for Sandy Hook.


This month’s focus is Saints. Today I chose to paint Elizabeth Ann Seton. She is the patron saint of many causes, one of them being the death of children.

As a mother, I have never been so traumatized, horrified and devastated as I was the day I watched the massacre at Sandy Hook unfold. I still cannot comprehend the loss, how can anyone? I’m not an overly religious person, but I can only hope someone welcomed these angels into heaven. I am also very grateful that I can express my feelings through my artwork. My tears are truly in this painting.

eleven thousand virgins!


Saint Ursula (birth and death dates vary, but she most likely lived sometime between 230-451… a very broad range I’d say.)

The legends began in 4th century Cologne. Ursula was a princess who was set to marry a pagan governor by the name of Conan Meriadoc of Armorica. She set sail to meet her future husband with 11 maids in waiting, who were each attended by A THOUSAND virginal handmaidens. That is QUITE an entourage. When she refused to marry Conan, her ships were attacked and all the virgins were beheaded!

The Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne contains the bones of these victims in crazy patterns and swirls, and the attached chapel contains sculptures of their heads and torsos. She is often depicted surrounded by children- this is because when they found these so-called bones, many of the victims appeared to be children (odd for an entire army of virgins.)

So here’s a good explanation of why there are so many discrepancies in the story:

In the 8th century, relics of virgin martyrs were found. One of these martyrs was an eleven year old girl named Ursula, in Latin, Undecimilia (Ursula) was misread as undicimila (which translates to 11,000). Regardless, a bunch of virgins were murdered in Cologne and whomever Ursula really was, she represents the victims.

Hildegard of Bingen composed many chants in Ursula’s honor.

Christopher Columbus named the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean in her honor in 1493.

Her feast day is: October 21

She is the Patron Saint of Cologne, England, Archers, Orphans, and Students.

You can see some pretty incredible pics of the Church (and all them bones), along with more information about the story here:

tooth and nail.




Saint Apollonia (died 249.)

Apollonia was born in Egypt in the 3rd century and was living as a deaconess in Alexandria when all hell broke loose. These were troubling times for devout Christians (actually, when you think about it, the 3rd century had to have been pretty troubling for everyone.) Under the reign of Emperor Philip, most Christians fled the city and abandoned all possessions and property to escape persecution.

Angry Pagans began to riot and violently seized poor Apollonia. They began beating her, knocking out and breaking all of her teeth. Despite the torture, Apollonia would not renounce her faith. The men lit a giant fire and threatened to burn her alive if she did not curse her God. Instead, she jumped up and ran to the flames voluntarily.

Believe it or not, parts of her jaw and several of her teeth are currently kept in churches  throughout Europe.

She was an elderly woman when she died, but most depictions have her as young and beautiful. Paintings throughout history have her holding pincers with a tooth or wearing a gold tooth necklace.

Feast Day: February 9th.

Patron Saint of dental diseases, dentists.

a lasting legacy.




Saint Dymphna

Her father was a pagan Irish King, but her mother was a devout Christian. That had to be an interesting household, especially in the 7th century. King Damon was devoted to his wife, so much so, when she died, he insisted that his new wife be as beautiful as his first. Dymphna was only 14 when her mother passed.

They searched far and wide for a fitting wife, but none could fill Dymphna’s mother’s shoes. During this time, Damon’s mental health began to deteriorate rapidly. He found his wife’s replacement in his own home, his own daughter. Oh the horror.

Dymphna, who had chosen to be a Christian like her mother, had taken a vow of chastity. When her own dad started making moves on her – she fled Ireland by ship and landed in Belgium.

Eventually King Damon’s people found her. Damon arrived and demanded she go back with him, but she refused. He was so angry, he took out his sword and sliced off her head. She was 15. Her body was buried in a cave in Gheel. It was eventually moved and a church was built on the location – the Church of St. Dymphna. Supposedly there have been many miracles that have taken place at the site.

She was martyred in 620.

Her feast day is May 15th.

She is the patron saint of the victims of incest, the nervous, emotionally disturbed, mentally ill and those who suffer from neurological disorders, as well as psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists.

