Thecla vs. Francis of Assisi

And then there were eight. We started with 32 saints and 3/4 of them have been sent packing. Welcome, friends, to the Elate Eight. Things kick off with Thecla taking on Francis of Assisi. To make it to this point, Thecla defeated John Keble and Brendan the Navigator while Francis of Assisi beat John Wycliffe and Cecilia. (Elate Eight Bonus: click on the names of vanquished foes to refresh your memory by reading the write-ups from previous rounds).

Yesterday, Egeria defeated Thomas Ken 54% to 46% to nab the final spot. After today's battle, it's Brigid of Kildare vs. Kamehameha, Bernard Mizeki vs. Molly Brant, and Frederick Douglass vs. Egeria. One of these eight will be awarded the coveted 2015 Golden Halo!

This round is also known as the Saintly Kitsch round. After basic biographies, quotes and quirks, what else could there be? There are always some folks who take offense to this approach — we call them Kitsch Kranks. This round is not meant to belittle or demean our saintly heroes but to have some fun and gaze in wide wonder at the breadth of devotional practice. So kindly relax and enjoy the spirit of the Madness as we push ever onward toward our goal.

Finally, if you want to know more about, and see some examples of, saintly kitsch, tune in to this week's episode of Monday Madness in which Scott and Tim also reveal why Lent Madness is the Original Saintly Smackdown©.


You may anticipate, Lent Madness reader, that Thecla – proclaimed as an “Equal-to-the-Apostles” and honored as a saint since the time of the early church – would be devoid of saintly kitsch. All hope would seem to be lost, especially when paired against Saint Francis, the saint whose face inspired a thousand birdbaths. With Thecla being most highly venerated in Eastern Christianity – a tradition not particularly known for turning its saints into garden gnomes – some kitsch would, it seem, be missing for Thecla in this round of Lent Madness.

thecla-totebagBut that, dear friends, is why Zazzle and Etsy exist. Truly, it seems, there is no member of the communion of saints beyond plastering on a tote bag. Thecla, revered for her own self-denial, may have travelled light, following in the footsteps of Saint Paul, but that won’t prevent her from helping you carry home your latest purchases from the supermarket in this sophisticated canvas tote bag.

Yet, something, it seems, is still missing. Thecla was put on trial and condemned for thecla-jellybeansrefusing to renounce her faith in Jesus Christ, the true and living bread. Thecla could have tasted death – but was delivered by God each time. While remembering her trials, you, dear reader, can think of the sweetness of God’s deliverance with a free batch of St. Thecla jelly beans!

thecla-mugYet, dear reader, I still sense something missing. Two different cities tried to put Thecla to death for her faith in Jesus Christ. Twice, she was delivered. One can only expect that the rulers of these cities were left asking one another if they “Got Thecla?” as they drank their morning coffee. The answer: no. God always delivered her.

Yet something, it seems, is still missing. The Acts of Paul and Thecla recount wild beasts being struck dead to spare Thecla from martyrdom, but evidently, modern day stuffed beasts haven’t gotten the message. These tigers, bears, horses and moose are big Thecla fans, and want you to vote for her today. They even have the t-shirts to prove it. Talk about rooting against their own self-interest.thecla-stuffedanimals

seal-chesspieceAlas, something, it seems, is still lacking -- one key and memorable piece of Thecla’s story. We become Christians through Holy Baptism, and the words of the liturgy remind us that we through that sacrament, we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.” And, dear reader, we know that Thecla, like few others, can claim to be seal-ed in baptism, since she baptized herself in a pool of water filled with ravenous sea lions and, yes, loose seals. Yet she was baptized, and was not harmed in any way by these wild beasts – the ravenous sea lions and loose seals did not maul, bite, or harm her – instead, she was baptized in water and delivered. Ultimately, no Thecla kitsch round would be complete without a loose seal. And so, we present one to you now, humbly asking for your vote.

David Sibley

Francis of Assisi

StFrancisGrottoBirdBath100GKC090Faithful Lent Madness readers, Francis, whose life and ministry preached the Gospel both with and without words, gives us such a rich tapestry of love, faith, and adventures that the kitsch is most certainly strong with this one. Sure, he didn’t hang with someone named Paul in the New Testament, but his feast day ups most average Sunday attendance figures if clergy count the two and four-legged souls in church at the Blessing of the Animals.

