Camillus de Lellis vs. Melangell

Welcome to the Saintly Sixteen! With your help, we have successfully whittled our field from 32 saints to 16. For this round, rather than the basic biographical information, we enter the realm of Quirks and Quotes. Our brilliant Celebrity Bloggers will provide unusual information or legends surrounding their saints along with quotes either by or about their saints.

If you need a quick refresher on those first round battles (and want to look at the initial bios), click the Bracket Tab. Just beneath the bracket, you'll find all the previous matchups sorted by round.

We kick things off with Camillus de Lellis vs. Melangell. In the first round, Camillus trounced Matthias while Melangell narrowly defeated Hermione.

Yesterday, we finished up the Round of 32 as Catherine of Genoa smothered Catherine of Bologna 65% to 35% in the Battle of the Deli Meats. Just be glad there's no patron saint of head cheese...

Camillus de Lellis
Camillus would not be described as being quirky, which carries with it a nuance of odd but charming. Camillus was, quite honestly, rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome. He was a gambler, a habit that led to financial, physical, and spiritual ruin throughout much of his life.

Having nowhere else to go and no way to earn a living because of an incurable leg wound likely a result of his short-lived military career, he went to the St. Giacomo hospital, from which he was eventually expelled because he was rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome. He gambled some more, lost even more, and eventually made his way to a Capuchin friary. There, he was overwhelmed by a sermon he heard, and realized he could serve God and those in need with his life. However, he was denied admission to the order, in part because he was rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome.

So he returned to St. Giacomo, and while still having the qualities that got him excused the first time, God was focusing those same qualities into passions to help the sick. He also discovered the Jesuits, who appreciated his rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome ways; he was ordained to the priesthood at age 34.

He organized a group of lay and ordained people to become servants of the sick, which eventually became Order of the Ministers of the Infirm. Camillus chose red crosses on their black cassocks and capes to terrorize the devil while they cared for the sick and dying.

His roughness found energy in making sure hospitals were clean and those who cared for the sick were competent. He did not suffer stupidity and filth around those in need of healing. He continued to have an unpleasant streak that showed when people limited him from his ministry. While caring for plague victims, Camillus discovered people were being buried alive—they weren’t dead yet. So he demanded all members of the Order pray for those who had died for 15 minutes after their apparent death, just to make sure.

His quarrelsomeness became a passion for his ministry to the sick and dying. Camillus, in his later years, suffered many sores on his legs and feet, greatly limiting his mobility. On days he couldn’t walk from bed to bed to offer prayers for the dying, he crawled to their bedsides to minister.

At age 64, Camillus learned he himself was dying. He replied, “I rejoice in what has been told me. We shall go into the house of the Lord.” He received the Eucharist as he died, confessing that he was the most wretched of sinners, undeserving of the grace God has bestowed on him that saved him.

—Laurie Brock


St. Melangell doesn’t leave behind any words, just the place where she—a sixth-century Irish princess—once sought and offered sanctuary.

But her story—of fleeing marriage and royal life to become a hermit, of protecting a defenseless hare from a prince’s hunting dogs, of providing rest and safety to all creatures in need at Pennant Melangell in Wales—continues to offer sanctuary to many.

“It dramatizes the strength of contemplative resistance; it tells us that there is a place to be away from hunting,” writes Welsh Anglican bishop Rowan Williams in a foreword to the poetry collection “The Hare That Hides Within: Poems about St. Melangell.”

“Whether this is read in connection with human abuse of nature, male abuse of women, or power’s abuse of prayer in general, the pattern is similar,” Williams continues.

Some writers have lent their voices to Melangell, who says in Norman Schwenk’s poem “Rime of St. Melangell,” that she was “weary of running, like the hare / Hounded day and night.”

Welsh antiquarian Thomas Pennant wrote Melangell had “lived fifteen years without seeing the face of a man” at Pennant Melangell, making her relatable after a pandemic year largely spent in lockdown.

And a recent guide to pilgrimage in Wales points out she and her abbey connect with people beyond her own tradition. With its pre-Christian and ancient Celtic connections, Pennant Melangell was and continues to be a place of pilgrimage for followers of pagan traditions.

Other writers have offered readers sanctuary in their words about the saint, especially the poets.

For those seeking a place away from hunting—perhaps a “thin place” like Pennant Melangell, where Celts believe heaven and earth are especially close—there are the words of Anne Cluysenaar’s poem “On a Visit to Pennant Melangell”:

In this Welsh valley
her Irish Gaelic
quested for God.
The valley speaks
no language. In exile
she was at home,
trusting the place.

For those seeking healing like the prince who was changed by his encounter with Melangell, there are the words of John Freeman’s poem “The Rebirth of Brochwel”:

You need her healing love.
She will flourish from the good
you take from here to do
in her name in the world.

And for those who would, like Melangell, offer a picture of God’s rest and safety to a weary world, there are the words of Ruth Bidgood’s poem “Hare at Pennant,” told from the hare’s perspective:

All I have been, am, she shelters.
‘Not, I,’ she says, ‘it is my Lord.’ But she
is what I know, soft-robed saint,
gentle one, who heard my piping cry,

Cudd fi, cudd fi, Melangell, 
Monacella, hide me!

—Emily McFarlan Miller


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John Haynes / Marker post for the Pererindod Melangell


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116 comments on “Camillus de Lellis vs. Melangell”

  1. Saint Camillus, with a leg past repair
    Formed his Order to offer health care.
    It’s instructive to ponder
    Whether this first responder
    Could foresee the red cross everywhere.

    1. Two opposites, both in service to God. The perfect pairing with perfect write-ups. Melangell appeals to me this Lent so I voted for her and, yet I was most inspired by Camillus’s story today. I loved that it was the Jesuits who came to appreciate Camillus’s personality flaws and that those flaws were exactly what made him such a success in ministry! Another huge takeaway, thank you, Lent Madness!
      This is why I come back years after year! And, I’ve already ordered the Melangell poetry book. ❤️

      1. You will love the book, Linda. We are studying Melangell in my community just now and lots of us have ordered it. It's wonderful!

  2. I voted for Camillus because I'm all for clean hospitals! (sounds like our 2017 winner of The Golden Halo, Florence Nightingale)

  3. It was the poem from the perspective of the hare that secured my vote for St. Melangell. Powerful female imagery for the divine.

    1. Like! 😀 I voted for Melangell in Round 1 because I felt the world needs as many places of sanctuary as we can get. This round is a harder choice for me, but "Powerful female imagery for the divine" persuades me to stick with Melangell today. Melangell all the way for the Golden Halo in 2021!

      1. Yes!! I agree. All the way for St. Melangell. PLUS we get to continue to hear Tim and Scott try to pronounce her name -- bonus! (And the limerick writers find its rhyme?!)

    2. Yes, I was touched by the poem from the hare's point of view. Lovely. I cannot believe Camillus is leading: Rough, unpleasant and quarrelsome vs. the strength of contemplative resistance? I've had more than my fill of the former for the past 4-1/2 years - I am ready for the latter. Melangell is my choice, at home in exile, providing rest and safety. Thank you Emily McFarlan Miller - your piece was moving and beautiful.

  4. Red Crosses are everywhere; let’s seek those (more?) subtle crossings where earth and heaven touch. Melangell for the silver.

  5. Kudos to our two celebrity bloggers for getting blood out of stones! As I read Camillus' story, I couldn't help but laugh at Laurie's description of him as "rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome," and how she used it for her theme. I knew then that I had to vote for Camillus/Laurie!
    Then I read Emily's creative discourse on Melangell which was equally as good, drawing from other sources. Good job Emily, but I still voted for Camillus.

    1. I, too, found Laurie's use of "rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome" quite delightful. Beyond the clever writing stands a stronger message to me: God can use all of us, however challenged or challenging we may be. I don't think I'm any of the above, but on my worst days I'm sure I can come across that way. Praise be that my service, such as it is, will still be welcome.

  6. Camillus was certainly rough around the edges, but he was tireless in his actions for the poor in their sickness. His love and caring shone throughout.

  7. The thought of him crawling from patient to patient after he could no longer walk brought me to tears.

  8. These become tougher as the bracket narrows. Camillus fought for patients' rights (clean hospital and not being buried alive) and I couldn't help but smile over the repeated "rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome". However, I had to go with Melangell today because we can all use a peaceful sanctuary and "thin spaces".

  9. The #MeToo movement vs the Red Cross! I must wait for more comments, but I will say here, Emily McFarlan Miller, you have done a masterful job promoting Melangell!

    1. Thank you! I hadn't heard of Melangell before Lent Madness, but I think I've been just as taken by the idea of thin places and seeking sanctuary in nature and small, furry animal companions as everybody else.

  10. Oh, well done, bloggers! Emily was inspired, using the words of poets to advance the cause of her saint, and Laurie eloquently pleaded the case of her "rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome" sinner-saint. Both saints can appeal to us today, one roughly, unpleasantly, and quarrelsomely caring for plague victims (as Monte Python said, "Bring out your dead!"), the other experiencing lockdown like us. I don't know whom to vote for. I had thought Melangell would easily get my vote, not the rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome bloke. But after a full year of covid, I feel that all the life has been crushed out of the world, and I'm wondering if a rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome figure might not be precisely the one to bring it to those reckless and irresponsible people who promote the folly of masklessness in the name of a fetid and nihilistic "freedom." Melangell might listen with pity to the paeans of the foolish rabbits in Watership Down that sing to the shining wire that will snare them for the jug, but Camillus would throttle the poachers and stuff their silly flags down their throats. Three percenters, meet the 100% rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome.

    1. There is no freedom when we're sick or dead, and there should be no freedom to spread a lethal disease. In God, who created science, medicine, and masks, we trust, especially in states that have been opened 100% and have declared masks optional. Greetings from Texas.

    2. I love it that you read and respond to the comments! I wish the other CBs would join in as well!

    3. “I feel fine! I think I’ll go for a walk!” While we need the respite of a thin place during this crushing time, I too have to go with the grumpy advocate of excellent care.

    4. Love the reference to Watership Down! Loved the book and the movie. I voted for Camillus due to his intensity.

  11. I go with Melangell feeling the need to get and give respite. Camillus was active in demanding cleanliness but lacked the TLC really needed more than physical care.

  12. Camillus gets my vote though I have great admiration for Melangell. Curious as to why "Welsh Anglican bishop Rowan Williams" was not described by his normal title of "former Archbishop of Canterbury."

    1. I THOUGHT that name was familiar! (all caps because underlining doesn't work here.)
      Thanks, Jane Christmas.

  13. You had me at "He also discovered the Jesuits, who appreciated his rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome ways; he was ordained to the priesthood at age 34."

    Our world needs a few more "rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome" souls who show through their actions their love and service to their fellow men and women.

    In the spirit of the Jebbie "Go forth and set the world on fire," Camillus gets my vote.

  14. Melangell for me today;
    To offer sanctuary to those who had no recourse but to flee when threatened.

  15. We could hardly imagine two more opposite saints! I want to vote for Camillus because of his conversion from repulsive to compassionate. I want to vote for Melangell because my favorite Archbishop portrayed her in sweet poetry. Selfishly, I'm going with Melangel because I have so much more in common with her. Thank you for posing the breadth of saintliness.

    1. I, an RN who did home nursing care for 20 years and specifically wound care for 10 years, am pulled (selfishly) to vote for Camillus whose red cross is still used today. I can't help wonder if his wound was arterial or venous, with or without a bone infection. Either way, it led him to gather a group to care for the sick, the dying, while meeting the needs of the poor. Imagine us caring for all
      the poor.....

