Nicholas of Myra vs. Rudolph of Gubbio

After Monday's cardiac arrest-inducing battle between Pandita Ramabai and Damien of Molokai, it was a bit easier on our Lenten hearts to have a close-but-not-too-close contest to determine the Battle of Rome yesterday. Paula of Rome came out on top, defeating Marcella of Rome 57% to 43% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen, where she'll face Gobnait.

Today, in the 16th and final pairing of the Round of 32, it's the long-anticipated Santa vs. Rudolph Showdown, as Nicholas of Myra faces Rudolph of Gubbio. After this battle is complete, will Nicholas remain jolly with his belly shaking like a bowlful of jelly? Will Rudolph's nose remain bright or will he no longer be allowed to join in any reindeer games? These are the questions of the day as we continue to whittle down the field of saintly souls.

Tomorrow, the Saintly Sixteen begins as Martha of Bethany takes on Nicodemus. But that's a contest for another day. Let's go finish up this first round, shall we?

Nicholas of Myra

nicholasTelling the story of Nicholas presents a unique challenge because of the sheer volume of historical record, legend, facts, and rumors about his life and impact. It is probably impossible to fully untangle the facts from the legends—and perhaps we don’t want to.

The bare facts are these. Nicholas was born in 270 CE to a wealthy Greek Christian family in Asia Minor. Following the loss of his parents, he went on a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine and was likely briefly imprisoned during an outbreak of Christian persecution. On returning from this journey, Nicholas was made the bishop of Myra, and in this role, he likely attended the Council of Nicaea. Nicholas died in 343, and shortly after his death he begins to be venerated for his kindness, generosity, and compassion.

In one of the best-known legends, Nicholas encountered a man with three daughters whose poverty did not allow him to provide them a dowry. Without a dowry, the young women would likely be sold into slavery. And so Nicholas secretly gifted the gold for their dowries—and according to legend, threw the gold through the window whereon it landed on their socks or shoes.

Again and again, the stories of Nicholas’s life come back to this theme of generosity and gift-giving. Whether it is the resurrection of the three youths, sparing the lives of those falsely accused, or returning children to their parents, Nicholas is remembered as the protector of the innocent, especially of children.

Within just a few short generations after Nicholas’s death, churches began to be dedicated to the memory of this kind and generous bishop. As his veneration spread across Europe, the traditions of Saint Nicholas combined with other local traditions, giving us the historical roots for Santa Claus. The remembrance of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker—patron of children, sailors, the falsely accused, and many others— continues to be observed on December 6.

Regardless of where one chooses to draw the line between the history and the legend of Saint Nicholas, his story has inspired generations of faithful women and men to acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion. Nicholas reminds us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and to act on behalf of those who have no defender.

Collect for Nicholas of Myra
Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-David Hansen

Rudolph of Gubbio

Rudolph of Gubbio was born in 1034 just outside of Gubbio, Italy. His father was a feudal lord. When he was about 17 years old, Rudolph encountered Saint Peter Damian and was converted to Christianity. He, along with his mother, now a widow, and brothers, decided to give their castle and possessions to the church. He became a disciple of Saint Peter Damian and joined the Benedictine Order.

While in the monastery, he studied philosophy and theology and excelled in Latin. He became a priest and practiced a rigorous asceticism. Rudolph wore a hair shirt and avoided meat, eggs, and cheese. He slept on a wooden board without blankets. Self-torture was routinely engaged. His body was so weakened by the ascetic practices that he developed a system of ropes to support him as he recited the psalms.

Rudolph’s piety was so well-known that although the church law said he was not yet old enough, Rudolph was made bishop of Gubbio at around age 25. Rudolph reluctantly accepted the charge, but his elevation to bishop did not change his piety. He continued to live humbly and austerely. He would only eat the food that was given to servants. He would often walk barefoot, using wooden clogs only in the winter. As bishop, he paid particular attention to those who were poor and vulnerable. His concern for those in need led one of his biographers to call him a “miracle of unselfishness.”

His long fasts and the severe treatment of his body ultimately took their toll. On October 17, 1066, still in his early 30s, Rudolph died. He was buried in the Cathedral of Gubbio. His body disappeared when the cathedral was renovated in 1670.