After all, not every saint has the gravitas or the holy presence to be the final perfect touch for a garden. This particular birdbath captures Francis in the holy position of orans, blessing the water and birdseed for the very birds who set quite the high standard for a flock listening to a sermon. Squirrels, a lamb, a wolf, and bunnies listen in rapt attention. Bunnies. Bunnies loved this man!

i_love_st_francis_south_dakota_bag-rddff6c89dd9d4872a9ad9584455188f1_ftm1h_8byvr_324Francis lived a life of extreme poverty and asked his community to do the same. While not all of us are called to a life of holy vows of poverty, we are all called to remember that less is often more. Remember one of the Franciscan rules by downsizing your baggage with this small purse. Emblazoned with a reminder of our favorite saint, it is just roomy enough for essentials, asking us to leave our extra baggage behind.

st_francis_of_assisi_mouse_pad-rad5636dfcc47472e908f4325c1c0492d_x74vi_8byvr_324Francis’ legacy includes authoring what many consider the first work of literature written in the Italian language, the stunning Canticle of the Sun. In it, all of Creation praises God. While working at our desks, we can be reminded to stop occasionally and join Creation in praising God with this psychedelic mousepad featuring Francis and a unicorn. Bunnies AND unicorns loved Francis! He surely has their votes.

Some saints may try to sway your vote by name dropping their association with certain early il_570xN.729938158_66k5church bigwigs, but Francis just wants us to know that we are all loved. Francis’ compassion and kindness are mentioned with frequency by those who knew him or knew people who knew him. So when you have one of those days where nothing seems to go your way, fix a warm cup of cocoa and snuggle with this St. Francis doll to remind yourself that you, too, are part of God’s beloved creation.

WerewolfFrancis lived a faithful, adventurous life, and the stories of Francis are many. We cannot, however, forget one of his more dramatic encounters, with the Wolf of Gubbio. The ravenous wolf was terrorizing the town, making livestock and citizens the daily lunch specials. The town’s bravest men went to kill the wolf. Armed with their pitchforks and swords, they charged at the wolf, only to become more casualties. The townspeople were terrified of the wolf. They would look out their windows each night and see this. Horror!

Francis, hearing about their plight, took pity upon the townsfolk and the wolf. Francis went to meet the wolf, armed only with his fc,550x550,baby_bluelove and faith. The wolf charged at Francis, and Francis responded by making the Sign of the Cross and saying, “Brother Wolf, in the name of Christ, I order you not to hurt anyone.” Guided by Francis, the wolf and the townspeople made peace and lived in harmony.

So, in honor of Francis, who made ravenous wolves hold hands with children and who reminds us that everything can nudge us to remember the love of God, even questionably decorated mousepads, we humbly ask for your vote.

Laurie Brock


Thecla vs. Francis of Assisi

  • Francis of Assisi (71%, 4,142 Votes)
  • Thecla (29%, 1,728 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,870

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182 comments on “Thecla vs. Francis of Assisi”

  1. St. Francis has indeed inspired some great kitsch, but please don't think of him in those terms alone. Both the extraordinary facts of his life and the lovely (albeit too "sentimental" for the taste of some) myths surrounding it have served as a source of profound and life-changing inspiration for countless people through the centuries. It is easy to be blinded by one's distaste for the kind of saintly kitsch and "sentimentality" St. Francis has inspired-- push past that and you may be surprised by what you will discover.

    1. I believe the "kitsch" portion of Lent Madness is all in good fun and not to promote our thoughts on any saint in one way or another since we covered bio and other aspects of saintliness in previous rounds. I voted for both of these saints, but I remained with Thecla since women's contribution to the early church has not been sufficiently written into history. She is a significant person and deserves her righteous place as a fully recognized influence on the very earliest days of Christendom. St. Francis has already achieved this status, and I could not agree with you more about his merit. My bookshelf reflects my devotion and admiration in the Franciscan direction. However, Thecla is largely unrecognized, and I only heard of her through Lent Madness, and she emerged as a champion of the faith and as a significant purveyor of the Gospel long before Francis was on the scene. Many times women are not sufficiently written into history since they do not enjoy the attention and traditional influence of men, and thus I adhere to my support of Thecla.

  2. This was a no brainier, St. Francis who shows us all how to treat not just animals but all of God's creation, gets my vote

  3. I voted for the thecla because everyone votes for st. Francis. And she almost died from fires and lions.

    1. And there's Oliver! And right again, at least at this stage — almost everyone votes for Francis. I would love some Thecla jelly beans though. After Lent of course.

    2. How can I stand against the most popular poster on this website. For you, Oliver, I too cast my vote for Thecla. Can you lead us to the greatest upset ever?

    3. Joining in Oliver's band of voting for the less-known saint. After all, learning about saints is what Lent Madness is all--OK, mainly--about.

