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 (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 contemporary times. Christina receives attention today for the strange descriptions of her miracles as much as for her faith. Her memorial day is 24 July.
Born a peasant, Christina was orphaned at age 15. She is said to have suffered a massive seizure when she was in her early 20s. 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. "She levitated up to the rafters, later explaining that she could not bear the smell of the sinful people there. Then "[t]he astonishment increased when they learned from her own mouth what had happened to her after her death."
She related that she had witnessed Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. It is written that she said, "As soon as my soul was separated from my body it was received by angels who conducted it to a very gloomy place, entirely filled with souls" where the torments there that they endured "appeared so excessive" that it was "impossible to give an idea of their rigor."
I saw among them many of my acquaintances" and, touched deeply by their sad condition, asked if this was Hell, but was told that it was Purgatory. Her angel guides brought her to Hell where again she recognized those she had formerly known. Next she was transported to Heaven, "even to the Throne of Divine Majesty" where she was "regarded with a favorable eye" and she experienced extreme joy and these words were spoken to her, " Assuredly, My dear daughter, you will one day be with Me. Now, however, I allow you to choose, either to remain with Me henceforth from this time, or to return again to Earth to accomplish a mission of charity and suffering. In order to deliver from the flames of Purgatory those souls which have inspired you with so much compassion, you shall suffer for them upon Earth: you shall endure great torments, without however dying from their effects. And not only will you relieve the departed, but the example which you will give to the living, and your continual suffering, will lead sinners to be converted and to expiate their crimes. After having ended this new life, you shall return here laden with merits.
Christina, at hearing this and "seeing the great advantages for souls" without hesitation she 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 and that none should be astonished at the penances that she would practice, nor the life that she would lead hence forth, she is quoted as saying, "It will be so extraordinary that nothing like it has ever been seen." Making penances for the souls of Purgatory and Hell would henceforth become a major theme in her life.
Christina immediately commenced the work for which she believed she had been sent by God, renouncing all comforts of life, reducing herself to extreme destitution, she lived without home or hearth, and not content with privations she eagerly sought all that could cause her suffering.
As chronicled by her contemporaries, especially Thomas of Cantimpré, then a canon regular who was a noted professor of theology, and Cardinal Jacques de Vitry, who met with her, 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.
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.
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, with images by Peter Hay.
- Christina is the subject of a school pageant in an episode of the Showtime television series, Nurse Jackie; the episode is entitled "The Astonishing." 
- Christina is the subject of the e-novel Mirabilis by Teresa Turner Chang.
- Christina is the subject of the short story collection The Future Manifestations of Saint Christina the Astonishing
- Saint Christina the Astonishing at the Patron Saint Index
- 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
- Published anonymously (2012). The Future Manifestations of Saint Christina the Astonishing. Opposite Books. ISBN 978-1-4763-1445-7.
- 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.