Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Pearls of God 

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A patron keeps pestering us about when the library's copy of The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers will be available for circulation. True crime is a popular subject - we can hardly keep Ann Rule books on the shelves - and many patrons, including sweet little old ladies with a twinkle in their eye I have come to recognize as bloodthirsty, are serial killer/sensational murder enthusiasts. This patron’s overweening passion for such a grisly subject, however, gives even the most imperturbable and beyond caring burnt out of us pause. Although I would definitely classify him as misfit loner, he seems to be a nice enough guy (as the neighbors always say), but he smells eye wateringly bad - like carrion, to be exact. Perhaps that's from all the bodies of his victims that he keeps plastered up in his walls “for company.”

Recently, another patron approached the desk wearing filth caked rags he probably hadn’t changed out of since the first Bush administration. He looked like some raving, wild eyed prophet and after we could catch our breathe I said to my colleague, “He smelled like an anchorite!” Oh, the Middle Ages... Supposedly at the height of that unfortunate fad in early Christianity, Europe and the Holy Land were lousy with anchorites and stylites. Reportedly, they stank so wretchedly that people could smell them for miles.

From Sex and Salvation by Margaret Bhatty:
Since sex depends heavily on the chemistry of sex appeal, those anxious for their souls rendered themselves as unattractive as possible. Adornment and finery was of the devil, while bathing was a sin. Anchorites, fleeing temptation by women, lived in the wilderness unwashed for the rest of their lives. St. Abraham, "a man of singular beauty", fled on his wedding night and never washed for the next fifty years. The dirt on his person "reflected the purity of his soul." Body odour was called "the odour of sanctity" and lice, "the pearls of God." Those celibates who couldn't live in the wilderness, climbed to the top of tall columns and were called stylites. Up there they were assured of being free from the contact with women which could put their souls at risk.

Sweet Jesus, the closer I walk with thee! I can’t wait to call security to report a patron flicking “pearls of God” from his body at passersby in the magazines area. For further entertaining reading about some of the gross, fleshly-mortification-and- debasement-as-a-route to holiness notions in early Christianity, please read Holy Feast, Holy Fast. It contains a nauseating yet riveting section about a favorite custom of saint wannabes: sucking the pus out of and plucking and eating the scabs off of lepers. From what I can gather, those saints were quite competitive, always trying to one up each other in the gross out department. One profiled saint, Angelina of Folina, claimed she found the leper pus “as sweet as the communion.” Not to be outdone, Catherine of Siena boasted, "Never in my life have I tasted any food and drink sweeter or more exquisite than this pus." In any case, those girls make that albino with his cilice in The Da Vinci code look like a total pussy.

Ah, Foxie, this little article sums up why I read your blogs every day. There's always something new to learn and I am now going to become a casual student of anchorites and stylites. Not one of them, mind you, just a student of them.
Rumor has it, according to one of your former fellow summer camp alums, you once sat in my classroom, as does your friend now. Could this be true? I trust you are enjoying life on the left coast while I count down the days to my retirement here in the Heart of Dixie!
One summer my sister and I had a job driving a route together. To pass the time, we read a book about the saints to each other. The more bizarre the behavior, the more we loved them. I think the Simeon Stylites the all-time winners.

Now I am thinking they just shoulda got laid, though.
For a long while we have an anchoress who regularly visited (conducting legal research). As soon as she entered the building, everyone knew, it was unmistakable. She stank with the vile stench of 10,000 corpses. Eventually they committed her... Who they are we will never know. But we thank them!
The award for best contemporary depiction of a stylite in a music video must certainly go to The New Pornographers' "The Laws Have Changed."


It's also a shockingly great song.
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