    4. Me too, Oliver, and I love it that you've been faithful to Lent Madness and hope you have learned a great deal about our Communion of Saints that we mention in the creeds. You make me happy every day when I see your comments. Theca NEEDS recognition as a woman who has not been recognized enough for her devotion to Jesus in the earliest days of Christianity. Thanks for your vote! GOOOOO Thecla!

  4. If you are ever as fortunate as I was to make the trip to Assisi, the entire town offers lots and lots of Francis-themed kitsch. Some of it is very tasteful; others, not so much.

    1. Why is everyone making this so MUCH about the quality of "kitsch" when we should see that significant lead for the Thecla piece: "proclaimed as an “Equal-to-the-Apostles” and honored as a saint since the time of the early church" Let's boost votes for her and recognize her, as St. Francis has already and rightfully recognized, as a significant player in our caravan of ancestors who brought us to this moment. The kitsch is totally fun, and yet that's not the full point, is it? VOTE FOR THECLA!

    1. Theccla's kitsch made it a close call... but I had to vote for Francis. So very sorry. I just have terrible problems with the seals. In time, and perhaps in spirit, Theccla may be closer to Jesus, but I'm also inspired by people closer in time to me.

      1. had to love the seal-ed in baptism. don't know if i will ever be able to keep a straight face when i say that in the future

        1. I usually cry during Baptisms/Renewal of Baptismal vows... I fear some hysterical mixture of that and giggles when I renew in May! Oh, dear!

        2. I think that was one of the most memorable puns the Celebrity Bloggers have come up with.

          1. Agreed! If not THE most memorable! Except, of course, you won't get it, if it's said; it has to be written! I'm glad to see Oliver is a person of principle but I voted for Francis. Sorry, Oliver!

    1. I agree; the celebrity bloggers outdid themselves today. I love the play on the word "seal" in Thecla's write-up. The comments are great, too (i.e., Francis and Clare Underwood vs. Assisi - I never would've made that connection!)

    2. Amen to that! This is the best kitsch round ever! I laughed so loud I scared my cats. So, with apologies to them--- and in spite of Thecla's plush forest minions, misspelled mug, and adorable loose seal--I cast my vote for St. Francis of the Holly Hobbie-inspired couch doll, with his army of psychadelic unicorns, evangelistic bunnies, and repentant wolves. Celebrity Bloggers, good on you both!

  5. Though I was planning to vote for Francis anyway, the fact that bunnies AND unicorns loved him pushed me over the top.

    His was a disarming character, all right. May we all lay down our weapons -- our anxiety and need to be right -- and instead fling wide our embrace of welcome!

    1. Ah yes! Disarming. Even with all the frivolity, this phrase is moving. And somehow there's a balance. The animals and fierce humans laid aside their ferocity in the face of Thecla's faith and God's fierce love. They gave of self (willingly or not) for her and for God. And Francis disarmed himself, laying aside the wealth and power of his family, he gave of self for "all his relations" - brother/sister creatures and for God. Welcome seals and wolves, Thecla and Francis! As for voting...... well.....

    2. But Francis already has earned his own very well-deserved recognition, and Thecla, a woman who served the earliest days of Christianity, has not been recognized as she well deserves! VOTE FOR THECLA! Women were almost invisible back in the earliest days for a variety of reasons, and yet Thecla overcame blocks and achieved greatness as proclaimed as an “Equal-to-the-Apostles.” My bookshelf overflows with St. Francis who I adore in deeply heartfelt ways, but let's give Thecla her due and move her from obscurity. I had never even heard of her until this year, and I am grateful for that.

    1. I once heard of an Easter communion service (not TEC mind you) that used coke and jelly beans. Vote Thecla.

      1. Uh, Coca-Cola, right? 🙂 SEC, please accept my apologies if this type of joking around is not allowed!

  6. Just right, it is a no brainer for me. But yet I love the Thecla kitsch. Today I don't need Oliver's commentary to know who to vote for but I will be looking for his words of wisdom as the day progresses.

  7. I'm going with Fluttershy (the yellow animal-loving pegasus from My Little Pony) on this one. She and Francis would've been great friends.

  8. The case of St. Francis and his kitsch actually provides us with substantive food for thought: To what extent are "sentimental" expressions of popular piety, on the one hand, and expressions of what we tend to perceive as "deeper," more genuine spiritual engagement, on the other, necessarily diametrically opposed? Can "sentimental" popular piety be a stepping stone to "deeper" spirituality? Can a genuinely "deep" spirituality be tinged with some "sentimentality" and still be "deep"? To what extent are these distinctions, or perceived distinctions, just expressions of the class, education and culture of the individual believer? etc. The countless kitsch-sellers and jaw-droppingly tacky commercialization of Lourdes, for example, have not prevented hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from having a genuinely "deep" experience there.

