City officials and parade organisers are furious over the appearance of around 20 fascists who turned up for Sunday's event.

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A report in the Boston Globe that a group wearing neo-Nazi insignia appeared among the spectators at Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in the city on Sunday got me thinking: If far-right imbeciles want to attend saints’ days, they should hold rallies of their own to revere Dymphna, the patron saint of the mentally ill.

Dymphna got herself beheaded in the 7th century by her father because she refused to marry him. She was aged around 15 when she died.

Martyrdom of St Dymphna and St Gerebernus by Jacques de l’Ange. Wiki CC.

I first learned about Dymphna a few years back when I was researching a piece about the large number of saints created by the Roman Catholic Church over the centuries.

My interest was sparked when I was having a conversation about the RCC’s saint-creating industry with veteran British atheist Barbara Smoker, former president of the National Secular Society, shortly before she died aged 96 in 2020.

“You realize, of course,” said Smoker, “that saint creation is all about money. More days set aside for venerating saints means more bums on pews, and more money in the collection plates.”

Smoker, who set her heart on becoming a nun when she was in her teens, was well-versed in Catholic lore, so much so that she decided by the age of 26 that it was all a bunch of baloney, threw off the yoke of the religion, and became a feisty atheist.

Images via Wiki CC and Amazon

Two years before her death she published her memoir, My Godforsaken Life: Memoir of a Maverick.

When I first met Smoker, back in the 70s, she advised me that if I had any questions about religion I should always ask an atheist. When I asked her why, she replied:

Because people often arrive at non-belief after they have assiduously studied religious texts and usually come to know more about the subject than most believers.

Another of my prized contacts, Californian artist Shell Fisher, also knows a lot about holy scripture. He uses his amazing talent to lampoon religion via his Holy Smoke series.

Having decided to write about saints for a local newspaper in Spain, and knowing how well-versed Fisher was in Christian mythology, I asked him whether he would provide some illustrations for the piece, beginning with Christina Mirabilis, known as St Christina the Astonishing.

Born in the 12th century in Belgium, she suffered a massive seizure in her early 20s. Assumed dead, she was about to be buried but she arose from her coffin and “levitated to the rafters”. She claimed to have seen Hell, Heaven and the Almighty, who sent her back to save sinners.

According to legend, she would throw herself into fires and frozen rivers, allow dogs to tear at her flesh, all the while imploring God’s mercy. Though covered in blood, her skin would immediately heal. She lived in a forest, slept in rags, and sustained herself by suckling her own boobs.

Fisher jumped at the opportunity. Here’s the result:

Provided by Shell Fisher

Christina captured the imagination of the band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who released a song about her in 1992. The lyrics are hysterical. Here’s verse one:

Christina the Astonishing lived a long, long time ago
She was stricken with a seizure
At the age of twenty-two
They took her body in a coffin
To a tiny church in Liege
Where she sprang up from the coffin
Just after the Agnus Dei
She soared up to the rafters
Perched on a beam up there
Cried “The stink of human sin, the stink of human sin, the stink is more than I can bear”

The fact that she was born in Loon may account for her crazy behavior.

Further research took me to to a site called Mental Floss, where Paul Anthony Jones got me chuckling with a list of 15 unusual patron saints.

Here are just a few:

• St Adjutor, who died April 30, 1131 is regarded as the patron saint of swimmers and those at danger from drowning. Adjutor was born in Vernon, France, where he was made a knight in the First Crusade. The stories given for his patronage of boaters vary.

Some state that he was captured by Muslims in The Crusade, who tried to force him to abandon his faith, and when refusing, he escaped persecution by swimming back to France and entered the Abbey of Trion. There he became a recluse until his death.

Additional legends state that it was angels who freed Adjutor from his captors, and his association with the seas came when he calmed a whirlpool by throwing Holy water, and the chains of his captivity into it, and signing the cross.

• St Balthasar is the patron saint of playing card manufacturers. He, along with with Melchior and Caspar, is one of the magi who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus.

• St Bernardino of Siena (also known as Bernardine) was an Italian priest and Franciscan missionary who died in 1144. He was a loud-mouthed homophobe and an anti-Semite.

His popular preaching made him famous in his own lifetime because it was frequently directed against sodomy, Jews, sorcery, gambling, infanticide, witchcraft and usury. He is the patron saint of advertising, communications, compulsive gambling, respiratory problems, as well as any problems involving the chest area.

Provided by Shell Fisher

• St Columbanus spent much of the 6th and 7th century roaming around Europe—and that love of the open road led to the Irishman, who died in 615, being considered the patron saint of motorcyclists.

• St Drogo of Sebourg, France, who died in 1186, was stricken with an unsightly bodily affliction. He became so terribly deformed that he frightened the townspeople. In his twenties, a cell was built for him to protect the local citizens of the village from his appearance.

