Wednesday, October 26, 2016

For All the Saints: Crispin and Crispinian
I've been away from my laptop for a few days while on a trip, so I'm a day late for the October 25th feast day of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian, believed to be Roman brothers who pursued missionary work in Gaul. To support themselves, they made shoes and gave some of their earnings to the poor. They were arrested during the Diocletian persecution, tortured, and thrown into a river, and when they survived that, they were beheaded.

Doing these posts for several months, I realize how many legends and stories of the earlier saints have a similarity: some of these men and women were hard to kill! They endured torture and even fatal encounters yet hung on, and only beheading finally "worked." But at least one saint on the Orthodox calendar miraculously carried his own severed head for a while. I don't mean this as a flippant observation, but the stories do emphasize these kinds of heroism and witness.

St. Crispin is remembered in two notable ways in the arts. In the third act of Richard Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger, the shoemakers' guild sing a song of praise to the saint who made shoes. More famously, perhaps, Shakespeare has Henry V make an inspiring "band of brothers" speech at the beginning of the Battle of Agincourt:

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Here's Kenneth Branagh:

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