It is the 12th of October 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
On this show, we have talked about the nature of “Saint-Making”. This can be done through church bodies that have official Saints (think Roman Catholic), it can be done through memorializing (think calendars amongst Lutherans, Anglicans, etc…) or it can be done by popular acclaim (local folk heroes, regional heroes, etc…). And there are some who are “sainted” in a combination of these traditions.
And we’ve discussed the idea that ALL Christians are holy, and set apart- so literally, “hagios”- saints! Our job is to balance the elevation of some great stories and people and to recognize the everyday, workaday saints who have faith in Jesus and love their neighbor.
Today I want to tell you the story of a woman who would have preferred to have been an everyday, workaday saint but became one of the biggest stories during the first World War. And perhaps you have heard the name, Edith Cavell. Perhaps you know of her as one of the founders of professional nursing, you might know her from the mountain named in her honor in Canada, the 5-pound coin (5 British pounds sterling, not a really heavy coin), or one of the 6 movies made about her life. The Church of England commemorates Edith Cavell on this, the 12th of October in honor of her execution in 1915. (If it hasn’t sunk in yet, yes- Christians find nothing strange about celebrating someone's life on the day of their execution).
Edith was born in England in 1865- her father was an Anglican priest and she was raised in the church. She was given an exceptional education for her day and then moved to Belgium where she worked as a private tutor. Having studied modern nursing in Britain she would become part of an international movement to improve nursing standards. In 1907 she became the head matron at a women’s nursing school in Brussels.
Her father died prior to the outbreak of World War I and Edith had gone home to Britain. But with news of the Germans at the gates, Edith headed back TO Belgium when many of her fellow Brits were being evacuated. She tended to British and Belgian soldiers until the Germans took the country. She refused to leave and tended to the German wounded. But as she did this she would secretly tend to wounded allies as well. She helped arrange a system by which members of the Belgian resistance could escape to the Netherlands. She began to arouse too much attention and was arrested and charged with being a spy for the British (which she may have been? This is a story for another time).
She was arrested in August, condemned to die in early October, and told of her death by firing squad on the 11th of October. The neutral Americans and Spanish attempted to intervene on Cavell’s behalf but to no avail. Cavell was allowed to receive a blessing and communion from an American chaplain- she is reported to have said “They have all been very kind to me here. But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity: I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”
But the story was too useful for the propagandists who made Cavell a daring martyr for her country who was savagely killed by the German brutes. She was painted as a new Joan of Arc and her story became as much about denigrating the Germans as it was to recognize her. Nevertheless, she was the first female commoner to be given a state funeral at Westminster Abbey.
In recent years her ambivalence to war and her sense of Christian duty during wartime has helped paint a picture of a more three-dimensional character. The Anglican Church has recognized her on this day along with Betsy Fry- the 19th century Quaker and prison reformer. Cavell’s story raises questions about war, martyrdom, service to enemies, and breaking unjust laws to love your neighbor. Today we remember Edith Cavell on this, the 106th anniversary of her death OTD in 1915.
The last word for today comes from 1 Peter:
6 Therefore, humble yourselves under God’s power so that he may raise you up in the last day. 7 Throw all your anxiety onto him, because he cares about you. 8 Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith. Do so in the knowledge that your fellow believers are enduring the same suffering throughout the world. 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, the one who called you into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will himself restore, empower, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be power forever and always. Amen
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 12th of October 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who enjoys Belgian waffles and chocolate but knows the real secret is Belgian Fries. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who can inform you that spell check turns “Hagios” or Saints into “Haggis” or sheep gizzards boiled in a sheep stomach. I am 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.