  16. I voted for Camillus in honor of all medical personnel who have risked and even lost their lives caring for patients with Covid-19. My years working in laboratories and hospitals taught me much about infection control, and these lessons served me well during the past year. Mask, keep social distance, and wash or sanitize hands, everyone.

  17. The Welsh connection is important! But not only my ancestry (Cymry am byth!) makes my vote for Melangell a no-brainer, but she is one of the saints who watch over me as I start my Retreat House (yes, in the middle of a pandemic) in Maine. Our name means The Quiet Place Between the Rapids and Melangell is a provider of such quiet havens. See for more information.

  18. Melangell for me. Anyone who can inspire so much poetry gets my vote. Went to Wales many years ago with my wife. Sadly I didn't know about Melangell at the time. I'm always on the lookout for thin places. They're hard to find in the Bronx, but I know they're here somewhere.

    1. Frankie and Johnny's Pine Restaurant = a thin place for me when I lived in NY. Heavenly, authentic Italian food! (Sadly, for many years now I have lived in places where Olive Garden gets people's vote for favorite "Italian" restaurant, so I miss Frankie and Johnny's!) I second St. Celia's nomination of the Botanical Garden, as well -- especially in spring!

  19. We once lived in a "thin place" on an island in Wisconsin, where we saw God's creatures form our breakfast table. Just had to go with one who is known for the "thin place" and sanctuary she provided. Thank yuou Melangell.

  20. To Laurie Brock, thanks for your telling of Camillus' story. I needed the chuckle this morning! Also, nice Monty Python reference. "I'm not dead yet!" Camillus gets my vote.

    1. YES! I was raised on Monty Python! It was a difficult decision, but as someone who occasionally feels "rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome",and who wants people to make sure I'm dead before they bury me! I had to go with Camillus.

  21. Let us not confuse the Red Cross of the Camillians, the order founded by Camillus de Lellis to care for the sick and infirm in the late 16th C, with the Red Cross of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement which wasn't founded until the 1864 Geneva Convention - nearly 300 years later, and which is based on reversing the white cross of the Swiss flag. We have all read above why Camillus chose a red cross. The crosses are even different shapes. While I like the story of Melangell and the hare, Camillus founded an order which is going strong to this day - an order caring for the sick and destitute with care, love, and humility. I vote for Camillus de Lellus.

  22. Had to vote for Camillus .
    Are not we at some point in our lives a little
    rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome?

  23. I aspire to be as peaceful and contemplative as Melangell but frankly, relate more to Camillus' "rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome" nature!

  24. I will cast my vote and efforts in with Camillus, and, with others who, like me and this holy curmudgeon, are blessed/cursed with at times being "rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome," help to make the world safe for healing and nurture of all who are wounded, battle-weary, or oppressed.
    Then I will seek sabbath refreshment with Melangell in the holy thin places of solace and safety, poetry and empowerment.
    May we have both the strident and impatient strength of Camillus and the deep and gentle strength of Melangell, to help us break down and make thin the walls between us and God's love, presence, justice and will for us here on earth.

  25. Having voted for both Camillus and Melangell in Round One, I am now letting my heart and my Welsh heritage rule my head, so Melangell it is. (Maybe am drawn to her because I was one of her hares in a previous life.)

  26. I relate more to Camillus’ “rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome” nature, but frankly, I aspire to be as peaceful and contemplative as Melangell!!!! She's got my vote!

  27. Only 7 of my picks in the first round made it to the Saintly Sixteen, and here are two of them facing off against each other. And both Celebrity Bloggers did outstanding jobs in their write-ups today. And as I write at 9:43 a.m. the results are only 1 vote apart! Wow. I finally decided to vote for Camillus because I, too, have sometimes been described as rough, unpleasant, and quarrelsome. I would love to retreat to some peaceful, solitary place in the woods, and yet I feel called to serve those in need as Camillus was finally able to do.