Collect for Rudolph of Gubbio
O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Rudolph of Gubbio, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-David Creech

Nicholas of Myra vs. Rudolph of Gubbio

  • Nicholas of Myra (92%, 7,073 Votes)
  • Rudolph of Gubbio (8%, 623 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,696

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Nicholas of Myra: Image: Saint Nicholas, by Jaroslav Čermák (1831 - 1878)
Public Domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jaroslav_Čermák_(1831_-_1878)_-_Sv._Mikuláš.jpg
Rudolph of Gubbio: Illustration by Alexis Fortuna Caoili

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182 comments on “Nicholas of Myra vs. Rudolph of Gubbio”

  1. As a musical tribute, we will honor Nicholas and Rudolph to the tune of that holiday favorite "We Need a Little Christmas" from the Jerry Herman classic, "Mame" - Ho, Ho, Ho!

    Nich’las of Myra
    Went on a pilgrimage and was imprisoned there.
    They made him bishop.
    Helped make Nicaean Council’s bold decisions there, now.

    But we need the Nich’las legends:
    Tales of kids and giving.
    Gifting gold for dowries,
    Raise dead boys now living.
    Yes, we need the Nich’las legends:
    Aid to all the blameless.
    His veneration grows because
    St. Nick is known as Santa Claus, so…

    Let’s turn to Rudolph!
    Met Peter Damien and gave all his wealth away.
    Turned Benedictine.
    They made him bishop though he had too few birthdays, now.

    Rudolph lived as an aesthetic:
    Won’t eat meat, eggs, cheeses;
    Hair shirts and self-torture;
    All of this for Jesus.
    His long fasts and body treatment
    Killed him in mid-thirties.
    Rudolph is so sainted, now.

    Nich’las of Myra:
    The legends of this man made him a well-known saint.
    Rudolph of Gubbio:
    Aesthetic living brought this young man to a faint, now.

    For we have the Nich’las legends.
    Everybody’s talking.
    Gold thrown through the windows
    Ends up in a stocking.
    And, let’s not forget our Rudolph.
    Rigorous aesthetic –
    Tied some ropes onto his arms
    To keep him up while singing psalms.

    So, review their profiles.
    Just one last vote to end the Round of 32.
    Click on the email.
    Follow the voting link. You should know what to do, now.

    For we need to do our voting.
    Need it bold or faintly.
    Need for one to join the
    Sixteen who are Saintly.
    And we need the Golden Halo
    Which will crown our winner.
    Need to have Lent Madness, now!
    Need to have Lent Madness, now!

    1. Oh, my! You outdid yourself today! I can't stop laughing -- such clever lyrics! I'm going to have that tune stuck in my head all day now, you know, and you'll be the one to blame for it, you know. 😉

    2. I had already voted when I read your splendid lyrics, but I sang the words in my head anyway.
      Thank you, Michael, for starting out our days with a song.

  2. My ballot today goes to Nicholas
    Foe of butchers who’d murder and picholas.†
    As we finish Round One
    With our brackets undone,
    May the tale of St. Nicholas ticholas.

    † ”Another famous late legend tells how he resurrected three children, who had been murdered and pickled in brine by a butcher planning to sell them as pork during a famine.”
    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas)

    1. …As an aspiring Lenten poet, I consider this a direct sign of God’s presence in my daily life. 🙂

      1. John Cabot, If your rhymes are a direct sign of God's presence in your daily life, they are a sign of great joy in mine. I read them first and then go read the biographies. Someone who uses words to entertain and enlighten without asterisks to block out the obscenities is wonderful--and unusual. I look at the daily news and then, just when I am considering resigning from the human race, I go to Lenten madness and there you are and Susan Hauser, and Michael Wachter and St. Celia and all the other good people. Thank you.

        1. Oh, Nancy, you are a dear. This community is so important to me; I feel much as you do!

    2. Not just an homage to Nicholas, but a reflection on where we are with the brackets. Nicholas isn't the only one to tickle us! Thank you, John!

