Christina the Astonishing
|Christina the Astonishing|
Brustem, County of Loon
|Died||24 July 1224
Sint-Truiden, County of Loon
|Patronage||millers, people with mental disorders, mental health workers|
Christina the Astonishing (c.1150 – 24 July 1224), also known as Christina Mirabilis, was a Christian holy-woman born in Brustem (near Sint-Truiden, Belgium). She was considered a saint in her own time. Christina receives attention today for the strange descriptions of her miracles as much as for her faith. Her memorial day is 24 July.
Christina was the youngest of three daughters. After being orphaned at the age of fifteen, she worked taking the herds to pasture. She is said to have suffered a massive seizure when she was in her early 20s. Butler described it as a cataleptic fit. According to the story, her condition was so severe that witnesses assumed she had died. A funeral was held, but during the service, she arose full of vigor, stupefying with amazement the whole city of Sint-Truiden, which had witnessed this wonder. The astonishment increased when they learned from her what had happened to her after her supposed death.
She related that she had witnessed Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. She said that as soon as her soul was separated from her body, angels conducted it to a very gloomy place, entirely filled with souls where the torments there that they endured that it was impossible to describe. She claimed that she had been offered a choice either to remain with in heaven or return to earth to perform penance to deliver souls from the flames of Purgatory. Christina agreed to return to life and arose that same moment. She told those around her that for the sole purpose of relief of the departed and conversion of sinners did she return.
Christina renounced all comforts of life, reduced herself to extreme destitution, dressed in rags, lived without home or hearth, and not content with privations she eagerly sought all that could cause her suffering. At first, she fled human contact; and suspected of being possessed, was jailed. Upon her release, she took up the practice of extreme penance.
Thomas of Cantimpré, then a canon regular who was a professor of theology, wrote a report eight years after her death, based on accounts of those who knew her. Cardinal Jacques de Vitry, who met with her, said that she would throw herself into burning furnaces and there suffered great tortures for extended times, uttering frightful cries, yet coming forth with no sign of burns upon her. In winter she would plunge into the frozen Meuse River for hours and even days and weeks at a time, all the while praying to God and imploring God's mercy. She sometimes allowed herself to be carried by the currents downriver to a mill where the wheel "whirled her round in a manner frightful to behold," yet she never suffered any dislocations or broken bones. She was chased by dogs which bit and tore her flesh. She would run from them into thickets of thorns, and, though covered in blood, she would return with no wound or scar.
After being incarcerated a second time, she moderated her approach somewhat, upon her release. Christina died at the Dominican Monastery of Saint Catherine in Sint-Truiden, of natural causes, aged 74. The prioress there later testified that, despite her behavior, Christina would humbly and fully obey any command given her by the prioress.
No less interesting than Christina's behavior is how her hagiographers interpreted it. Modern scholarly opinion has generally held that Christina's Vita is an example of credulous medieval superstition. Robert Sweetman contends that Christina's idiosyncratic life has taken as "outsized place" in the scholarly study of Medieval womens' spirituality.
Prayers are traditionally said to Christina to seek her intercession for millers, those suffering from mental illness and mental health workers.
- Christina's story inspired the Nick Cave song "Christina the Astonishing", from the album Henry's Dream.
- Poets Jane Draycott and Lesley Saunders re-told her story in their collection Christina the Astonishing.
- Christina is the subject of a school pageant in an episode of the Showtime television series, Nurse Jackie; the episode is entitled "The Astonishing." 
- Sweetman, Robert. "Christina the Astonishing", Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia, Margaret Schaus, ed., Taylor & Francis, 2006, ISBN 9780415969444
- Dickens, Andrea Janelle. Female Mystic: Great Women Thinkers of the Middle Ages, I.B.Tauris, 2009, ISBN 9780857712615
- Medieval Writings on Female Spirituality, Elizabeth Spearing, ed., Penguin, 2002, ISBN 9781440633409
- Draycott, Jane; Leslie Saunders, Peter Hay (ills.) (1998). Christina the Astonishing. Two Rivers Press. ISBN 978-1-901677-07-2.
- Nurse Jackie, season 3, episode 8
- Thomas de Cantimpré, The Life of Christina the Astonishing. Ed. Margot H. King. Toronto, 1999. ISBN 0-920669-44-1
- Medieval Saints: A Reader. Ed. Mary-Ann Stouck. Toronto, 1999. ISBN 1-55111-101-2.
- Jennifer M. Brown, Three Women of Liège: A Critical Edition and Commentary on the Middle English Lives of Elizabeth of Spalbeek, Christina Mirabilis, and Marie d'Oignies. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009. ISBN 978-2-503-52471-9.