Moses the Black vs. Raymond Nonnatus

Today the Saintly Sixteen continues as Moses the Black faces Raymond Nonnatus and legends abound! These two fascinating souls have much to teach us about non-violence, passing judgment, and idle gossip. Yet only one will make it to the next round.

To make it this far, both saints vanquished Johns as Raymond routed John of Nepomuk while Moses took it to John Wycliffe. Is this tidbit a harbinger of saintly things to come? Probably not.

Yesterday, Mechtild of Magdeburg secured her place in the Elate Eight 52% to 48% by holding off a late charge by Odo of Cluny.

In case you missed yesterday's episode of Monday Madness, in which Tim and Scott offer a rare glimpse behind the SEC's purple curtain, you can watch it here.

And finally, Episcopal News Service scored a journalistic coup by gaining an exclusive interview with both members of the SEC. Read the Q & A under the title Lent Madness Duo Shines Competitive Spotlight On Saints' Inspiring Stories. And thanks to you all for being a part of the ever-unfolding Madness this year!

Moses the Black

To paraphrase an ancient biographer, to the degree that Moses was a wayward soul, so great also his virtue. Moses is remembered as a thief and a murderer, a marauder and a womanizer. The ancient hagiographer Laurence remarked that Moses was “unrivaled for cruelty.” Another described him as “vulgar and worthless.”

“Spurred by some crisis,” Palladius tells us, Moses traveled to the monastery in Skete and was received by the monks there. Moses gave himself entirely to ascetic practices, training his body to be a pure temple. At night Moses especially struggled with temptation. First he tried to avoid sleeping. When this was ineffective, Moses began using the night to go fetch water for the other monks. He would walk as far as two miles to fill his jug to bring water back to the brothers. Serving the community in this way he found strength to resist temptation. It was not without cost, however. He had already denied his body excessive food and was traveling many miles each night. One evening he collapsed at the well, weary from the physical toll (ancient sources recount how he collapsed after a fierce struggle with the devil). His brothers found him and brought him back to the monastery. It took over a year for him to recover.

With such discipline, Moses grew to the point where he no longer struggled with temptation. Palladius gives us the memorable line that “we are more afraid of flies than he of demons.” Previously Moses was a formidable specimen who would take what he wanted with brute force. Now he was a model of hospitality, kindness, and nonviolence.

One story tells of how the monks at Skete were ordered to observe a fast for a week. That same week some brothers from Egypt came to visit Moses. Moses prepared for them a small cooked meal. The neighbors saw the smoke rising as Moses cooked and complained to the clerics. The following weekend, the clerics called Moses to stand in front of the community and pronounced, “O Father Moses, you have broken the command of men but observed that of God.”

One of Moses’ highest values was to avoid judging others. We have already seen how he refused to pass judgment on a brother by carrying a leaking basket to the meeting. Moses is remembered as saying, “If we are able to see our own faults, we will not see the faults of our neighbors. For it is folly for someone what has their own dead to leave it and to go and weep over their neighbor’s dead. To die to one’s neighbor is this, to bear one’s own faults and to be unconcerned about every person, that this one is good and that one is bad.”

Moses died with six other monks peacefully protecting the monastery from invaders. His pleas for conversion went unheeded. When he died a witness reported seeing a crown from heaven descend upon him. His body is honored at the Virgin Mary's Coptic Orthodox Monastery of El-Baramous in Egypt.

-- David Creech

Raymond Nonnatus

As was recounted in Round One, Raymond Nonnatus was so named because of the traumatic circumstances surrounding his birth. According to legend, his father, a local count, used a sword to perform a rudimentary caesarean section on his mother, who had already died thus rendering him “not-born.”

Raymond spent his earthly ministry among an order of monks who took a special vow to ransom enslaved people. While in Tunis, trading himself for some 28 slaves, Raymond ran afoul of the city authorities, who took a serious dislike to his preaching. They bored a hot poker through his lips and padlocked his mouth shut. For this reason, Raymond is invoked not only by mothers in labor, but also by priests trying to preserve the seal of the confessional, and those wishing to stop harmful gossip.

