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Ahab, a saint for our time


Saint Ahab* was the name of Agincourt’s Catholic church from its founding until 1950, when the parish became Christ the King. Ahab’s hagiography — a religious biography which takes a very characteristic form; what follows is but a shadow of what it should be — will surely evolve while Mr Jonathan Taylor Rutter crafts Ahab’s icon — now underway for five years and promised soon. It’s gonna be good.

church of sveti donat / saint donatus, at zadar, croatia

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 him while the priest hid 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 conversion and unaccounted medical cure.

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 Azincourt, France. Despite his obscurity—or perhaps because of it—Ahab successfully avoided recent kalendar purges of saints with doubtful authenticity.

sveti donatus

Pre-Romanesque church of Sveti Donat (St Donatus, formerly known as Holy Trinity), Zadar, Croatia / The relics of St Ahab were housed in the apse to the left of the chancel

*When the time came to designate Agincourt’s Roman Catholic parish, I struggled to avoid saints names traditionally associated with ethnic  groups. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, is often chosen for RC parishes that serve the African American community. David was from Wales; Patrick from Ireland; and George hailed from England. Then there are the connections between saints and parts of the anatomy. My grandmother’s parish in suburban Chicago was named for Blaise, patron saint of those suffering from diseases of the throat. So, blame the stray cosmic particle that shot me through at the moment Ahab came to mind. A hasty google search suggested he was unclaimed by the catholic (i.e., universal) church as someone worthy of veneration. So Ahab it would be. The hagiography above was crafted with that in mind.

Recently, however, I happened upon a nasty link between Saint Ahab and the Christian Reconstructionist movement—those who wish not only to transform the United States into a Christian nation (a proposition I will resoundingly resist), but to impose its own brand of Sharia Law. Homosexuals, for example, will be executed in a Reconstructionist America.

R. J. Rushdoony, an Armenian immigrant to the U.S., was the founder of the CR movement, now carried on by his son Mark and son-in-law Gary North (a former House staff member for Rep Ron Paul, no less). “Chalcedon“, the official website for Christian Reconstructionism, offers, among other publications, a polemic by RJ Rushdoony titled “The Gospel According to Saint Ahab”, available as an MP3 for $1.99 (which I am unlikely to invest in such a loony-toon organization, no matter how much I might want to read it). Happily, my invocation of Ahab as saint predates Rushdoony’s use by three years.


  1. R.H.L.M. Ramsay says:

    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.

  2. […] those unfamiliar with Ahab, a 3rd century saint from the reign of Diocletian, he is alleged to have converted to Christianity while crucified on […]

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