september 14. notburga, austria's best dressed skeleton
Patron saint of fieldworkers, field hands, hired hands, husbandmen, servants, and peasants
Lived 1265 to 1313
Canonized in 1862
Notburga was a "devout young woman of peasant stock." Employed as a cook, she put aside leftover food for the poor. When her mistress insisted she instead feed the scraps to some swine, Notburga obeyed. Instead, she gave out her own meals to feed the hungry. Pope Francis describes this practice as "fasting of the mouth." In a familiar scenario (See Rose of Viterbo & Elizabeth of Portugal), her mistress grew suspicious and insisted she reveal what she was carrying in her apron. As one account describes it, Notburga "got busted." When Notburga complied, her mistress saw an unexpected cargo: shavings instead of food and vinegar instead of wine.
When a later employer tried to dissuade her from leaving her fieldwork for a church break, Notburga threw up her sickle and said, "let my sickle be judge between me and you!" The sickle remained suspended in the air / "hanging on a sunbeam". By another account, it "hung like the new moon." While it was suspended, she took the opportunity to attend mass.
Shortly before Notburga's death, she told her master to place her corpse on a ox-drawn wagon, and to bury her wherever the oxen stood still. The oxen carried her to the chapel of St. Rupert, where her skeleton is on lavish display.
SKELETON OF THE WEEK
Recently the website Empire de la Mort ("an online resource for charnel houses and burial catacombs") honored Saint Noburga as their Skeleton of the Week, describing her as "the most impressive articulated and dressed skeleton in all of Austria." Her bones are indeed resplendent. Arrayed in a gold crown of violent spikes and a white gown with delicate embroidery, the corpse is displayed in a gilded, boxed-in frame. A sickle hovers near her right hand.
Last year, Pope Francis paid tribute to Notburga by writing a letter to commemorate the 700th anniversary of her death. I used Google to translate the German-penned letter. My favorite quotes:
"[Notburga knew] that each 'death' of a part of us is a special way of following our Lord Jesus Christ himself and creates more room for the love of God, whose vessels we are."
"If they were Christ, the saints alone, contained space."
"God puts all human hubris to an end."
"Without the sacred space, the sacred time, without the Lord's day, we cannot live."
The cult of St. Notburga began in 1313. I'll add this to my list of lucky saintly happenings around the number 13.