Worker of the Land • b. 7th century–d. August 18, ca. 670 • Memorial: August 18
When we think of saints, we think of, well, people who were perfect. They didn’t hold grudges or stereotype people. Well, Saint Fiacre is proof that God can write straight with crooked lines.
The son of an Irish king, Fiacre was entrusted to Saint Conan for his education. Conan taught him to love our Lord and prayer. After his ordination, Fiacre went to live as a hermit in County Kilkenny. He knew how to use herbs and homeopathic remedies to great effect, and this drew huge numbers of people.
As this made living the eremitica life slightly difficult, Fiacre emigrated to Meaux, France, where he asked of Bishop Saint Faro permission to establish his hermitage in a nearby forest. Irish priests were learned and Faro longed for intellectual company, so Faro readily agreed.
At first Fiacre was alone, but then people again came to see him, which he took as God’s will. He eventually constructed a small chapel, a hospice, and a small, remote dwelling for himself. That travelers’ hospice eventually became the town of Saint-Fiacre.
One problem was that Fiacre kept running out of room to serve the droves who came to him. So he went to Faro, who told him he could have as much property as he could mark out, between sunup and sundown of one day, with the tip of his staff. The excited Fiacre went to work with a vengeance. He madly plowed with his walking stick, uprooting trees, tossing weeds, ripping out thorny briers with his bare hands, all in an attempt to compass as much land as possible.
A woman named Becnaude saw this and thought him possessed, since he was toppling some pretty big trees. Frightened, she ran to tell Faro, and he realized she was probably describing Fiacre. Becnaude then ran back to Fiacre and, screaming like a harpy, told him he was in trouble. Her words went unheard, though, because he was daydreaming of all the wonderful things God would do through this monastery. Lost in thought, he had sat his skinny hermit self on a granite rock. This softened like wax and received the imprint of his backside.
When Faro arrived and saw the marked stone, he recognized God at work, saying, “One can doubt everything except for a Scot’s rear!”1 When Faro told him of Becnaude’s report, Fiacre was incensed. He forever banished women from his monastery. If any dared come anyway, they risked a severe thrashing from him, fairer sex or no.
On his death, his followers made his tomb in Meaux’s cathedral, which became a great pilgrimage site. Because of the stone incident, he is particularly invoked for hemorrhoids.
Why Saint Fiacre deserves our attention and devotion
It’s hard to understand how Saint Fiacre could stereotype all women and still be a saint. Then again, it’s hard to understand how Saint Jerome could be an irascible cuss and how Saint Paul could tolerate slavery. This shows the importance of ceaselessly asking God to reveal how he sees our attitudes.
Also, give Fiacre credit. He wanted to be a hermit. By serving those who came to him, however, he sacrificed his desires for a greater good. Can we say the same?
This is an excerpt from Saint Who?: 39 Holy Unknowns by Brian O’Neel