    3. I love it love it love it! Do more of those invented rhymes, because they are hilarious!

    4. GROAN, which is the appropriate way to praise a pun.
      Thank you, John, and keep 'em coming.

  3. Inspiration acts of kindness and God's love (caritas or charity) versus wearing a hair shirt. Nicholas all the way!

    1. You really out did yourself today. Love it. Thank you for all your great entertainment during Lent Madness.

  4. I voted for Santa Claus. So far it's 7 to 0. I was not going to vote for Santa, but I cannot support yet another extreme ascetic who died from excessive self-mortification. Actually I didn't vote for Santa but for the legendary (emphasis on "legend") figure who provided a dowry for girls who would otherwise have been sold into slavery. Today's WaPo has a story on (yet another) group of boys who rated girls on their looks. Since that is how Mark Zuckerberg made his start to infamy and fortune (some stories never change, and fortune compensates for lots of infamy), I think it's worth posting the link. The other story is that Individual 1 thinks Puerto Ricans shouldn't get disaster aid. Puerto Ricans are not white enough to count as Americans. So as a vote against misogyny and racism, I seem to be choosing Santa. May children everywhere have education and healthcare and a thriving planet for their future.
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/03/26/teen-boys-rated-their-female-classmates-based-looks-girls-fought-back/?utm_term=.33a489715d15

    1. I can't even read the news anymore; taking a sanity break as I am close to panic attack zone. You may get a kick out of this: My husband says he can't vote for Rudolph, because when he hears "Rudolph," all he can think of is "Giuliani"!

    2. Same here. Self mutilation isn’t sanctity; it’s stupidity. Rudolph was just suicidal. I believe my body is a temple to God and take good care of it. Thanks to Santa for his example if compassion and sharing.

      1. It's so nice to see another Michele with 1 L. We think alike, I could have written your exact statement as that was what I thought. Rudolph only has 6 % 134 votes. It's going to be a landslide today.

        1. My daughter is Hilary with 1 L. She was born in 1988. The 1992 election cursed the spelling of her name for EVER! Even while typing this, I had to fight with autocorrect, which wanted to add a second L.

    3. Thanks for the link, St Celia. I read every word—including the comments from WaPo readers.

      1. furor! Read comments??? Are insane, woman?!?! Only Lent Madness comments are safe to read!

  5. At least according to his LM biography, Rudolph of Gubbio is best known for torturing and starving himself into an early grave. Could this be the most unequal contest ever?

  6. " Rudolph wore a hair shirt and avoided meat, eggs, and cheese. He slept on a wooden board without blankets. Self-torture was routinely engaged....Rudolph’s piety was so well-known ..."
    Sorry, not into this form of self-piety.
    Which will you follow? He who "paid particular attention to those who were poor and vulnerable" by what (mimicking the poor?)- or he who inspires " generations of faithful women and men to acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion."

  7. I had to vote for Nicholas because, well, Santa Claus.
    And my daddy died one year ago today. He was in the Navy so St. Nicholas was his patron saint.

  8. Saint Nicolas, Patron saint of children. An easy vote for this teacher.

    O, grand Saint Nicolas
    Patron des écoliers
    Apportez-moi des pommes
    Dans mon petit panier
    Je serai toujours sage
    Comme un petit mouton
    Je dirai mes prières
    Pour avoir des bonbons
    Venez, venez, Saint Nicolas
    Venez, venez, Saint Nicolas
    Venez, venez, venez Saint Nicolas
    tra la la

  9. A new low in bracketology. St. Nick and Rudolf are a pair, one and inseparable. .
    I can't vote against St. Nicholas, but how will he find his way without Rudolf to guide him?

  10. One of my favorite legends (or is it truth?) about St. Nicholas of Myra is that, when attending the Council of Nicea, he punched out Arius. Makes him more human for me. 🙂

    1. My husband was raised Unitarian, and I am not kindly disposed toward a man who bullied (and possibly poisoned) his theological opponents, whatever his apocryphal association with children. Also not a big fan of self-harm in the name of extreme piety: depriving oneself of food and shelter to which the poor do not have access is one thing, but deliberately destroying one's own body, rather than using it as God intended, is another altogether. Think I'll sit this one out.