Since he was so holy, his cell was built attached to his church. St Drogo stayed in his cell without any human contact, except for a small window in which he received the Eucharist and obtained his food. He stayed there for the rest of his life, about forty more years, surviving only on barley, water, and the holy Eucharist.

Although Wiki doesn’t say so, Jones claims that St Drogo is:

The patron saint of unattractive people. Entirely unrelatedly, he’s also the patron saint of coffeehouses.

• St Julian the Hospitaller was a Belgian born around 7 CE.  According to Jones, his name refers to the fact that he opened a hostel for travelers and dedicated his life to providing hospitality for the sick and needy—but only after he’d killed his parents. For that reason, he’s the patron saint of murderers.

Wiki also says he’s the patron saint of boatmen, carnival workers, childless people, circus workers, clowns, ferrymen, fiddlers, fiddle players, hospitallers, hotel-keepers, hunters, innkeepers, jugglers, knights, pilgrims, shepherds and shepherd. No-one knows when he went to meet Jesus.

• St Lidwina is the patron saint of ice skaters. The “mystic” was born in Schiedam, Holland, in 1380, one of nine children. Her father was a laborer. At the age of  15, she was ice skating when she fell and broke a rib. She never recovered and became progressively disabled for the rest of her life.

Her biographers state that she became paralyzed except for her left hand and that great pieces of her body fell off, and that blood poured from her mouth, ears, and nose. Today some posit that Saint Lidwina is one of the first known multiple sclerosis sufferers and attribute her disability to the effects of the disease and her fall.

After she and the ice made hard contact, Lidwina fasted continuously and acquired fame as a healer and holy woman. The town officials of Schiedam, her hometown, promulgated a document (which has survived) that attests to her complete lack of food and sleep.

At first she ate a little piece of apple, then a bit of date and watered wine, then river water contaminated with salt from the tides. The authenticating document from Schiedam also attests that Lidwina shed skin, bones, parts of her intestines, which her parents kept in a vase and which gave off a sweet odour. These excited so much attention that Lidwina had her mother bury them.

She died in 1433, aged 53. It was a bloody miracle that she lasted so long.

If you’ve gotten this far, I bet you’ll be wondering whether pedophile priests have a patron saint.

Yes, according to Michael Stone, of Progressive Secular Humanist, who, in 2014, named him as Pope John Paul II, who was fast-tracked to sainthood.

And what about gays?

I must emphasize that, in posing the question, I am not inferring any connections between pedophilia and homosexuality, because there are absolutely none.

And the answer is yes … well, sort of.

Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, by Il Sodoma via Wiki CC

While the comely Saint Sebastian—described here as a “babe” – has long been a gay icon, perish the thought that the Catholic Church would ever have made him a patron for people it brands as “deviants”.

This from Wiki:

The combination of his strong, shirtless physique, the symbolism of the arrows penetrating his body, and the look on his face of rapturous pain have intrigued artists (gay or otherwise) for centuries, and began the first explicitly gay cult in the 19th century. Richard A Kaye wrote, ‘contemporary gay men have seen in Sebastian at once a stunning advertisement for homosexual desire (indeed, a homoerotic ideal), and a prototypical portrait of tortured closet case.’

A piece in the Advocate, which claims there are as many as thirty LGBT saints—including Joan of Arc, Francis of Assisi, Jesus’ boyfriend Lazarus and Mary Magdalene—says this of Sebastian:

Considered the main patron saint of gays by many, Sebastian was martyred in Rome in the year 288 on the orders of Emperor Diocletian. While no tales actually exist providing information about Sebastian’s love life or sexual orientation, the fact so much Renaissance art depicts him in homoerotic poses demonstrates a strong connection to LGBT people.

British filmmaker Derek Jarman even made a movie about him in 1976—entirely in Latin! When Sebastiane was later shown on Channel 4, anti-porn crusader Mary Whitehouse, began frothing at the mouth, and repeated her claim that what Brits were seeing on their TV screens was “filth.”

Back now to Boston. The presence of the neo-Nazi group, noted by people on social media during the event, sparked outcry from local elected officials as well as parade organizers who said the group were “neither invited, nor welcome at our parade.”

Dave Falvey, commander of South Boston Allied Veterans Council said:

As a Jewish American, it hits especially close to home for me. Unfortunately, we only have control over who can participate in the parade and cannot control who attends. Such groups will never be welcome in any capacity at the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day / Evacuation Day Parade.

They wore the logo of the Nationalist Social Club, described as a neo-Nazi group by both the Counter Extremism Project and the Anti-Defamation League.

Local elected officials, most of whom had marched in Sunday’s parade, denounced the group’s appearance at the parade. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said: “It was deeply disturbing to see this display at a local celebration of culture and heritage, as we work to heal and build community through our recovery.

“With the growing intensity of white supremacist groups nationally, we are working closely with law enforcement at all levels—Boston will not tolerate hate crimes, and we will not be intimidated in our work to build a city for everyone.”

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Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....