Monday, October 31, 2011

Patron Saints

By Diane Forrest,

There is a movie starring Val Kilmer called The Saint.  It is the story about a man who takes on different identities to perform criminal activities, and he uses the names of Patron Saints. I love the movie, its on of those where you end up cheering for the bad guy.  Being brought up in the Baptist religion, however, I didn't know anything about Saints.  Patron saints are chosen as special protectors or guardians over areas of life. These areas can include occupations, illnesses, churches, countries, causes -- anything that is important to us. The earliest records show that people and churches were named after apostles and martyrs as early as the fourth century.

When I was young I went to school at a Baptist school.  One day I had worn a beautiful necklace my next door neighbor let me borrow.  While I was standing in the lunch line the headmaster of the school walked by and noticed my necklace.  He made me take it off.  It was a St, Christopher's, and he told me we didn’t believe in those.  I just thought it was a pretty necklace.

There are thousands of Saints, which is pretty incredible, since it takes a great deal to be nominated for Sainthood.  We have holidays named for Saints, such as St. Patrick's Day, and St. Valentine's Day, and today, we celebrate All Saint's Day.  

All Saint's Day follows Halloween which is the oldest celebration, dating back thousands of years.  Hundreds of years ago in what is now Great Britain and Northern France, lived the Celts. The Celts worshipped nature and had many gods, with the sun god as their favorite. It was the Sun God who commanded their work and their rest times, and who made the earth beautiful and the crops grow. The Celts celebrated their New Year on November 1st. It was celebrated every year with a festival and marked the end of the "season of the sun" and the beginning of "the season of darkness and cold." The Celts believed, that during the winter, the sun god was taken prisoner by Samhain, the Lord of the Dead and Prince of Darkness.

On the eve before their new year (October 31), it was believed that Samhain called together all the dead people. The dead would take different forms, with the bad spirits taking the form of animals. The most evil taking the form of cats.

On October 31st after the crops were all harvested and stored for the long winter the cooking fires in the homes would be extinguished. The Druids, the Celtic priests, would meet in the hilltop in the dark oak forest (oak trees were considered sacred). The Druids would light new fires and offer sacrifices of crops and animals. As they danced around the fires, the season of the sun passed and the season of darkness would begin.
When the morning arrived the Druids would give an ember from their fires to each family who would then take them home to start new cooking fires. These fires would keep the homes warm and free from evil spirits. The November 1st festival was named after Samhain and honored both the sun god and Samhain. The festival would last for 3 days. Many people would parade in costumes made from the skins and heads of their animals. This festival would become the first Halloween.

The next influence came with the spread of the new Christian religion throughout Europe and Britain. In the year 835 AD the Roman Catholic Church would make November 1st a church holiday to honor all the saints. This day was called All Saint's Day, or Hallowmas, or All Hallows. Years later the Church would make November 2nd a holy day. It was called All Souls Day and was to honor the dead. It was celebrated with big bonfires, parades, and people dressing up as saints, angels and devils.

Today All Saints Day is celebrated by the Catholics by attending Mass and praying for the Saints.  In the United States, however, this custom has been abrogated, meaning it is no longer practiced.    You can still celebrate this day by clicking on the site below and looking up some of the Saints, or rent the movie The Saint, or watch a football game with The New Orleans Saints.

Did you know that the New Orleans Saint's got their franchise on November 1, All Saints Day?

For more information about Saints, click here:

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