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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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21: Brother Juniper, walking disaster
SEEM TO REMEMBER seven years ago promising you more on that top holy fool Brother Juniper, friend and follower of St Francis. Well, I am not slack concerning my promise as some count slackness, but as others do I probably am. Either way, here's the next instalment.

Juniper once paid a visit to a local count by the name of Nicholas who was usually friendly to the friars. But on his way, typically, Juniper managed both to get beaten up and to tear his habit in two to share with a beggar, so he arrived unrecognisable as a friar.

Being at war, Count Nicholas was a bit jumpy and assumed the undercover Franciscan celebrity was a spy. Juniper spotting the opportunity for some valuable persecution did not want to disabuse him. When Nicholas searched him and found the awl he used to mend his sandals, he decided he was an assassin too.

Nicholas gave Juniper a good flogging, for which he was heartily thankful.

"Who are you?" demanded Nicholas.

"A great sinner," confessed Brother Juniper.

"Are you here to betray my castle to the men of Viterbo?" asked Nicholas.

"I am indeed a great traitor and unworthy of mercy," confessed Juniper, in saintly economy with the truth.

"Do you plan to stab me to death with your awl and burn my castle?"

"Oh, I'm certain I'd even worse things than those if God allowed me."

And so Nicholas sent the delighted Juniper off to be hanged.

Since he was not offered last rites, a well-wisher called one of the friars to come and give him a send off. The friar arrived as the blindfolded Juniper was being dragged to the gallows hanging from the back of a horse. Hearing the uncharacteristically self-pitying words, "Ow, you're hurting my legs," the friar recognised Brother Juniper, and ran up and pulled off the blindfold.

"Hello," beamed Juniper.

Instructing the executioners to wait, the friar ran and told Nicholas he was committing the greatest sin in the history of the world. When the count realised that his mistreated guest was none other than the celebrated Brother Juniper he was horrified, and ran in tears to release him, falling at his feet and apologising extravagantly.

Juniper happily forgave the little misunderstanding, but, according to his biographer, Nicholas suffered divine vengenace anyhow, dying horribly a few days later. Which I suppose just shows that some people are nicer than God.

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