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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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23: Meet St Aelhaiarn, the snooping saint
ANY SAINTS MADE THEIR NAME by being killed, of course. Torn apart on racks, burned in pitch, choked with quicklime, covered in nails, beheaded and drowned – that was just St Quintin of Rome.

But St Aelhaiarn is (so far I know) unique among the blessed in having been killed as a punishment from God.

Aelhaiarn, or "Ironbrow" in English, was, according to that most reliable of historical records, medieval hagiography, the manservant of the great Welsh saint, Beuno of Clenogvaur.

Beuno was in the habit of rising secretly in the middle of the night and walking to Llaynhayrne, which as you'll appreciate is a four-mile trip from Clenogvaur. At Llaynhayrne he would kneel on a flat stone in the middle of the river and pray.

Aelhaiarn couldn't help wondering what the holy man was getting up to, and so one night, in idle curiosity, he followed surreptitiously behind.

And so it was that in mid-prayer Beuno heard a rustle in the bushes and saw the shape of a man. Not knowing who was there, Beuno called on God to punish the lurker if his intentions were not commendable. Idle curiosity not being commendable, the Lord rustled up a pack of wild beasts, who tore the hapless lackey limb from limb, and bit of limb from bit of limb.

Realising then who the man was, Beuno repented – a little late, you might have thought. But not so. Nothing as superficial as dismemberment keeps a good saint down. Beuno had the theology; he could rebuild him.

He pieced his servant together bit by bit and limb by limb. Unfortunately, though, in the darkness, even the great Beuno failed to find one of his eyebrows.

There was nothing for it but to fill the gap with the metal tip of his pikestaff, so the six-million groat man went through the rest of his life with an iron eyebrow, and that's how Aelhaiarn got his name.

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