Monday, August 13, 2007

Magical Thinking

The presumed earliest case of Multiple Sclerosis in documented history is that of St. Lidwina of Schiedam. Lidwina was born in Holland in 1380. At the age of sixteen she went ice-skating with friends and had a violent tumble that shattered a rib in her right side. After the accident, her health steadily declined with brief periods of remission. She suffered from electric, lacerating pains in her teeth, debilitating headaches, as well as alternating numbness and paralysis in both arms. By the age of nineteen her legs were completely paralyzed and she was almost blind. For the next thirty-four years she slowly deteriorated, finally succumbing at age fifty-three.

Many in Schiedam believed she was possessed by the devil, but large numbers of townspeople came to revere her. They flocked to her beside where it is rumored miracles took place. Lying motionless, tears streaming down her cheeks, biographers claim she healed the bodies of the wounded and ill. She removed the stain of death from everyone, except, of course, herself. A cult built up around her after Wermbold of Roskoop, an eminent preacher of the time, said she was blessed with visions.

As a prototypical female mystic of the middle ages, she believed her body was honoring the Passion of Christ by trying to mimic his suffering. She worshipped what she called “the gift” of her anguish, and in one delirium she was said to have been presented with the gnarled branches of a bare rosebush accompanied by the words, "When this shall be in bloom, your suffering will be at an end." In 1433, she awakened from slumber, her eyelids barely able to flutter open and cried her last words; “I see the rose-bush in full bloom." Her grave became a site of pilgrimage and in 1890, Leo XIII granted her sainthood. Because of her terrible fall and the life that followed she is now the patron saint of ice-skating, and sickness.