Friday, May 25, 2018

Jo Walton, St. Zenobius, and Me: Joyful and Triumphant


  • Common attributes: Bishop
  • Occasional attributes: Florentine red fleur de lis, flowering tree
  • Patron saint of: Florence
  • Patron of places: Florence
  • Feast days: May 25
  • Most often depicted: Standing around with other saints, resurrecting somebody
  • Close relationships: St. Ambrose, St. Eugene and St. Crescentius
  • Relics: Florence, Santa Reparata crypt
Saint Zenobius was the first bishop of Florence. He supported St. Ambrose in battling the Arian heresy. He brought several people back from the dead, and his relics resurrected a dead elm tree. He used to be buried in San Lorenzo in Florence, but was later moved to Santa Reparata/the Duomo.

Saint Zenobius is one of these cases of an early Christian who did a good job and was pious and therefore got to be a saint just for that, without getting martyred or founding a giant order or anything. I support this, but it means his primary role was in Christianizing Florence and putting it on the map, so he is not and never will be particularly beloved outside his native town.

Photo and text: Ex Urbe blog

(where there is much more about St. Zenobius ... and also St. Reparta!)
My road to St. Zenobius is a long and fascinating one. At least to me.

A long, long time ago (in 2015!), Scott and I had our first guest on A Good Story is Hard to Find. We were thrilled to talk with Br. Guy Consolmagno, Vatican Astronomer, about his book selection, Among Others by Jo Walton.

Recently Scott was at a local con and met Walton, telling her about our degree of connection and thoughtfully sending me a signed copy of her new short story collection, Starlings.

I've got to admit it is a bit offputting to read an introduction where the author spends so much time talking about how everyone agrees she just can't write a decent short story. So I did put it off for a while. Finally I bravely flipped open Starlings and landed on the first page of Joyful and Triumphant: St. Zenobius and the Aliens. It is told by St. Zenobius and blew me away with how accurately it portrayed sainthood, God ... and the point of the whole thing. (You can read the beginning of it here.) While I was reading her Brother Guy connection floated in the back of my mind. I figured that she'd just naturally get this right and she really, really did.

Interestingly, about the time I read this story I realized that my birthday this year will be on a Friday. And after Pentecost. So Easter will be officially ended and it will be back to meatless Fridays for us. I've been rueing this since we always go out to eat in celebration — so I looked up saints whose days are on my birthday, thus justifying fried chicken (my traditional birthday choice).

Now there are saints for every day of the year. But if I'm looking to get around the rules then I seriously study the saint I find. I've got to have a real connection otherwise I've just got to put up with those rules. No freebies.

Who did my eye fall on first out of the long, long list? Of course. St. Zenobius. Who I didn't really know was a real saint. Just thought Walton made him up.

I feel as if this was a long way to go for him to wrangle an introduction, but I also feel as if that is what he did.  Looking around recently I saw that there is a much better known saint on May 25, St. Bede. But that's not who stepped up and shook my hand, after using all the things I love to get my attention.

I love the saints who fought against the Arian heresy. It went on so long and was so pervasive that I feel as if it is like the waves of secularism that are battering faith these days. And that's what St. Zenobius did. He was close to St. Ambrose, who I admire so much. Any friend of St. Ambrose is a friend of mine.

Now when I lift that piece of chicken, it will be with true admiration for a great saint!

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