Saint Christina the Astonishing, also known as Saint Christina Mirabilis, died at a young age, and then, astonishingly, came to life again in the midst of her funeral mass.
She immediately floated to the ceiling of the cathedral, to escape the stench of sin that emanated from the congregation.
She was not finished with her astonishing behavior. She told the congregation that angels had brought her to both purgatory and hell, where she recognized many acquaintances. She was then brought to heaven, where she was “regarded with a favorable eye” (according to her biographers) and given the choice to remain there, or to return to earth and, by leading a life of suffering and example, relieve the torments of those in purgatory and gather new souls for heaven. She chose to return, and is quoted as saying about her planned life and penances, “It will be so extraordinary that nothing like it has ever been seen.”
Wikipedia sums up her life wonderfully:
As chronicled by her contemporaries, she threw herself into burning furnaces and there suffered great tortures for extended time uttering frightful cries, yet coming forth with no sign of burning upon her. In winter she would plunge into the frozen Meuse River for hours and days and weeks at a time all the while praying to God and imploring His Mercy. She would hop around on one leg exclaiming “Look upon me o Lord, for I am like unto a flamingo.” She allowed herself to be carried by the currents down river to the mill where the wheel “whirled her round in a manner frightful to behold” yet she had no dislocations or broken bones. She was chased by dogs that bit and tore her flesh. She ran from them into thickets of thorns, and though covered in blood she would return with no wound or scar.
I’m not the only person intrigued by Christina the Astonishing. Here is Nick Cave singing about her.
The art is by Giselle Potter, who is the author and illustrator of a wonderful book about the virgin saints, Lucy’s Eyes and Margaret’s Dragon.
And here is an excellent collection of poems and essays about Christina, from the website of artist Cynthia Large.
In his book, Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t and Why, author Kenneth Woodward notes that “A saint is always someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like.”
I like that god may be like unto a flamingo.
Christina the Astonishing
Linoleum block print, 2010
3 thoughts on “Saint Christina the Astonishing”
This is really interesting. The stench of sin is almost palpable. ;-]
I had never heard this story before. It’s a great tale, reminds me of the Buddhist concept of the bodhisattva — a realized being who remains on earth (or reincarnates) out of compassion for others. I love the kind of medieval style you’ve used to render Catherine.
What really stunk is that no where did you mention when & where all this happened! So I used my investigatory skills & found out she lived in Belgium in or about 1100-1200. 🙂
We sinners love our Google.