There is also a legend that Raymond had been made a cardinal when he died, and so was on his way to Rome for the ceremony. For this reason, he is often depicted in a cardinal’s outfit, in red and white robes, complete with his mouth locked shut. While selecting a cardinal who cannot speak does seem like an excellent pick, it also seems like this tradition conflates Raymond with someone else. Poor Raymond died without ever being a cardinal.

Along with being the patron saint of a popular English costume drama, devotion to Raymond Nonnatus is especially widespread in Latin America. Because of Spanish colonization, massive festivals to the saint are found all over the Spanish-speaking world, with their own unique contributions. In Costa Rica, the festival includes a three-hour long parade of oxen and cowboys -- presumably to commemorate the blind ox that carried the saint’s body, and his early life as a farmhand. The high point of the festival is when 30 other statues of San Ramon are processed in from around the country to have a saintly family reunion.

Raymond’s padlock has also given rise to another ritual, which has taken off at the cathedral in Mexico City. If you want to stop a particularly slanderous rumor about yourself, you go to an altar of Raymond Nonnatus, place a padlock upon it, and place the key to the padlock in the saint’s piggy bank, so the mouth of the slanderer is forever in the saint’s control. Then seat yourself in full view of the congregation, so everyone can gaze upon your spotless conscience, and feel properly chastened! Writing a plea to the saint and placing it on the padlock is also popular.

— Megan Castellan

Moses the Black vs. Raymond Nonnatus

  • Raymond Nonnatus (51%, 3,663 Votes)
  • Moses the Black (49%, 3,478 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,141

Loading ... Loading ...

Moses the Black Image:

Raymond Nonnatus: By Follower Of Eugenio Cajes - [1], Public Domain,


* indicates required

Recent Posts



147 comments on “Moses the Black vs. Raymond Nonnatus”

  1. Remember Raymond is the one who sold himself into slavery to ransom others. That gets lost in today's interesting side stories.

  2. Raymond's padlocked mouth is a clear message to me, a professional public speaker. Moses deserves sainthood, but his demons do not relate to my verbal not vicious sins.

    1. Yes! 'Moses is remembered as a thief and a murderer, a marauder, “unrivaled for cruelty,” “vulgar and worthless,”!' So there's space in God's kingdom for me, too!

  3. Moses the Black I voted for. Nice to to see one of the ancient monastics.

  4. Hymn for Moses the Black and Raymond Nonnatus
    Tune: Old 124th, Hymnal ’82, 404, We will extol you, ever blessed Lord

    We will extol you, ever blessed Lord
    For your amazing saints be e’re adored.
    Moses and Raymond each found ways to be
    Servants to others, servants thus to thee.
    Led by your Spirit; so also may we.

    Moses could fight and rob with great aplomb;
    But found his truest battle was within.
    Through prayer and meditation he was formed
    To lead in peace; hospitable and kind.
    And from all judgment; others he’d unbind.

    Raymond the ransomer was brave and true.
    Ran out of money, gave himself anew.
    Converted many through fine preaching so
    His lips were padlocked; yet love still shone through.
    Thus may all preachers excess words eschew.

    Two saints renowned each came through heavy strife.
    We can learn from them gracious, loving life.
    Through grace can learn to conquer inward fights;
    Through grace can give ourselves, be gentle lights.
    Whom shall we vote for, for the halo bright?

    1. "Through grace can learn to conquer inward fights;
      Through grace can give ourselves, be gentle lights."

    2. "Thus may all preachers excess words eschew." Fortunately, our priest already does this.

    3. Can some of your hymns be included in the next edition of the Hymnbook? Revisions happen every 40 years or so, next round should be coming up soon.

  5. Two GREAT accounts. Moses' path is of redemption, work to convert others who led a life of similar evils, and to finally have his life ended by those of the evil lifestyle that he left behind. Poetic, circular, symmetrical, no disrespect to Ray, but Mo gets my vote today.

  6. Nonnatus was my favorite the last time he came up for a vote, and he's still my favorite this time. Moses the Black is a tremendous inspiration for those struggling with temptations, but Nonnatus seemed to have already mastered the art of denying oneself (or being denied): He sold himself into slavery to free others, and he lived most of his life with his mouth locked shut. Though, I wonder how he managed to eat?

