St Mary of Egypt icon

1 April

It is the feast day of St Mary of Egypt (above left), one of the Desert Mothers, who died today in 522. Mary ran away from home when she was young and lived a wild life in Alexandria, Egypt, until she attached herself to a group of pilgrims going to Jerusalem. She tried to go into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but was stopped by a ‘mighty force’, which kept her out until she repented of her way of life. Inside the church at last, she heard a voice saying, ‘If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest,’ which is what she did, spending the rest of her life as a hermit in the Judean wilderness.

‘I went aside and stood in a corner of the porch. And only then with great difficulty it began to dawn on me, and I began to understand the reason why I was prevented from being admitted to see the life-giving Cross. The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart and revealed to me that it was my unclean life which barred the entrance to me. I began to weep and lament and beat my breast, and to sigh from the depths of my heart.’ Mary of Egypt, from the Biography by St Zosima

Today is All Fools’ Day, which is celebrated by telling people things that aren’t true and laughing at them. The tradition is centuries old, and one wild theory is that it goes back to the Ark, with Noah opening the window on April 1st and sending the dove on a fools’ errand, since the flood waters hadn’t yet gone down.

It is the birthday of this website. Ship of Fools was launched on the internet today in 1998. The lead story had the promising headline, ‘Jesus and jellied eels’.

The formidable Robert Winchelsey left England for Rome today in 1293, after being elected Archbishop of Canterbury. The Pope consecrated him and he returned to be a thorn in the side of King Edward I, who wanted to get the clergy to pay more tax. Winchelsey was such a hard boiled character that an abbot he rebuked promptly died of a heart attack.

Pope John XV died today in the year 996. He was the first Pope to canonise a saint. Before then, saint-making was done by local bishops. Why not celebrate by encouraging your bishop to make a few saints?

Image: Saint-Petersburg Theological Academy

Time-travel news is written by Steve Tomkins and Simon Jenkins

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