Monday, August 31, 2020

The year was 1240, and we remember Raymond Nonnatus. The reading is from C.S. Lewis, his "Footnote to All Prayers."

It is the 31st of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1240.

It wouldn't be the high Middle Ages if we weren't talking about the Mongols. In 1240, the grandson of Ghengis Khan, Batu Khan, took Kiev. However, the situation wasn't like other Mongol invasions in that the Golden Horde permitted the Kievan Rus to keep their land and government if they became a vassal state to the Mongols.

The "Rus" or what we call "Russians" would set up a capital in Moscow, and the Empire would grow from there. In this same year of 1240, on the Western border of Russia, the Grand Prince of Kiev Alexander Nevsky and his soldiers attacked and defeated the Swedes. This battle would take on legendary status as the foundation for Russia's claim to its western boundary. Also, it may have never happened.

In 1240, the Disputation at Paris took place. There have been many disputations in Paris throughout the years, but the 1240 edition was incited by Nicholas Donin, an apostate from Judaism and convert to Christianity. Donin, with the backing of King Louis IX (St. Louis), translated many passages from the Talmud to prove that it was a blasphemous book. The disputation led to the burning of hundreds of copies of the Talmud and increased tension between the two communities.

And it was also in 1240, on this the 31st of August, that Raymond Nonnatus died. The Mercedarian, with a funny name, would become legendary for his sacrifices to ransom Christian slaves. His name, Nonatus, was given to him at birth on account of the tragedy that took place. His mother died while giving birth, and Raymond had to be taken from his deceased mother via Caesarian delivery. "Non-natus" is Latin for "not born." He would later be invoked by mothers during pregnancy and especially during difficult births. Raymond joined the Mercedarians under St. Peter Nolasco in Barcelona. The Mercedarians were a Catholic order tasked with various acts of mercy.

Raymond became the chief ransomer for Christians on the Barbary Coast. Upon running out of money, he exchanged himself for captured slaves and was put into custody by local Muslims. When they learned that he was attempting to convert their fellow Muslims, he was beaten and forced to run the Gauntlet. The Gauntlet consisted of two rows of men with various weapons that one would have to run through while being beaten. According to legend, Raymond also had his lips padlocked. He is an easy saint to recognize in paintings as he usually is either holding a lock or has a lock affixed to his face.

Upon his release, his fame grew, but he was left weak and broken after his enslavement. There are questions as to whether he was offered the Cardinals red cape. Some records have him dying on his way to Rome to become a Cardinal. His life was undoubtedly shortened by the effects of his imprisonment and torture. The patron saint of expectant mothers, midwives, and the falsely accused. Raymond Nonnatus, born in 1204, died on this, the 31st of August, in 1240. He was 36 years old.

The reading for today is a poem from C.S. Lewis, "Footnote to All Prayers."

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable name, murmuring Thou,

And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.

Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,

And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless

Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskilfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolaters, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.

Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 31st of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by Christopher "you say key-ev, I say Keev" Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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