  11. Wait a minute — Rudolph of Gubbio was converted to Christianity around 1050? Surely the author meant to say something else. There wasn’t anything an Italian nobleman’s son could have been except a Christian. Or is there some story here?

    1. Maybe he was converted from nominal faith to true faith? Excellent question, Beth!

  12. Nicholas gets my vote. My grandson is a Nicholaus is one reason. I think Rudolf should have taken care of himself and joined a few reindeer games. We are better able to help when we are healthy. I think he wasted his life. This was piety too far. Go Saint Nick Rudolf will not be pulling your sleigh tonight.

  13. Defender of women, children, and the falsely accused; patron of sailors; the inspiration for Santa; paragon of loving kindness; the name on hundreds (thousands?) of local churches and religious communities in multiple traditions throughout the world: that’s impact! Nicholas for the Golden Halo!!

  14. Having attended St. Nicholas’s in Prestbury for midweek services for a time and being concerned about Rudolph’s excesses of asceticism, I vote for Nicholas.

  15. Benjamin Britten’s cantata, St. Nicholas is colorful retelling of the life of the Saint. Rarely performed but so good!

    1. I got the unconcontrollable giggles at a performance of this cantata, having never heard before of the pickled boys. My then-boyfriend, singing in the choir, was not amused.

  16. Had to vote for Nicholas. I think he also the patron saint of barbers. He was known for his charity and compassion for children and poor girls. Something about Rudolph's excessive mortification is 'off-putting.' Even Jesus ate with sinners.

  17. Acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion and the idea that Nicholas reminds us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and to act on behalf of those who have no defender led me to vote for him rather than Rudolph, an ascetic whose piety seems to be pretty extreme and inward facing.

  18. Nicholas is basically the saint of generosity and that spirit has stood ,by God’s Grace ,the test of time .

  19. Methinks Rudolph was not familiar with Matthew 6:1... I suppose Rudolph's asceticism amazed/horrified a lot of people, and maybe back in that day that's what brought people to Christ. But it was with a very disturbing concept of God. Ick.

    Great bios, bloggers; it's a slam-dunk for Nicholas for me.

  20. If Rudolf had taken better care of his body, which was a gift from God, he could have lived longer and done more good for others.

    1. "Verbing" (thank you Calvin) is using a noun ad a verb. So, "verbing" is an example of verbing!

  21. Had to vote for Nicholas. Two reasons 1) close to my last name 2) I cannot vote for someone whose practices weakened his body

  22. Yes, I think it is St Nicholas for me too; starving yourself to get closer to God does not leave energy for good works. Though I'm sure he meant well...And the reality or not of Nicholas's acts of generosity is not the important point, is it? It is that was should see his example and aim to match it.

  23. On behalf of immigrant and refugee children and their families, and all those detained unjustly, we sorely need the spirit of Nicholas of Myra. Can't help but wonder who he'd be tempted to punch out were he among us today!

      1. St. Cecelia, this might be the first time I’ve seen one of the LM Faithful directly link a current event to our saintly contenders. We’re all doing that of course, but specifics aren’t directly discussed in the comments.

        I was glad to see how your contemplation of Nicholas’s gifts and service informed the lense you viewed the politician’s odd, dreadful, miscarriage of Christian piety. Normally, I wouldn’t have seen St. Nicholas as the antidote to xenophobia and now, because of you, I can. Another Lent Madness miracle!

        (Don’t make Santa sad, Rep. Borowicz!)

  24. One saint inspires gifts of chocolates, speculoos cookies, and (for raw-food enthusiasts) oranges while the other models the repudiation of all such pleasures. Too easy for this bon-viveur. My vote is for Saint Nick.

  25. This was an easy choice for me. St. Nicholas is reflected in the Taize hymn 'Ubi Caritas', and was an example of a positive Christian life, attainable for all, because he shows us how we can go about the world doing good in Christ's name without resorting to sitting on pillars in the desert, shivering in caves, or beating ourselves up. While Rudolph may indeed have been one like Nicholas, who cared for the poor and marginalized, his over-the-top self-mortification and dietary limitations overshadow his Christian works . Heretofore, the only thing I knew about Gubbio was the story of St. Francis and the Wolf. Frankly, I much prefer that story to the story of Rudolph.