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loose canons
There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

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4: The hero of Christendom (and his holy nightshirt)
ETER BARTHOLOMEW WAS NOT a natural candidate for visionary hero of Christendom. Apart from being an unknown and certifiably smelly peasant, he was also a dishonest, lecherous drunkard.

But this was the Crusades, when the nastiest butchers of Europe were gaining sainthood through the torture and genocide of Muslims, Jews and misplaced Christians, so who's to say what's natural?

The Crusaders had got as far as Antioch. Already hungry and miserable, they managed to besiege the city and starve out its inhabitants. They seized it just before the Muslim reinforcements turned up with supplies. This meant that they were now themselves besieged in a city they had successfully reduced to starvation. Bummer.

This is when Peter decided to mention his visions. St Anthony, the patron saint of lost stuff, had been visiting him at night, revealing that the lance that pierced Christ's side was buried under Antioch Cathedral, and not on display in half the churches in Europe, as previously thought. If they dug it out and took it into battle, God's enemies would be crushed beneath their feet.

Five days of fasting were ordered (there wasn't much alternative), and then twelve men spent a day digging out the Church. No luck.

The now distinctly unpopular Peter changed into his holy nightshirt, told the congregation to bow in fervant, eyes-shut prayer, leapt into the pit, and whipped out something pointy and metal. The holy lance!

The Crusaders loved it. They marched out gung-ho, singing the latest Graham Kendrick songs, and surprisingly or not, the Muslims were routed.

Peter was not a man to quit while he was ahead. Whenever the Crusaders suffered from dissensions (which was all the time), he would take a nap and come back with a vision from St Anthony to decide who was right. It was noted that St Anthony unfailingly took whichever was Peter's side in the quarrel, and so, in time, Peter managed to turn almost everyone against his visions.

Because of this, Peter demanded to be tested. He would, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego-like, walk through the fire to prove his annointment. Everyone thought this was a splendid idea. They lit up a holy fire so hot that passing pigeons dropped out of the sky preroasted (and were no doubt gobbled up).

Changing once more into his sacred nightshirt and grabbing the lance in one hand, Peter walked through the fire. He emerged at the other side without a scratch, but with 90 per cent burns.

His few remaining followers explained as he died that he had of course come out of the fire unscathed. He only got burned when he was knocked back in, by the rush of astounded onlookers wanting to touch his nightshirt.

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