    Merton, writing about the Sacred Heart (a popular devotion often accused of "sentimentality"), has something interesting to say on the subject:

    " [...] there really is an abyss of light in the things the simplest faithful believe and love, and that sometimes seems trite to the intellectuals. Indeed, perhaps it is the simplest and most popular truths that are also the deepest after all."

    1. Yes! Thanks for this. I needed to be thus humbled. A lovely novel on this theme is Maeve Binchy's "Whitethorn Woods".

  9. Go, Oliver! I'm voting for Thekla for sure. Love the "Got Thekla?" mug, the jellybeans, and, of course, that ravenous seal! But kudos, Laurie, for finding that coaster--it's a hoot!

  10. "This core Christ identity was made into a worthiness contest, or a moral contest, at which almost no one wins and so most do not even try. Francis and Clare (of Assisi, I'm assuming, not Underwood) undid the whole contest by rejoicing in their ordinariness and seeming unworthiness..." Fr. Richard Rohr in Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (parens mine, which I hope is obvious). So, beyond the rich irony of voting for Francis in a contest at all (and with a tip of my San Diego Padres baseball cap to Oliver), Francis gets my vote for his example and challenge to live life in Christ far beyond the birdbath.

    1. Haha! Francis Underwood! I also think "Beyond The Birdbath" would make a great title for something.

        1. And here I thought I was being so clever! Nothing new under the sun, eh? Thanks for the link!

    2. i almost swayed to Thecla just because of what a great job David did with the kitsch. Well done. but ultimately I had to vote for one of my all time favorite saints.

      1. St. Francis, like Theresa of Avila (and Ignatius of Loyola) are my tippy-top faves, but I went with Thecla because she deserves her spot as a woman who was devoted to Jesus in the earliest days of Christianity while St. Francis is already highly recognized.

  11. Even though I would love to see Saint Francis win the Golden Halo, I cast my vote today for Thecla in gratitude for her story as "One-Equal-to-the-Apostles."

    1. Me too, Patrice! It is not often that one learns about a woman in the earliest days of Christianity who was "One-Equal-to-the-Apostles," and as much as I love St. Francis, I am sticking with Thecla too!

    2. Just looked at the registration cost for Beyond the Birdbath at $150, I won if st Francis would much appreciate the sharing of his spirituality at what seems like a usury price for the elites who can afford it.

  12. I prefer the Thecla coffee travel mug. How amazing those Australians are to have so much Thecla kitsch.

  13. I just discovered that I made an egregious error in the spelling of "brainer" for this I ask the Supreme Executive to pardon me! And while I have their attention I have a recommendation for the 2016 contest.
    I have just finished teaching about the Nanjing Genocide of 1937-38. I am requesting that you consider Miss. Minnie Vaurtrin, who is considered a "Living Goddess" by the Chinese People of Nanjing in her efforts to protect innocent civilians from the deprivations of the Imperial Japanese Army. I humbly ask the Supreme Executive to check out this courageous women s deeds in China.

  14. Sticking with Thecla, the Apostle, even though Francis will win. You go, girl! The kitsch was great for both but "sealed" by the Spirit in Baptism sealed it for me!

  15. Francis, the saint that intentionally lived in poverty and without posessions is probably the undisputed king of kitsch. Love the irony of it all and he wins my vote again.

  16. Words of wisdom Rodger Patience. I had great fun in January sitting on a tree stump, on the top of a mountain, overlooking Lake Tahoe, a little fatigued, wearing snowshoes; whereupon I filled my hands with birdseed and stretched out my wondering arms. You can guess the rest. Absolutely joyful! If I were a better techie I would paste the nice pic as my profile! Humbly of course.
    Meanwhile, I ADORE that adorable rag doll!! 🙂

  17. I have always had a strong connection with St.Francis. Heck, my grandfather was George Francis, and my mom was Frances Marie. However, I resonated with Thecla in this series to the extent that I felt compelled to vote for her. And, I agree with my friend Sylvia Vazquez....Thecla has way better kitsch.

  18. Having always thought of seals as gentle, amusing creatures, Thecla's story changed them to "ravenous" terrors. While Francis, tamed a truly ravenous wolf and had him hold hands with children. My vote had to go to Francis. As it would have anyway............

  19. Whoa!!! A spelling error on THECLA's coffee mug??! If you buy one, does the good saint miraculously change the "k" into a "c"?