Lay for the Day 20th
feast of St Wilgefortis, also known as St Uncumber and St Liberata. According
to medieval legend, she was one of septuplets born to a pagan king of
Portugal. Her father wanted her to marry the king of Sicily, but she had
taken a vow of virginity. She prayed that she might become unattractive,
and thereafter grew a beard and moustache. When her suitor withdrew, her
father had her crucified, and on the cross she prayed that those who remembered
her passion would be freed of their burdens and troubles hence
the names Uncumber and Liberata.
The help of St Uncumber was particularly sought by wives having trouble
with their husbands. Thomas More noted scornfully the custom among women
in his day of making offerings of oats to the saints statue, which
he said was so that she might provide a horse for an evil husband
to ride to the devil upon
because that they reckon that for a peck
of oats she will not fail to uncumber them of their husbands. The
conjunction of the bearded ears of oats with the bearded saint, and the
association of oats with male libido sowing his wild oats
and so on is intriguing.
If I romanticise what loves
Little loves as brief and bright as spark-falls,
Ill remember, when on me the dark calls,
Your love as true to itself as a stone.
Cold to each other as may have grown,
Each eyeing through the slits of steep, stark walls,
Well remount the high air where the lark stalls
Over the down in the winds pleasant moan.
Harsh to each other as weve often been,
Sharpening on our hearts knives of resentment,
Heavy and piercing, serrated and keen,
Well lie again like two empty crosses
In the deep meadow of our contentment,
Concurring as the grass nods and tosses.
Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar