Martha of Bethany vs. Gobnait

Welcome to the Faithful Four! Over the past few weeks we have whittled down the field from 32 saintly souls to a holy four: Martha of Bethany, Gobnait, Zenaida, and Pandita Ramabai. The spiritual nets have been cut down and one of these four will, in a few short days, be awarded the coveted 2019 Golden Halo.

This marks the first time in Lent Madness history that we have an all-female Faithful Four. This means that at the end of this 10th year of Lent Madness, we will have crowned five male winners and five female winners.

Today it's Martha of Bethany vs. Gobnait. To make it this deep into our little tournament, Martha got past Mary of Bethany, Nicodemus, and Photini, while Gobnait defeated Hrotsvitha, Paula of Rome, and Ignatius of Loyola.

Tomorrow Zenaida will tangle with Pandita Ramabai and then our respective Faithful Four winners will vie for the 2019 Golden Halo on Spy Wednesday, with the winner being crowned at 8:00 am on Maundy Thursday.

Throughout Lent Madness, our saintly heroes have battled via basic bios, quirks and quotes, and event kitsch. In this round, we let our remaining Celebrity Bloggers loose as they answer the question “Why should Saint XX win the Golden Halo?” In other words, they’ve been charged with letting us know why their particular saint is so awesome. We have also invited them to share their two favorite images of their saints. Away we go!

Martha of Bethany

“Martha, Martha.” The chiding comment of Jesus is one of the most familiar in the New Testament. If the story of the parable of action versus contemplation in which she expresses bitterness toward her sister, remains all we know of Martha, then she would hardly be worthy of the Golden Halo. Thankfully, the Christian tradition recorded her importance in the early church as a disciple and leader. The theological imagination of the faithful kept her story alive in both Cypress and France, where the very habits she was chastised for—hospitality and service—were recognized as her spiritual gift and the foundation of her ministry. She was not relegated to the role of “the sister who got it wrong.”

Ever since I began to discern my call to the priesthood and through my priestly formation in seminary, I have wrestled with my active nature, attempting to become more contemplative. I imposed disciplines upon myself and tried many forms of prayer and meditation. Although many principles of contemplative prayer and mindfulness seeped into my way of being, the stillness and quiet never took, and I saw this as a failure. Finally, thanks to my spiritual director, I accepted God has called me to be a Martha, busy with the work of love and service. I should stop painfully trying to become something I wasn’t called to be. Just as the medieval hagiographies saw in Martha an ultimate reconciliation of action and contemplation through her ministry of hospitality, so can all of us Marthas celebrate rather than resist our spiritual gifts.

As her medieval biographer, Psuedo Marsalia wrote, “Martha chose to perform her own ministry and it pleased God greatly.” We do not choose the calling God gives us. Sometimes we or others don’t understand, or we are tempted, like Jonah, to run away. Perhaps it was Martha’s courage to follow her own true vocation to action and service that allowed her to perform miracles similar to Jesus—water to wine and resurrecting a child. Perhaps it made her a figure with the strength to tame dragons, honored to this day as Santa Marta Dominadora, the dominator, helper of the oppressed, the most Christlike calling.

Regardless of whether we are inclined to action or contemplation by our temperament and vocation, the hectic pace of modern life demands all of us be doers. We must all look to Martha’s example for guidance. Grounded in love for Jesus, we can serve and lift up others. Since Martha’s lifetime, many have followed in her footsteps as busy worker bees building up the kingdom of God. But Martha was the first, our Biblical example of a holy, active life, and for this reason, she deserves the Golden Halo.

-Amber Belldene


There are those who are quickly recognized for their life and work. Some who stand out in the church because of their positions: priest, bishops, and deacons. Others whose work is so public that we can’t help but notice them: public martyrs, activists, and those in the news. And still others whose works are enshrined in the literature of our faith: those recorded in Scripture, in the great works of church history, and in the annals of reform and renewal.

These names we know.

Yet the bedrock of the church are those who toil daily in the faithful work of discipleship. Women and men whose names are often forgotten – those who are overlooked by history.

It is among these quiet, daily disciples that we discover Saint Gobnait.

One of Gobnait’s patronages is iron-workers. When excavating the site of Gobnait’s home in 1952, they discovered the remains of 137 iron forges. Can you imagine the number of workers required to sustain such a site? There must have been – covered in soot and ash, in the midst of the heat, creating goods and artwork that would be used and enjoyed by those with wealth – a whole host of laborers and their families living out their days without recognition.

It is among them that Gobnait walked. It is to them that she offered her healing ministry – employing prayer and salves made from the honey of her beloved bees. It is on their behalf that she offered prayers. And it is for them that she repeatedly defended this community.

She defended her community. She offered healing. She founded a monastic community. She cared for the creation.

And yet history would have us overlook Gobnait. Her life is not known because she shows up in the historical record of the day, or because an early historian recorded her life.

Instead, we know of Gobnait from two sources. She is a part of the Life recorded about her brother Saint Abban. And she is remembered through the stories preserved by the ordinary people in her community and passed down through the ages.

Perhaps at this present moment in the life of the church, we need less “superstars” and more ordinary saints. Faithful people struggling with what it means to be disciples in the grind of daily life. Unnamed folks far from the spotlight performing extraordinary acts of love, kindness, and service on behalf of those who need it most.

-David Hansen



PLEASE NOTE: At about 9:52 p.m. EDT, the SEC confirmed some voting patterns that we had been monitoring since the afternoon. There were a number of repeat votes for Gobnait, cast by people who were not respecting the one vote per person rule. As a result, we have blocked several addresses and have removed 150 votes from Gobnait to compensate for that number of inappropriate votes. This is your reminder not to vote more than once per contest.

FURTHER NOTE: Multiple additional addresses have been blocked around 11:18 p.m. EDT. Please enjoy your play, but vote ONCE. Keep Lent Madness fair and fun for everyone.



Martha of Bethany vs. Gobnait

  • Martha of Bethany (51%, 4,401 Votes)
  • Gobnait (49%, 4,277 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,678

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Mary: Johannes (Jan) Vermeer - Christ in the House of Martha and Mary - Google Art Project
Gobnait: Harry Clarke's design drawing for the Saint Gobnait window in Honan Chapel, Cork, Ireland (1914). Public Domain
Joy McAllen, "Scoil Naomh Gobnait"  Stained Glass;  Dungarvan, Co.Waterford


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138 comments on “Martha of Bethany vs. Gobnait”

  1. While I am grateful to learn about Martha's second act, I cannot vote for her. It is precisely because of 'the hectic pace of modern life' where so often our value is tied to what we do and how busy we are that I need to look to someone else. Gobnait, defender of community and carer of creation, would make an inspiring standard-bearer.

  2. Gobnait is my youth group's favorite!! They are all hoping she'll win the Golden Halo!

  3. Martha may have been miffed that Mary wouldn't help her when they had guests... but it was Martha who, in the midst of her grief over her brother's death, proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God. While I may never see another bee without thinking of Gobnait, I voted for Martha.

  4. I met defeat on the very first day as I rooted for Mary, and I expected James to best Gobnait for the Golden Halo.

    But I had a hard time not choosing Gonnait, who had her bees, which are in such peril now, and I love candles, since I've heard that Cindy means "Bringer of Light."

    And I am a member of the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks, and have the set of prayer cards which I displayed in no particular order, but found the first one was Gobnait.

  5. Gobnait! Bees/care of creation, using honey as a cure, defending her village with bees, patron saint of iron workers.

  6. I figure most people would help Jesus as Martha did if they knew that was him in front of them, but it takes more of a saint to do unto others those things that help those who are less fortunate. Both celebrity bloggers wrote very moving pieces today, but Gobnait gets my vote. (I have played Lent Madness for 6 years, and this is the first time I feel a real need to make a response)

  7. I'm a Mary. And we need Marthas, otherwise nothing would ever get done! We need the Altar Guild in order to worship, and helping those in need also requires work! Sitting around reading and thinking, although it may be my natural inclination, doesn't really help anyone. Prayer is important, of course, but should be combined with action. I'll not only vote for Martha, but continue to try to be more like her.

  8. Aside from the fact I like bees and her stories, I had to vote for Gobnait. That poor woman, can you imagine having Gobnait for a name? I couldn’t NOT vote for her.

  9. Never could even believe that people would vote for Martha over Mary, but people are funny.
    Gobnait certainly displayed virtues however. Let's hope that pesky Martha is finally shown the door.

    1. Mary wasn't on the bracket this year.
      "Virtue" comes from the Latin, vir, manly. Looks as if you have found a way to vote for a man over a woman. The first entry for "pesky" in the OED is "abominable, hateful," and the etymology is from "pest."
      I'm pretty sure you can't show Martha the door; she's the hostess. It's you who has to leave.

      1. Once again I wish there were an "edit" button. Mary WAS on the bracket. The etymologies are correct, however. Those came from the OED.

  10. I was going to vote for Martha until I read the last sentence on Gobnait. More everyday, unknown saints, doing the right thing.

  11. Where have all these votes for Gobnait suddenly come from? Are bees voting? It’s somehow suspicious.

  12. Martha was active in the church in Cyprus (by the way, the place Cyprus is spelled with a U, Cypress is a tree or a place in California, which I am sure was not the abode of this particular Martha) which has a special place in my heart. However I am a nurse in a country with universal health care and Gobnait speaks to me and my ministry, so Gobnait it is!
    I am touched by the beautiful write ups for both these Holy women, Thank you!

  13. Wow!! This is one very tight match up. Since my bracket blew up on the first day, I've just been enjoying getting to know all these saints a little better. Thank you, bloggers!

  14. Again, did not vote, as these two magnificent and holy women have both made such an impression on me that it is impossible to make such a decision. That’s mainly because of the two articles which introduced them to me. Thanks again.

  15. Amber Belldene - Thank you so much for sharing part of your spiritual journey with us in today's blog for Martha (she's been my pick all along this strand). Beautifully written. I'm working on a Christian formation class for our church in West Seattle on identifying our spiritual gifts and discerning the call to use them. If you don't mind, I'm going to share this with the group. A great commentary on accepting that which we have been given.

  16. What have we come to when you have to cheat to win a Lenten bracket? I can only say, that as a first time Lenten Madness participant, this kind of behavior will not overshadow my Lenten devotion, prayers and fun due to the amazing work of the SEC, celebrity bloggers and the devoted/creative Lent Madness viewing public.

  17. Looks like it’s a close one. I almost forgot to vote as I got so busy with the day, but thank goodness I remembered before the stroke of midnight, Much luck to both women! You both deserve the halo

  18. Indeed, what have we come to when we are cheating on Lent Madness votes? I am tempted to answer: the age of a particular national figure, but I don't want to stoop even lower to politicize our holy devotion. I do, however, demand a recount of Gobnait vs Ignatius of Loyola!!

  19. It's Gobnait again for me! Agreed, the common everyday Saint deserves the golden halo. Also, just Had to add in my vote to make even a tiny dent in the damage cheaters did to get when I read that Scott and Tim had found wolves in sheep's clothing
    among us! I'm sure whoever they may be thought it was a chance to either help out their favorite Saint, allowed their competitive spirit and their dark side to get the best of them, or as the undertow out there can think- childishly thought it
    would be fun. A question for the cheaters to ponder while they bask in purple darkness though- how did that work out for you? Why not just be honest like the rest of us? And wouldn't it also just be easier to vote just once instead of spending aaall that time padding the ballot box and figuring out ways to not get caught, etc and maybe even having anxiety attacks over whether you will or not??? Why not just leave it to God and the SEC after you vote once then be supportive either way when the results come out!

  20. Oh no, I didn't get the boxes checked under my previous post! Yes I want the notfiers on both the last post and this one too! Also, I am wondering if somehow a hacker may be running around. A couple of mornings ago I found my Lent Madne

    Oh no, I forgot to check the boxes on notifiers underneath my previous post but yes, I would like those as usual. Also, this set me to wondering I there might be a hacker running around somewhere. A couple of days ago I found the usual Lent Madness email opened for me and the Scott at my house-Scott S. doesn't care for Lent Madness. There are only myself and he living there, we're the only ones with access and he tends to leave things Lent Madness sends alone as well. Couldn't also be the cats or the Pomeranian at my house either lol- especially as when I got her the former owner had named her "Faith" and she's a good little Episcopal dog who doesn't believe in doing those types of things if she were able, lol!

  21. This is so exciting! Can’t wait to see who wins!!
    But so sad that another year of Lent Madness is almost over.