Monday, July 28
The Blessing of the Ankles at Bologna, from a painting by Archangelo Spumoni, 1623
THE LIFE, HOLY PASSION AND MIRACLES OF SAINT FLUTIUS OF BOLOGNA,
BISHOP, MARTYR AND PATRON SAINT OF THE LEFT ANKLE,
AND HIS REVELATION OF THE MOST HOLY WHAPPING
abridged from chapter clxxxiii (lacking in some later editions) of the
Legenda Aurea Sanctorem of the Blessed Jacobus de Voragine
of the Order of Preachers, Bishop of Genoa, 1275
You want the full story on our name? You asked for it, you got it:
The name Flutius is derived from fluere or fluxus, to flow, and Dyaus, the name given by the pagan Greeks to their supreme god. Or, according to the blessed Isidore, it derives from flabeolum, meaning a flageolet and tinus, a shrub, or fluito, which means relaxation or laziness. Saint Flutius was a flowing font of divine grace to the heathens, a musical instrument for a shrub, the Burning Bush, and relaxing through his final rest in heaven.
Flutius was born in Bologna, then called Bononia, and shone with all the virtues from his youth. His Life was written in the fifth century by the holy monk Theodore Pyro, of Mipos. He was made bishop of his hometown at an early age by the blessed Pope Felix, though he feared for his life, complaining that the “pagan Bononia is a name only fit for the speakers of half-truths and inanities.” It was in this fashion that the name Bologna became associated with falsities and iniquity, just as the blessed Flutius’s successor, Escatorian, called the beliefs of the heretics known as Montanists “a veritable Bologna of stupidity” in his Epistola contra Tertullianus. Thus Escatorian.
Flutius, however, was privileged to receive a vision of an angel, who said, as we read in the Vita, “Do not fret yourself to death, for you have found favor with God, who will aid you in all your works, and make Bologna to a fair and Christian city, though this shall only happen after you have been sacrificed for the love of Holy Church and spread out like the sliced meat of the midday meal on a taverna counter.” Moved by this prophesy, he set out with haste to build up his small diocese, and wrought many miracles in that place. Thus Theodore.
One day as he rose from prayer, he found a young man before him with a deformed ankle, the left one, greatly disturbed. He was a virtuous pagan called Vigius, the son of the high priest of Apollo in the city, though he said he had been told in a dream to seek out a holy man named Flutius. He was overjoyed to discover this indeed was the saint’s name, and the Bishop, moved by the young man’s trust in God, prayed and healed the young man’s ankle and forthwith baptized him with the name of Bonus, for it had been a great good that had been wrought there in the name of Christ.
There thus was a two-fold good that was wrought by the healing of the ankle, namely, a natural good, for the child was healed, and a supernatural good, through the man’s disavowal of his idolatrous past. As the blessed Theodore wrote: “The profane good of Vigius, already great despite his errors, was doubled and added to by the sacred good of the blessed Flutius.” And Isidore, in his Etymologies, said of this miracle that through Bonus’s change we now understand his name to mean something very good that has been added onto the whole of another, lesser good. Up until very recently, it was common to cry out the name of the holy convert as a blessing in the city of Bologna, but in recent years the custom has passed into obscurity
Now, it came to pass that the high priest discovered his son’s treachery through his forsaking of the idols of his temple, and he was greatly angered and ordered his son thrown into prison. Also, many rumors spread through Bononia that the man Flutius was a great and powerful magician or wonderworker, and many with crippled or hurt ankles came for his blessing. The high priest, finding his beautiful temple empty and eager that this should be stopped, soon spoke to the learned surgeon and apothecary Antonius, who was a wise man who had come from Rome with a special knowledge about how to cure the feet, and thus was surnamed Podiatristes.
The priest discovered, then, that Podiastristes the town foot-surgeon had lost many under his care to the wonders of Flutius, and Antonius, hearing that the cause of all his misery was Flutius, cried aloud and rained curses on him, vowing by his gods that he would see him dead. So the high priest of Apollo and the apothecary began to plot and soon Antonius called on his brother, the Prefect of Bologna, who was called Titus and wielded great influence throughout the province.
Soon, the prefect and the perfidious healer followed the trail of healed ankles to the house of Flutius, where he found the holy bishop celebrating the Mass and dragged him away from the altar, it is said by many who are wise in these matters, at the words of the Canon. It is for this reason that on the feast of the blessed bishop a silence of some time is maintained after the recitation of the saints names at the Mass, omitting the catalogue of the martyrs after the pronunciation of the names of the holy pontiffs Sixtus and Clement.
Now, the pagans dragged him to a dark dungeon in the Prefect’s palace, and beat and struck the holy man around his ankles until they left him for dead. And then a great light filled the cell, and the jailers could see nothing but Flutius, whose face shown like a gilded mask. For the blessed bishop, looking up in his pain, did see before him Our Blessed Lord at the stairway in Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem, cruelly being dragged up the steps by the wicked soldiers. And Christ’s left ankle did whap against the third step, and the blessed bishop saw blood flow from it, and the Lord turned to him and said, “I have suffered great pain in this, My most blessed and sorrowful whapping, just as you shall suffer on the morrow for My sake. Thank you for having responded to my call.”
