Feel a little oddly uneasy on your garden swing? There’s a saint who may offer comfort.
There are some quirky saints, to be sure, patrons of every imaginable profession or situation, from farming to protecting beekeepers, even keeping ants out of the house. But some are peculiarly suited for gardeners.
One of my favorite garden sculptures is my three-foot concrete statue of a saint – not Francis, the environmental/wildlife guy with the bird on one hand, but St. Fiacre, the most popular and official patron saint of gardeners.
St. Fiacre is said to have sailed from Ireland to France looking for a quiet place where he could devote himself to God. An obliging bishop offered him as much land as he could turn up in a day, and clever Fiacre, instead actually plowing the expected small plot, used his wood staff to dig a row all the way around and enclosing a larger area. His garden became a hospice from which he shared his vegetables, herbs, and flowers with travelers, some of whom claimed he performed miracles. He is now recognized as the patron saint of gardeners – and, by the way, of Paris cab drivers, whose taxis are called fiacres – because the earliest commercial rides-for-hire in Paris originated near the hotel Saint-Fiacre.
While I’m not Catholic, not into hagiolatry, don’t worship heroic people, my Fiacre scuplture is a comfort, a reminder of other gardeners. Just as looking at a photo of my now-grown children conjures years of fond memories and connections, every time I gaze at the silent, flower-and-shovel welding statue I think of the countless men and women who have gone before me, digging in the dirt and sharing what they grow with others.
There are others. St. Rose of Lima, the patron saint of florists, was born Isabel Flores de Olivia in 1586 in Lima, Peru. The pious young woman was not interested in marrying, but was so exceptionally attractive she was compelled to put off suitors by cutting her hair short and marring her face with hot peppers and ashes. According to legend, a servant had a vision where her face turned into a rose.
There’s even a saint for misunderstood gardeners – sort of. In year 303, a hermit named Serenus was beheaded after being mistakenly accused of throwing the wife of a prominent soldier out of his herb garden (he was actually advising her to come back later in the evening when it wouldn’t be so hot). His story was as that of a simple person brought down through the arrogance of the ruling class, not any fault of his own.
But talk about bizarre! A guy named Phocas was outed as a Christian and ordered executed, but when he found out that the Roman soldiers coming for him were lost, he told them he could lead them to the right man, but only after feeding them and putting them up for the night. In the morning he revealed his identity and encouraged the now-reluctant executioners to do their job and put him to death – and he fell into his own grave, which he had dug the night before. He is now known as the patron saint of composters.
On a more playful note, as I relax in my garden I sometimes think of St. Proculus of Verona, a 4th century Italian bishop who is known informally as the patron saint of swings, from a fresco in a medieval church of him being lowered from a window on a swing.
It’s interesting, as I work and play in my garden, to think of these humble early garden icons – Fiacre, Rose, Phocas…and even Proculus, the swinging saint. Wheeeeee!
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Felderol: Proculus might tell you that the secret to a super-relaxing swing is long chains; as my physics-minded dad put it, “the period of the arc is proportional to the radius of the circle” – in layman terms, “the longer the chain, the slower the swing.”