Saint Odhran

Saint Columba, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, once wished to construct a chapel on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland.  However, whatever was built each day, was destroyed each night.  It seemed that the task was impossible.

Eventually, a voice spoke to Saint Columba, and told him that the chapel could only be constructed were someone buried alive in the foundation.  Columba’s son, Odhran, volunteered himself, was thusly buried, and the chapel was duly completed.

One day, however, Odhran pushed his head through the floor, and said that there was no heaven or hell, as people speak of them.  Alarmed, Saint Columba had Odhran’s body removed from the foundation, and properly buried in consecrated ground, lest Odhran reveal more secrets of the afterlife.  After this burial, Odhran never bothered the people of Iona again.

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The Missionary Position

The “missionary position” is axiomatically considered to be the most boring of all sexual positions, in which the man is on top of the woman and both are lying down.  The name of it comes from the Trobriand Islanders.  When Christian missionaries reached the islands, they preached that only this position was acceptable, a fact that was much to the islanders’ distaste, for they considered it impractical and improper.  They even performed caricatures of the position around the communal campfire for entertainment, so strange did they find the idea.  It is from them, via Bronislaw Malinowski, the famous anthropologist who studied them, that this term entered the English lexicon.

Saint Patrick’s Staff and the Quiet Druid

Saint Patrick, as most people know, is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland and converting the natives to the religion.  As such, before him, they were relatively ignorant of Christianity and its practices.

Once, Saint Patrick baptized a Druid priest.  We led the man into the water, thrust down his heavy staff, and recited the proper prayers.  After he finished, he told the Druid that he could now leave.

“But I can’t,” he replied.

“Why not?”

“Your staff is on my foot.”

Saint Patrick looked down, and so it was.  His staff had been driven into the man’s foot.  “Why didn’t you say something?” asked the saint.

“I thought it was part of the ceremony,” replied the Druid.

Yermak’s Prayers

In the late 1500s, the Stroganovs, a wealthy and powerful Russian family, began sponsoring forays into Siberia, hoping to profit from the mineral and natural wealth of the land.  One of these expeditions was led by the Cossack Vasily “Yermak” Timofeyovich, whose cognomen came from the word for millstone.  Yermak and his band received material support from the Stroganovs, who insisted that the assistance was not a gift, but a loan, and wished to specify the terms of its repayment.

The Stroganovs at first wished for the loan to be secured by indentures, but Yermak and the other Cossacks rejected this.  Instead, they promised to repay the Stroganovs through the spoils of war, if they were successful in their attack.  If they failed and died, however, Yermark sarcastically promised to instead repay the loan by praying on the Stroganovs’ behalf once the Cossacks reached heaven.

Barnacle Geese

Traditionally, Christians are not supposed to eat meat on Fridays, but fish is acceptable.  However, the temptation often proved too great to resist, and a number of loopholes were developed to get around the rule.  Perhaps the most unusual of these was the belief that barnacle geese spontaneously generated from driftwood.  Since this made them not proper birds, they could be eaten on Fridays.  At the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215, Pope Innocent III had to explicitly forbid eating barnacle geese on Fridays, saying that whatever their origin, they lived and ate like other birds, and so were to be considered birds.

Solving the Problem of a Plurality of Popes

In 1378, under Pope Gregory XI, the papacy returned to Rome, ending the Avignon Papacy.  After his death, however, Pope Urban VI was considered so overbearing that the cardinals also elected Pope Clement VII, who established himself at Avignon.  This split, known as the Papal Schism or Western Schism, would last until 1417, and at times the Catholic Church had three simultaneous popes.

Approximately fifteen years into the schism, seeking a solution the problem, the theologians at the University of Paris had large chest placed into the cloister of the Mathurins.  They asked that anyone with a solution to the schism write it down and place it into a slot in the lid of the chest.  All in all, over ten thousands solutions were suggested, which were read through by fifty-five professors in a desperate attempt to find an acceptable solution.

The proposals were mostly categorized into three groups.  One group proposed that all current popes abdicate and a new one be elected.  Another proposed arbitration between the popes that would result in a single, legitimate pontiff.  The third called for a new convention of the Catholic cardinals who would elect a new pope, delegitimizing the previous ones.

The final solution was a combination of the first and third proposals.  Pope Gregory XII, one of the Roman popes, excommunicated the Avignon pope and resigned, allowing the cardinals to elect Martin V as pope.  Some still supported the Avignon and Pisa popes, but Martin V had the vast majority of Catholic support, and with his election, the Papal Schism essentially ended.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is believed to stand upon the spot where Jesus was crucified, and contain the spot of his burial and resurrection, as well.  Located in Israel, it was fought over for centuries.  The Christians are so unable to share the location, that the keys to the church belong to Muslims, who control it and maintain it and keep Christians from killing each other over it.  The church itself is managed by five competing Christian delegations, representing the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, and Syrian Orthodox churches.  The Nuseibeh and Judeh families have for centuries served in these hereditary roles, able to do what the Christians cannot at the final resting place of their own savior.