling tale is that the villagers, originally inclined to mock St. Germaine when they weren’t ignoring her, soon began to call the girl “the devout one.” Children would come after school to hear her talk of God. Stories were told of the river parting so she could cross for Mass, of her apron full of flowers, of the angels singing her lullabies in her barn at night. And the point isn’t the truth of those stories, but the fact that people would tell them to one another. The sight of a teenaged girl changed them, moving them to talk about her, moving them to wonder, moving them to share the reality of faith.

In her brief life—brief as the airborne moment of a horse’s gallop—St. Germaine showed the people around her an example of devotion. Just as seeing the martyrdom of Anastasius led St. Benildus to accept her own martyrdom the next day, so seeing the young St. Germaine led the French villagers to a piety that spread across the countryside. They all knew the teachings of the Church, they all believed to one degree or another, just as most people in 1878 understood the gait of a horse. But Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs made it possible to see, to prove and make present, what they thought they understood. And that’s what the holiness of the saints can do—prove and make present the truths of our existence. They allow us to see the reality of God’s love. 

Joseph Bottumis a bestselling author who lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota and author of An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America. This is the first installment in his week-long series of reflections on the Saints. 

To read Joseph Bottum’s other essays in this series see:

"A New Mysticism: The Visions, Miracles and Devotion of St. Lutgarde"
"To Be a Saint is to be Truly Revolutionary"
"The Unlikely Holiness of the White-Collar Saint"
"The Bravery of the Martyrs and Those Who Lived Their Lives for Faith"

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