But the best part of her story is this:

Because of her plight, and the miracles that occurred in Gheel, thousands of mental health sufferers migrated to the town. The church, overcrowded with these poor people, began a “foster family” program. To this day, Gheel functions as  role model for mental health services. This very successful, 700 year old system has been studied extensively as a model for community recovery.

There is an amazing movie clip on this here:

Belly of the beast.




December is all about Saints! First up- Saint Margaret of Antioch.

This story was very popular in the middle ages.

So, according to the legends, Margaret was the daughter of a pagan priest in Antioch of Pisidia (Syria.) She chose to convert to Christianity in her early teens. Her dad was SO upset because Margaret (also known as Marina) refused all suitors. One suitor was Olybrius the Perfect (what? helluva name to live up to) he was so scorned by her refusal  that he reported Margaret to the authorities. She was thrown in jail -and- while in jail she met the devil, who happened to be in the form of a dragon. ROAR. The dragon eats her alive, but she tore her way out of his belly using a cross and emerged whole. Take that Satan-dragon-thingy! They then tried to execute her by drowning and fire but all attempts failed. Eventually she was beheaded.

She is the patron saint of Childbirth. (clever.)

Her feast day is July 20th.

Oh- and hers was one of the voices heard by Joan of Arc!

Richard’s Lioness


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Several HW followers requested that I cover Berengaria of Navarre (1170-1230).

She was the Queen of England from 1191 until 1199 as the wife of Richard I.

If you’re not following Susan Abernathy’s blog and/or Facebook page, you SHOULD. She was written a very thorough article on Berengaria of Navarre that is far more educational than anything I could write. You can read the article here:

Freddie don’t play that.


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Fredegund! (died 597)

“In revenge and in love, woman is more barbaric than man is.” -Friedrich Nietzsche


She was the Queen Consort of Chilperic I. King of the Soissons (people of northern France), but not because of her noble blood. Au contraire. Fredegund was a slave/servant to the King’s wife. Somehow she seduced the king and talked him into divorcing his first wife and sending her to a convent. The plot didn’t really work out at first- Chilperic ended up marrying another woman, Galswintha.

This did NOT go over well. Galswintha died the same year. She was strangled in her sleep. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Chilperic then (probably for self-preservation purposes) married Fredegund.

There are many, many deaths associated with Fredegund and her violent, bloodthirsty ways. Death by poisoned beverages, assassins, torture, and mutilation.

So ok… stay with me here because this gets good.

Brunhilde, Galswintha’s sister, launched a seven year war with Chilperic and Fredegund. Fail. Fredegund defeated everyone and had King Seigebert (Brunhilde’s husband and Chilperic’s half-brother) stabbed in kidneys during a speech about vengeance. She captured Brunhilde and was planning all sorts of torture for her- but Brunhilde was rescued. Seigebert’s top government official was also captured. That poor guy was dismembered with red hot pokers. Ouch. A bit overboard, but whatevs.

She continued on a power rampage by going after Chilperic’s first wife (the one in the convent). She killed her and her sons by infecting them with dysentery. WHAT? Conspirators and supporters of the first wife were also tortured and executed in all sorts of horrible ways.

She even tried to murder her own daughter by slamming her head in a chest!

Her son, Clothar II, continued with his mother’s cause (after mum died) by executing Brunhilde. And I’m not talking just a simple chopping off with the head… oh no… Brunhilde was put on the racks for three days and then drawn and quartered by horses. (Why the long face?)

Fredegund ruled for 40 years, mainly by killing off anyone that disagreed, blinked, spoke, sneezed, etc. and died in Paris in 597.

Oh- one more thing. Chilperic died in 584. He was mysteriously murdered by an unknown assailant while out hunting. Hmmmm. I’ll give you one guess as to who was probably responsible.

There is a great article on her here:


Bipolar van Buren.




AnnaofSaxony Anna of Saxony (1544 – 1577)

Anna Van Buren came from a long line of well documented mental illness. Poor thing was a hunchback who walked with a “marked gait” and is described as “unfortunate looking.” But this did not stop the plethora of suitors from streaming in due to her enormous wealth.

Lucky (heh) William of Orange was the winner. The incredibly spoiled, melancholic, aggressive and suicidal Anna agreed to marry him in 1561.