And Flutius cried up to the Lord, “I thank You, O Divine Lord for this sufferance, that my tortures might be blessed in You.” In Rome, this most dolorous event of the Holy Whapping of the Left Ankle of Our Lord is marked by a bronze cross that the most holy and pious Pontiff Gregory had fixed to the third step, in accordance with the blessed martyr’s vision in the year of Our Lord 606. And in Jerusalem, the Emperor Justinian, about this time, placed a church on this site dedicated to Saint Nino of Rota and gave it over to the care of the priests of the Armenians, who venerate the most dolorous whapping at this site.
Now, this whapping, which the blessed Bonaventure writes of in his Meditation on the Five and a Half Wounds, is rightly called a semi-stigmatum, the fifth-and-a-half wound, for it was neither made by a piercing nor a scourging, as Our Lord’s holy scars on hands, feet and sides or the lashings on His back. And we might understand from this that the pain of the bishop’s tortures, for all his hardships, was but one half of one fifth of the pain Our Divine Savior suffered for us. For Flutius suffered in his ankles, but Our Lord suffered in every part of his body.
Meanwhile, back at the palace, when the priest and the Prefect Titus had heard of this marvel, fearing that Flutius, with some sorcery, might free himself from his bonds, they dispatched the Prefect’s brother, the wicked surgeon Antonius. Now, Antonius’s task was to win him over by flattery, for pain had proven fruitless. Flutius persevered in prayer and fasting when the surgeon came in, saying to him: “Now, listen to me, Flutius. You have great power and great wisdom. Together we might rule the domain of ankles as priest and doctor. I shall let you go free, and we shall become healers together, if you tell me your secret and sacrifice to the gods of the city.” And Flutius said to him, “You lie. You would have me killed once you learned my secret, and I will never turn my back, or my ankle, on Our Lord, for with a great power does come a great responsibility.”
The Prefect’s response to this was to have Bonus beheaded, and to keep Flutius for five days without food or drink. He saw, however, that Flutius remained strong, and his ankles unhurt, so he ordered him to be executed so that he might be made an example to the people that healing ankles without the permission of the Emperor was not tolerated. So, the next day, he was martyred, his ankles cut off and his body burned, but as the flames reached higher and higher, he cried out in the most blissful ecstasy, “Verily I say unto you, this day I shall sit at the left ankle of my Lord in Heaven!” Many were inspired to convert due to this holy exclamation. And then he expired, in the odor of sanctity. St. Flutius suffered in the reign of Diocletian, in the year 304, on the day of February 29, for it was a leap-year.
Now, many miracles were wrought in his name shortly thereafter. The ashes of Flutius were recovered by the holy bishop Escatorian, who discovered among them that his ankles had remained incorrupt, and many wondered at this. Soon, many visited his shrine and were healed of their foot and ankle-deformities, leaving behind their orthopedic sandals, canes and crutches, which were hung over the tomb of the blessed saint. In the year of Our Lord 542, the bishop of Bononia, sixth from Flutius, called Muratorius, commemorated this event by blessing the ankles of the Imperial Exarch Julian with incense, for he was stricken greatly with pain in his feet on the leap-feast of the saint. And the Exarch was cured forthwith. This custom continued for many years, with many cures, until the year 700, when the barbarian chief Gallo, a pagan who was also afflicted with great hurt in his ankles, asked for the blessing. Unfortunately, Gallo, as was the custom of the northerners, wore trousers, and proved unable, like the Exarch, to hitch up his toga, and thus his leggings caught fire. Thinking it was but part of the ceremony, he did not flinch, and was cured, asking for baptism several days later. During the ceremony, the bishop accidentally drove the stake of his crosier through the chief’s foot, and he did not flinch again, but started wondering exactly what he had gotten into. However, with the actual pouring of water, he was healed miraculously again, took the name Hieronymous, and became a great defender of the faith. Nevertheless, from that day forward, the blessing was carried out with holy water, lest any more suffer for the sake of such a noble martyr. And to this day, all in Bologna rejoice to see the many cures and wonders worked in his name.
by Horatio Bolton Nelson (1823-1913). To the tune of By All Your Saints Still Striving; adapted from a late mediaeval gradual chant found in a manuscript at San Domenico's church, Bologna.
We praise you now, Saint Flutius,
You came from Bologna.
You healed the kid's left ankle
When he implored ya.
And now you dwell in heaven:
With Peter and the Boys,
And Jolly Old Saint Nicholas
Who brings all good kids toys.
Must...not...laugh... Okay, at what point did you figure out we were just pulling your ankle on this one? Yeah, yeah, the Shrine of the Holy Whapping is the result of an extended running joke we tried out on some of our friends back in spring of this year. Dan and Andy came up with the meat of the story, and then I put in the business about the Armenians and some other fun stuff, while Emily, naturally, encouraged us in our lunacy. They actually believed a whole lot of the story...well, a little bit. Hey, it's no weirder than St. Dog-head, is it? But I guess ancient Roman deli meats, the weird etymologies, the origin of the word Bologna for nonsense, or the references to Star Wars, Spiderman , and Perfect Strangers probably tipped you off. Hope you enjoyed it. Expect more tales from the Flutius parallel universe in the near future...