Today In Fact, 25 July

I had a student called Alfred who became a friend and business partner. Alfred died of AIDS in 2006 but I always recall being prompted to quote the opening lines of Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s poem; Xanadu upon greeting him. I quote it again just to honour my friend:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree : Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea.

The poet who wrote these immortal words died this day in 1834. Another writer, perhaps of a very different sort who was presumed dead today in 1471 was Thomas A Kempis, the author or perhaps editor of the second most popular book in the world: “The Imitation of Christ”. This book has had a new edition published every month since it was first published. I say he was presumed dead because when they exhumed his body for reburial they found scratch marks on the inside of his coffin and splinters under his finger nails.

Such a desperate demise was not the lot of St. Christopher whose feast we celebrate today. It seems this giant of man was an African called Menas who joined the Roman Army in the third Century. Legend has it that Menas while serving in the Roman Army, took it into his head to go and serve “the greatest king there was”. He went to the king who was reputed to be the greatest, but one day he saw the king cross himself at the mention of the devil. On thus learning that the king feared the devil, he departed to look for the devil.

He came across a band of marauders, one of whom declared himself to be the devil, so Menas decided to serve him. But when he saw his new master avoid a wayside cross and found out that the devil feared Christ, he left him and inquired from people where to find Christ.

He met a hermit who instructed him in the Christian faith. Menas asked him how he could serve Christ. When the hermit suggested fasting and prayer, Menas replied that he was unable to perform that service. The hermit then suggested that because of his size and strength he could serve Christ by assisting people to cross a local river.

One day, a little child asked to cross the river. During the crossing, the river became swollen and the child seemed as heavy as lead, so much that Menas could scarcely carry him and found himself in great difficulty. When he finally reached the other side, he said to the child: “You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were.” The child replied: “You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work.” The child then vanished.

Menas visited the city of Lycia and there comforted the Christians who were being martyred. Brought before the local king, he refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods. The king tried to win him by riches and by sending two beautiful women to tempt him. Christopher converted the women to Christianity, as he had already converted thousands in the city. The king ordered him to be killed. Various attempts failed, but finally Christopher was decapitated.

The locals did not know his name so they called him Christopher or “Christ-bearer”.

Today St. Christopher remains a popular saint, patron of some 14 cities and the Island of Saint Kitts. You will find his medal in cars and around the necks of many a traveler.

All this talk of the dead needs some balance. And what better way to balance the death-birth scales by saying happy birthday to Louise Brown who was born this day in 1978. Louise was the first “test-tube baby” and was conceived in petri-dish in England some nine months prior.

– Posted by Douglas Racionzer (