Saint Ahab* was the name of Agincourt’s Catholic church from its founding until 1950, when it became Christ the King. Ahab’s hagiography — a religious biography which takes a very characteristic form; this is but a shadow of what it should be — will surely evolve while Mr Jonathan Taylor Rutter crafts Ahab’s icon.
Ahab, an obscure 3rd-4th century saint who appears in both Orthodox and Roman kalendars, is celebrated on 17 January. His name may derive from the Liburnian word akavya (a sparrow or other small bird) or possibly from ahava (the Hebrew word for love). He is the patron saint of pirates and, more recently, of obsessive-compulsives.
Born circa 270 CE in the Roman province of Liburnia, Ahab was a fisherman who also engaged in Adriatic piracy during the reign of the emperor Diocletian. Though he was not himself a Christian until the hour of his death, Ahab aided members of the Christian community during their mutual persecution — “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” — transporting clergy among various hiding places along the Dalmatian coastal islands. During his last encounter with Roman authority and with Eusebius aboard (who was not yet bishop of Caesarea), Ahab evaded a Roman galley, transferred Eusebius to a smaller boat, and then lured the Romans into pursuing the ship while the priest hid himself in reeds along the shore.
The galley overcame Ahab near the island of Rava, where the captain summarily crucified him on the mast of his own boat. Crying out for God’s help, Ahab was gratified to find the Roman ship taking on water in a sudden storm. He survived long enough to watch the galley sink. Three weeks later his small boat, historically a lembus, sailed miraculously into the harbor at Zadar under its own power with Ahab still nailed to the mast, his body perfectly preserved despite three weeks exposure to the weather and sea birds. Eusebius presided during Ahab’s interment, circa 310 CE, and recorded the circumstances of his sacrifice. Almost immediately the tomb attracted veneration and was a source of conversions and unaccounted medical cures.
Later, Ahab’s relics were re-interred in the 9th century church of St Donat at Zadar (in present day Croatia) but were moved again by retreating Crusaders who brought them to Agincourt, France. Despite his obscurity—or perhaps because of it—Ahab successfully avoided recent kalendar purges of saints with doubtful authenticity.
The Agincourt Project hasn’t always been as seductive as I might have hoped. Ah, well, such are the vagaries of life.
So, it is gratifying when folks share with me aspects of the story that touch them; ideas that encourage them to put pencil to paper and add to the texture of the place. Such is the case with St Ahab, whose brief life and martyrdom have resonated with Mr Jeremiah Johnson. He promises to expand it.
Suddenly I’m giddy with anticipation.
[…] those unfamiliar with Ahab, a 3rd century saint from the reign of Diocletian, he is alleged to have converted to Christianity while crucified on […]