Agnes refused her parents demands to marry at the age of 13, so she was sent to a brothel to live out the rest of her days. As she walked along the streets, stripped of her clothes and dignity, her hair grew down to her ankles, protecting her from onlookers.
This is not a supernatural tale in the vein of zombies, werewolves, witches or vampires; this is the story of Saint Agnes, born circa 291 A.D. Young adult stories are all the rage now with "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games," but the first YA stories ever told were the stories of saints. It's rich fodder, and inspired me to write a teen series reimagining three saints as modern-day Brooklyn teens.
The way I see it, the early saints and martyrs were the first real teenage superstars. Icons in the truest sense of the word. Regardless of whether you believe the legends are true and accurate is almost irrelevant. The saints and their stories have been influential not just to believers, but on Western Civilization and have far outlasted the 15 minutes of fame generated by today's tabloid celebs who score a fragrance or a denim line at Kmart. These saints were teenagers themselves, and were inspiring teens and adults alike.
So what do saintly tales of death and divinity, gruesomeness and glory have in common with today's YA fiction? For starters, the martyr legends are love stories. Divine love, to be sure, but love stories nonetheless. Young women, barely teenagers, devoted to a supernatural being, consumed by a forbidden love, against the wishes of authority, be it their families or society at large. Sound familiar? Rose of Lima was so beautiful that it was almost impossible to ward off potential mates and keep her love true. She was so determined that she nailed to her head a wreath of flowers, the one her mother made her wear to attract even more attention, and then scrubbed her face with pepper until her face blistered so she would be less attractive to possible suitors. All in the name of love.
Secondly, the martyr legends feature very strong female characters, chock full of badassery. Having been raised Catholic, I'd always had the impression that the men and women who'd sacrificed themselves for their faith were passive, indifferent to the material world, but nothing could be farther from the truth. In their world, at that time, refusing to deny yourself, your beliefs, was the ultimate act of defiance. They seemed to posses an inner certitude and confidence unswayed by the opinions or demands of others. Some might call it faith, others call it madness. I call it being a teenager. Lucy, Patron saint of the blind, is a great example of this. One take on her legend is that she gouged her own eyes out so she would be less attractive to men. Her refusal to be objectified is the subject of story, song and iconic art. When you see paintings of Lucy, she is always holding her eyes on a plate, a reminder of both her self-inflicted suffering and obstinance. Nothing more punk rock than that.
Thirdly, martyr stories, like a lot of YA lit, are as much about death and immortality as they are about love. Not so much "till death do us part," but more like "till death do we start." They are misfits in every sense of the word. Not really fitting in with the living or the dead. To willing seek out a heroic sacrifice -- the very definition of a martyr -- is a time-honored theme dating back to our earliest myths. The sacrifice itself is always fatal and always motivated by love -- human, immortal or divine -- placing the saints and today's waking undead (thought separated by centuries) in the same macabre boat. Whether it's the bite of the vampire or zombie or the welcomed sharp edge of the executioner's blade, death is the path to immortality though of a very different kind. Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, survived three attempts at beheading, and even after the last successful attempt, she continued to sing for three days after. In YA, the immortal lovers are bound together through all eternity but their souls are burdened, having traded peace for eternal passion, where the martyrs are liberated by death, their souls free at last to fly to the object of their obsession and live together in holy harmony. They live to die, or live a life of death, so to speak.
Lastly, saints are supernatural problem solvers. Like every main character's best friend, they are there to help, to comfort in times of trouble, or just to listen. Lose something? Broken-hearted? Possessed? Depressed? Suffering from plague or an STD? On your deathbed? Yep, there is a saint for that. A few heartfelt prayers and a sincere request for intercession and help is on the way. From animal attacks to anorexia, magic spells to mental illness, insomnia to insecurity, obsession to oversleeping, slander to sexual temptation, the saints have got your back, and are always there for you to talk to. With that in mind, I've created a guide for those who could use a supernatural BFF in their corner. No matter what the problem, likely, there's a Saint for that!
Have a test coming up and need a little extra help? St. Joseph of Cupertino is the Patron Saint of taking exams.
Cable going out on your during your favorite show? Tune into St. Clare the Patron Saint of Television.
Stuck in a bad relationship? Saint Rita can mediate, as she is the Patron Saint against bad relationships.
Want to keep your relationship strong and lasting? Or want to protect yourself from the plague? Saint Valentine is your one stop shop -- the Patron Saint of lovers AND the plague.
Thinking about running away? You might want to have a tete-a-tete with Saint Alodia, the Patron Saint of Runaways, before you make any rash decisions.
Need some more "likes" or more twitter followers? DM Saint Isidore, the Patron Saint of the Internet.
Looking for love, or your favorite eternity scarf that you swore was in your closet? Call on Saint Anthony to help you in your search! He is the Patron Saint of lost loves and lost items.
If you're alarm clock just isn't enough and you're constantly late for class, ask St. Vitus, The Patron Saint of Oversleeping, to give you a wake up call.
Obsessed with cats? St. Gertrude can relate; she's the Patron Saint of Cats.
Have a date this weekend and feeling nervous about it? Ask St. Dwynwen to go along with you. And if your dog is sick, she can help you with that, too.
A cheating boyfriend or girlfriend? Saint Catherine is the Patron Saint against the unfaithful.
Big game coming up and you're feeling a little nervous, Saint Sebastian can make sure you're blocked enough to complete that Hail Mary pass as he's the Patron Saint of Athletes. He is also the Saint of having a holy death.
Need a raise at your afterschool job, or help getting to Jamaica for Spring Break? Pay Saint Martin, the Patron Saint of Money, a celestial visit.
Long for someone and they don't even know you're alive? Saint Martha is the Patron Saint of attracting love.
Parents just don't understand? Well, for all your general teenage issue requests, you're always covered with Saint Aloysius, the Patron Saint of Teenagers.
Have a face only a mother can love? No need for painful, expensive plastic surgery, Saint Drogo, the Patron Saint of Unattractive People, will help you for FREE.
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