September 23, 2008 Leave a comment
Dearest, hopefully less beleaguered, Millicent,
I offer a new segment for us, the Odd Saints, where we profile characters (stumbled upon in reading, conversation, boredom) that are worth a second look. They don’t have to actually be saints. Nymphs, historical courtesans, wolf hunters can all count. I found one today. She is St. Margaret (or Marina) of Antioch. Why of interest? Her subheading is “Shepherdess swallowed by a dragon.” No irony. No joke. No italics even. It is a fact. She was a shepherdess, and she was swallowed by a dragon.
And of course, with a subtitle like that, it gets better. So, she is legendary, and apparently so legendary that the Catholic Church no longer allows her the grandiosity of sainthood. But her story is amazing. A little awful, nix that, lots awful, but amazing.
She is a hot Syrian sheperdess, some time in the past when there were pagan priests around called pagan priests, and she converts to Christianity. She vows to be a virgin (who wouldn’t at the time? Men, birth, marriage, all probably very raw deals (very germy, I suppose)). But the Roman governor wants her, and I mean wants her. She says no thanks, and is then, logically, thrown into prison. Where, logically, the devil shows up in the form of a dragon and swallows her. And therefore a divine crucifix appears and she uses it to escape from the belly of the dragon. Why does the crucifix appear? To save her from the belly of the beast? To rescue her? Kind of. Once out of the dragon, she is tortured, whipped, burned, mutilated and beheaded by her jailors.
With all of that, what does she become the saint of? “Margaret’s escape from the dragon’s insides meant that her aid was sought by women for a painless childbirth” (Lodwick, 179). This makes me wonder if the real work of parenthood (once the whole belly/dragon/escape thing is over), is therefore the torture/beheading part. And she didn’t even want to be with a man in the first place! Punishments all around. I love that she was a virgin that actually became a symbol of the hope for reproductive health, or help. And that she, the fetus in her own little version of the birth/ceasarian scenario, is the aid of the women laboring (the dragons?).
Because of the pleas to her in childbirth, she was one popular saint for awhile. What’s pretty awesome is that most of her paintings show her stepping on a dragon. I’d rather her stepping on that Roman governor’s head, but then, things are complicated when the devil (so very Zeusian in his disguises) is part of the equation.
I think Margaret would be aces at the shooting range.