  7. Went purely with my gut on this one. Although I must admit the image of Raymond with his padlocked mouth is stomach-turning, so that could be a reason. Anyway, I voted for Moses.

    1. I had a similar reaction to the bloody birth, life, and death of Raymond in the first round and tried to turn back to him through this round's quirks and quotes. Nope.

      Moses, although also replete with violence about him all his life, still strikes me as the most deserving of a saintly crown.

  8. I liked the story of fixing the slander spreading speaker by placing a padlock on the altar and the key in the saint's piggy bank. This would be a helpful cure for the spreaders of fake news today.
    In honor of my granddaughter Kathryn as Rosalind in "As You Like It" next month, I cast my vote for the "Patron Saint of a popular English Costume Drama."

  9. Especially difficult match today. I voted for both in previous rounds. In the end I opted for Moses in thanksgiving for a former tutor, a lovely Coptic Christian who introduced me to the Desert Father's, and who was inspiring and challenging in equal measure.

  10. The story of Moses' transformation speaks to me, especially because it was so complete. He was humble and he knew that the law of love is greater than human laws. I love that he fought temptation by serving his fellow monks. I have Moses for the Golden Halo!

    1. Ann, I'm also rooting for Moses to win the Halo. His love for others, his gentleness, and his pacifism has always endeared him to me. It's the supreme irony that Moses, the martyr of nonviolence, shares a Feast date (August 28) with Augustine of Hippo, proponent of the just war theory.

  11. Thanks for the wonderful hymn. Being from a former Slave State, gotta go for Raymond today. Please remind me where to easily find the original story of each Saint. Thanks.

  12. This one is tough, but Sam Ramon has had more of the spotlight over the years it seems, so I'm voting for Moses the Ethiopian.

  13. Take a look at that picture of Moses, the guy is downright scary! Plus Raymond gave himself in exchange for all those slaves. I also like the angels gathered around after apparently performing that caesarian the thought of which is enough to make me wince.

    1. Moses immediately reminded me of St Jerome - not that Jerome was a reformed reprobate, but that he could be vicious in disputation and was reputed to be a mean old crank. So I've always thought that if a vituperative old codger could be a saint - and a Doctor of the Church, no less - there's hope for the rest of us. Moses' story repeats that idea on a more dramatic scale.

  14. Today as I walked into school, I told myself that I was going to engage in gossip or general snarkiness. With that being said, going for Raymond today.

  15. Popular customs in Latin America regarding Raymond/Ramon carried the day for me. In my home I'm surrounded by reminders of such write-a-message-and-leave-it-with-an-image from several traditions (I believe I first learned about them from Sir George Fraser's "Golden Bough," a very potent life-changing book from my late teen years. Signing off for now--it's time to change the messages on my collection of padlocks!

  16. Voted for Moses because of reforming his life...I do prison ministry so I believe people who do bad things can be redeemed. But did like Raymond too because in El Salvador belonged to San Ramon church...never saw a family reunion of San Ramon statues though.

  17. How many of us can see bits of Moses's life in our own...even the simple 'judging of others'...
    his life shows there is ALWAYS hope for earthly redemption....

  18. Raymond Nonnatus gets my vote. He offered his life to ransom others, and he watches over expectant mothers. How much more saintly can one get?

  19. Why I voted for Raymond Nonnatus:

    1. Traded himself to free 28 slaves. I shouldn't need to go on, but I shall.
    2. Costa Rica loves him. I love Costa Rica. Therefore, I should love Raymond Nonnatus.
    3. The padlock ritual in Mexico City. Thinking about instituting it here.
    4. Call the Midwife.

  20. A hard choice today, but with my own leaky bucket in hand, I say it's Moses, Moses, Moses, who trudged through dark nights of the soul and finally laid down his life for his fellows.

      1. Chances are, Oliver and his family are away for Spring Break. Actually, none of our younger commenters have been posting lately, and I'd guess it's for the same reason.

        1. I don't know, our Oliver has been missing since the Great Multiplying of the Olivers scandal several weeks ago.

  21. Both, as usual, very compelling but Raymond's dedication to freeing slaves is what got me.