Lives of the Saints


Female sainthood, I learned from the book-
Lives of the Saints- I was given as a child,
involved primarily not having sex.
Martyrdom was another oft-repeated
approach to eternal glory, especially
via cut-off breasts or death by giant
frying pan. Good works, a definite
plus, but not a winner. The trifecta?
Need I delineate the obvious?
Good works, martyrdom and virginity.

Any two out of three might seem worthy
of attention, but lack of virginity
was almost a non-starter, widows who
gave all their worldly goods to the Church
and remained chaste henceforth,
being a notable exception.

Saintly men could live long and prosperous
lives, and now wear opulent robes in their
stained glass or mosaicked homes in our
churches. They stand proudly with their weighty
books and shepherd’s crooks, tall triangular
hats, swords and other symbols of power
and influence, while female saints carry
their own arrows or are licked by flames.

Sainted men too, at times, were horribly
tortured and martyred, but their sexual
activity was seldom noted. Female saints
were virgins virgins virgins.

St. Basil beat back the Arian heresy.
St. Ladislas beat back the Huns.
Catherine of Alexandria beat back men,
insisting on staying a virgin, for which
the emperor who desired her had her stripped,
flogged, and placed on a cart-wheel, her limbs
stretched out along the spokes. The wheel
was made to slowly revolve, and her bones
broken with blows of an iron bar.

And how to forget the story of Saint
Christina, Virgin and Martyr, who
destroyed her pagan father’s golden idols,
for which he had her whipped with rods
and thrown into a dungeon, her body torn
by iron hooks, fastened to a rack and
roasted above a fire. She was seized, a
heavy stone tied about her neck, then
was thrown into the lake of Bolsena.
Saved by an angel, she outlived her father,
who died, it was written, of spite. Later,
a judge had her thrown into a burning
furnace, where she remained, unhurt, for five
days. By the power of Christ she overcame
the serpents among which she was next thrown.
But then her tongue was cut out, and afterwards,
being pierced with arrows, she gained
the martyr’s crown at Tyro. Her battered
relics are now at Palermo in Sicily.

I am a ten year old girl, reading my Lives
Of the Saints in bed before sleep. This is the
life I should aspire to. I flip off the light
and consider my alternatives.

Published by


Katherine Flannery Dering is a writer, feminist, and mental health activist. Her new book, Aftermath,was published in November, 2018 and is currently available through the Finishing Line Press website as well as Amazon. She is also author of Shot in the Head: A Sister’s Memoir, A Brother’s Struggle (Bridgeross Communications; 2014). Her younger brother, Paul, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 16, and she helped with his care. She writes about caring for her brother in hopes that it will enlighten the public on the role of caregivers. She is currently at work on two books - a mystery novel, and a non fiction book about women, business and religion. Katherine holds an MFA from Manhattanville College, a BA from Le Moyne College, an MA from the University of Buffalo and a MBA from the University of Minnesota at Duluth. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Inkwell Magazine, as well as The Bedford Record Review, Northwords Press, Sensations Magazine, Pandaloon Press, Poetry Motel, Pink Elephant Magazine, River River, The Manhattanville Review, and Stories from the Couch. Dering taught Spanish briefly and is a former CFO at a community bank in New York. For more information please visit and find Katherine and her book on Facebook and Twitter.

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