She may have been tending her sheep or terrorizing passersby or perhaps both when the paroxysm occurred. Her sisters discovered the body, but by then she was past saving. They were grief-stricken and possibly a bit relieved. Severe, pious, and with a clear distaste for the company of other people, Christina had never been an easy person to live with.
Her funeral was held at the church of Sint-Truiden in what is now called Belgium but was then part of the Holy Roman Empire, which many scholars would like to remind you wasn’t very holy, not the least bit Roman, nor even much of an empire, no matter how large it may have seemed at the time. The local congregation gathered to pray for her soul, hear a mass, and see the unpleasant 21 year-old safely in her grave. But as the priest delivered his sermon something rather unusual occurred.
Christina sat bolt upright in her coffin, uttered a soul-piercing shriek, and promptly flew up into the church rafters. As the amazed congregation stared helplessly up at the ceiling, the priest gently coaxed her down. She later explained that she had been shown the terrors of Hell, the suffering souls in Purgatory, and the blessed ones in Heaven. At the end of her journey, she was offered a choice by God– to stay in Paradise or return to earth and lead a penitential life to expedite the suffering of those awaiting entry into Heaven. She chose the latter. When asked about her little levitation trick, the young woman with a second lease on life confessed she did it to get away from the crowd because the stench of sin that came from them frightened her.
Eye witnesses would later refer to the event as “astonishing”. It was an adjective that would hang about Christina well beyond her natural days, much as the odor of transgression clung to those she both prayed for and disdained.
She took to her new life with impressive brio. When she wasn’t hurling insults at sinful strangers, she avoided them altogether and sought out sufficiently lonely places for suffering wherever she could find them. In winter, she would plunge beneath the ice of the Meuse to meditate for weeks under the freezing water. When the weather was more pleasant, she would float down the same river until she met up with the nearest watermill and let its wheel carry her body round and round until it was properly mangled. But her preferred hiding place was a raging furnace, where she could pray in proper torment and carry her burning passion for the saving of souls to a literal extreme. But after each appointment with agony, Christina’s body would miraculously heal itself.
She was arrested twice for suspicion of being possessed by demons.
Upon being released for the second time, she steered her penitential life in a surprising direction for someone who disliked the company of others– she joined the Dominican monastery of St. Catherine’s, conveniently located in her hometown. A mendicant order, the Dominicans were sometimes referred to as “God’s fighting dogs”. Their poor and semi-rabid reputation suited her. She spent the rest of her days in quiet prayer and died– for the second and presumably last time– of natural causes on the 24th of July, 1224 at the age of seventy-four.
The prioress of the monastery later testified that, during her life at the monastery, Christina served God humbly and obeyed any order the prioress might give. She was still prone to levitation because she detested the sinful odor of her fellow nuns, but it’s nice to know she obligingly came down from the rafters when asked.
I see that as an astonishing mark of personal growth on her part.
Pets de Nonnes (Nun’s Farts)
Once upon a time, I wrote a proposal for a cookbook with recipes based on the lives and horrible deaths of Catholic saints and martyrs. I enjoyed the hell out of writing it, but when my agent sent it out to the publishing houses, the general reaction was essentially this: “It’s weird and we don’t know how to market it.”
Someone even asked the question: “Where do we file this? Under Food, Humor, or Religion?” Nobody wanted it, so it’s been collecting dust on my hard drive ever since. Or whatever the appropriate equivalent is for something that doesn’t exist in a place where dust can penetrate.
So I thought I might share a saint-related recipe on this blog from time to time, where no one but my commenting readers can tell me it’s a bad idea. Or tell me where to file it.
The recipe pairing for Christina the Astonishing was an easy one– pets de nonnes are the obvious choice for a holy woman who not only finds the smells of her fellow brides of Christ unpleasant, but can make herself lighter than air to boot. The dough is plunged into hot oil and rises to the surface when (and only when) it’s damned good and ready to. Had Christina consistent, easy access to giant vats of hot oil, I feel certain she would have availed herself to such a novel means of self-torture. Just imagine her crispy skin. But I’m getting ahead of myself– that’s a recipe for St. Bartholomew.
The following recipe is derived from the proper, French confection– little puffs of choux pastry, light as air. There is another version of pets de nonnes, sometimes referred to as pets de sœurs, which is Québécois in nature and is therefore to be avoided. I have no wish impugn the integrity of French Canadian cuisine. I merely fail to find anything wind-breaking about them.
The finished product is tasty, but austere, which is appropriate given the inspiration for this comes from a mendicant order of holy women. The next time I make them I (and I definitely will be making them again), I might fill them with a light pastry cream, or a whipped cream folded with jam. But I’d have to figure out another name for them because the idea of stuffing a nun makes me shudder, even as a recovering Catholic.
By the way, Christina the Astonishing is not an official saint of the Roman Catholic church, but she is still venerated and considered by her followers to be the patroness of not only the mentally ill, but of people who own and operate watermills.
Makes…I don’t know… 18 “farts”. This may depend upon how many you initially burn, which is rather difficult to do. But sometimes, nature calls and cannot be avoided. Even while frying. Also, I got bored of counting them, so I stopped.
For the pets:
• 6 tablespoons of butter
• 1 cup of cold water
• 1 cup of sifted all-purpose flour (I find sifting annoying, too.)
• A heavy pinch of salt.
• 4 whole eggs which have come from a healthy chicken’s cloaca.
• A large amount of vegetable oil. (Enough to ensure a 3″ depth in your frying implement.)
In which to roll said pets:
• 1 cup of white sugar
• 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon of freshly ground clove
- In a small bowl, mix sugar, cinnamon, and clove thoroughly. Set aside for the fun, easy part of this recipe.
- Put butter, salt, and water into a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Remove the pot from the heat once boiling status has been reached, then add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon, continuing to do so until it forms a dough and pulls away from the sides of the pot in a more-or-less glossy, clean ball. Return the pot to the stove and, over low heat, keep stirring for a couple of minutes to dry out the dough.
- Add the eggs, one at a time until each has been fully incorporated into the floury mass. It will slip and slide and you may well think, “This really doesn’t look right.” But it is. Just keep stirring and incorporating until it hurts. Christina would approve. Set aside and let cool. It does not have to be cold. Just give it a little rest post-workout.
- In another heavy-bottomed pot (or the same pot, just cleaned and dried), pour the oil to a three-inch depth. Make it four if you are feeling flush. Or two if you don’t come from an oil-rich nation. Just as long as there is enough depth to fully fry your farts. Place over medium heat until the oil reaches 350°F.
- To fry these “puffs” as I shall now call them, dip a (measuring) tablespoon into the oil and scoop it into your awaiting mass of dough. Re-dip into the hot oil, which should immediately liberate the little tablespoon-sized ball. You may regard the amount of dough you’ve just placed in heated fat and think “That doesn’t look like enough”. But then it suddenly puffs up to a size large enough for you to say aloud “This is sufficient. I am happy with the circumference of this particular nun’s fart.”
- Each puff will rise when the natural, God-given gas within has expanded. It will also flip itself over when it feels it is ready, which I find fairly miraculous, given the subject matter of this post. But not always, so do keep a good eye out. When the the puff is beautifully golden brown on all sides (beautiful golden-browning time: approximately 5 minutes), remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined rack. Repeat the process until all of your
fartspuffs have been expended. Do not overcrowd the oil pot. Fry them a few at a time.
- Roll each still-warm puff into your sugar mixture and place them in your favorite serving vessel. These treats are delicious, even when cold, but there are few things more satisfying than serving your friends and family a bowl full of nice, warm farts.