S is for Saints

Well, just one saint, actually, Saint Bibblybibdib, the church dedicated to whom stands, in partial ruin, in sunlight that is forever dappled, as was Saint Bibblybibdib himself, usually, by all accounts. It may have been that Gerard Manley Hopkins was thinking of St Bibblybibdib when he wrote “Glory be to God for dappled things” in Pied Beauty, though in praising “all things counter, original, spare, strange” the Jesuit does not actually mention the saint by name, or indeed by inference, and it may be that I am just indulging in wishful thinking. It would not be for the first time.

His dappledom, whatever may have caused it, is one of the few things we know about St Bibblybibdib. As with many, though not all, saints, his life is more myth than history, and it is arguable that he never existed at all, being rather an amalgam of several shadowy figures obscured by the mists of time. Who those figures might be is open to conjecture. One recent hagiographer posits the possibility that the saint we think of as “Saint Bibblybibdib” is a combination of over two hundred persons of mediaeval times or earlier, who all got cobbled together through an error in the illumination of a codex in the scriptorium of an abbey perched on a declivity in the foothills of a large and important mountain range during a ferocious twelfth-century thunderstorm.

But just as I prefer to imagine Father Hopkins sprawled on the grass among the tombstones of Saint Bibblybibdib’s churchyard on a gorgeous springtime afternoon, contemplating the saint and writing his sprung rhythms, so I like to imagine a real, corporeal, dappled saint, roaming mediaeval fields and riversides, dressed in some sort of ecclesiastical garb, a battered halo hovering above his bonce, being saintly.

What else do we know about him? Not much. His symbolic attributes include a toasting-fork, a funerary urn, a finch and a robin, half a wolf, a bloody sword, a corrective boot and a medallion of beaten tin. These are arrayed around him, clockwise in alphabetical order, in his icons, some of which date as far back as 1937, when he was canonised, on the same day, coincidentally, as the Hindenburg disaster. That hagiographer I mentioned posits something else, as it happens. He claims the Hindenburg exploded in gigantic balls of flaming gas because one of the crew was heard to curse Saint Bibblybibdib as the airship approached Lakehurst Naval Air Station for its high landing, known as a “flying moor” because it would be moored to a high mooring point, and then winched down to ground level. As we know, there was to be no winching of an airship on that fateful day. The hagiographer provides no evidence for this grave charge, which must cause considerable pain to any living relatives of the cursing crewman, and which, it must be said, paints Saint Bibblybibdib himself as a petulant and vengeful saint, flying into a rage at the merest slight. I am sure there must be at least a few saints of whom that might be a fitting character sketch, but surely not dear old Saint Bibblybibdib! I prefer to think of him dappled, with his attributes, bestowing his patronage hither and thither. Alas, as far as I have been able to ascertain, Saint Bibblybibdib is the patron saint of nothing, of nothing or no one at all.

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