Anna was painfully unstable, so after they were married she went through bouts of extreme partying and debilitating depression where she refused to eat or leave her darkened room for days. Pregnancy seemed to amplify the symptoms. This behavior escalated quickly and soon William tried to remove their children from her care. Anna did not take this well and waged a very public war against her husband, accusing him of impotence. Somehow, William took her back and begged Anna to lead a more “conservative” lifestyle. No such luck.

Anna mistreated her staff, engaged in very immoral behavior and went into drunken rampages. She also began to have an affair with Jan Rubens and eventually gave birth to his daughter, Christina in 1571. Christina was Peter Paul Rubens’ half-sister.

This was the final straw. William had the marriage annulled, and she was never allowed to see any of her children again. She was placed in Beilstein Castle in Germany in a completely deranged state. Her windows were closed up with bricks, door locked, key thrown away… there are reports that she was suspected of being possessed by demons after she was seen foaming at the mouth. She remained there until her death, five years later. Anna was 33.

It is my opinion that the mental health care options nowadays haven’t improved much.

If you like the subject of Mad Kings & Queens, I highly recommend this book, it’s a like cliff notes for the crazies:

Riches to rags.


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Continuing on with Medieval Queens…

Margaret of Anjou (1430 – 1482) was the Queen Consort of England from 1445 to 1461 as the wife of King Henry VI.

She is a very complicated woman to study. I can’t quite tell if she was the power-hungry, relentless witch some describe her as – or – she was a strong woman who did the best with the hand she was dealt. Hmmmm. Leaning towards the latter.

She played a major role in the War of the Roses as the leader of the Lancastrian forces. Henry VI was mentally unstable, so Margaret took over control. She led her followers into a battle that they would eventually lose to the Yorkists, in an effort to assure her son Prince Edward would inherit the thrown. Edward of Lancaster would not get the chance, as he died in the Battle of Tewkesbury, making him the only heir apparent to the English throne to die in battle.

After losing the war and her son and her husband, Margaret was arrested. Louis of France eventually paid for her release in exchange for all of her lands. She died in complete poverty in Anjou, but not without leaving her mark on history. Evidence shows that she was highly intelligent, strategic, and knew how to play the political (bullshit) games. Bravo Margaret. Bravo.

“[Margaret] arrived there poor and alone, destitute of goods and all desolate; [she] had neither credence, nor money, nor goods, nor jewels to pledge. . . . Her body was clad in one single robe, with no change of clothing.”

— Georges Chastellain, describing Margaret’s arrival as a refugee at Sluys in 1463.
From  The Wars of the Roses by J. R. Lander




unbearable pain.


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Such an sad story for a Friday, but here it goes.

Joanna of Austria (1547 – 1578) definitely came from a long line of royal blood. Her mother was Anna of Bohemia and Hungary and her father was Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor. Also her paternal grandparents were Philip I of Castile (also known as Philip the Handsome) and Joanna of Castile (also known as Joanna the Mad.)

She was married to Francesco I de’ Medici in 1565 but it was a very unhappy marriage. The people of Florence did not like the Austrian duchess, and I’m guessing, this left her quite lonely. She managed to give birth to six daughters, but only 3 survived infancy (so so so sad.) Unfortunately, all Francesco cared about (like all the royal men of the times) was having a male heir. This caused a lot of stress and turmoil for poor Joanna. Francesco took a mistress, Bianca Capello, who gave birth to a son in 1576. Can you even imagine how tragic this was for Joanna?!?!? The mistress had a boy first?!?! Mon dieu.  Makes me kind of want to cry.

But, alas, she did have a son in 1577. Phew. They named him Filippo. Another tragic story, he died at age 4 from Hydrocephalus (water on the brain.) Thank goodness Joanna wasn’t alive to see him go. She died while pregnant with her 8th child. She fell down a flight of stairs and the baby was delivered the next day- prematurely, arm-first, and ruptured Joanna’s uterus. Absolutely horrifying.

Francesco went on to marry his mistress, which fueled stories about how Joanna had actually fallen. But, turns out, she would most likely have died from the birth anyway. She had severe scoliosis and a deformed pelvis – which would cause incredible and unbearable pain for her during all of her pregnancies. Historians have mentioned that it is a miracle she survived any of them.

Out of all 8 children, only two survived to adulthood – Eleanor de’Medici (married the Duke of Mantua) and Marie de’Medici (married Henri IV of France.)



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