Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

Home » Uncategorized » Of doubtful authenticity

Of doubtful authenticity


Authenticity (noun)—of undisputed origin or authorship; genuine: an authentic signature; accurate in representation of the facts; trustworthy; reliable; a word not often heard in current political discourse, except with irony. OK, I added the last part.

Do you recall when the Catholic Church de-accessioned many of its saints? Newspapers and other periodicals reproduced window signs from stores selling religious paraphernalia announcing: “Close-out sale on Mr Christopher medals”. The patron saint of travelers had been found to be of doubtful authenticity. Prayers offered to him were in vain.

I had an exchange with a student last week regarding faith, but to converse is not to convert. Far from it; neither of us made an inroad on the other. But to imagine religiosity as a simple measured bar between two extremes, two polar opposites, is to mistake its nuance. Somewhere I’m certain there is a graphic that will help me understand. Not just the position I hold in a two- or more likely three-dimensional matrix, and how to measure the distance from there to where you are—today, because tomorrow we’ll have moved on (or over or back), perhaps influenced by the very conversation we’ve just shared.

Why Christopher was purged I cannot say. Nor do I know how many other saints joined him. [Ask me sometime for a list of my own nominees for people and things “of doubtful authenticity”. I’ll pay a price for that.] Apparently, Crispin and Crispinian made the cut, saints among my all-time favorites with Dymphna, Mungo and Little Saint Hugh. Happily, Saint Ahab slipped beneath the Vatican’s radar, too. The project would be far less interesting without him.


The twins Crispin and Crispinian play an obscure but pivotal role in the Agincourt story. Third century martyrs for their faith, the Battle of Agincourt was fought on Crispin’s feast day; Shakespeare puts his name into King Henry’s mouth on the eve of battle. That day—October 25th—then became the date of Agincourt’s incorporation in 1857 as well as the date of its sesqui-centennial opening in 2007 (perversely at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead, Minnesota). 

In the narrative of Anson Tennant’s life, Crispin makes a cameo. With the new library-gallery safely under construction in the spring of 1915, Anson fatefully left New York City on the “Lusitania” only to come back from the dead in 1936 at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. He needed to be more than a “one hit wonder”, however, so the young architect’s last design, executed posthumously (they thought), was a chapel dedicated to Crispin, an addition to the Episcopal church of St. Joseph-the-Carpenter, built in 1915 as a memorial to him and, not incidentally, to the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.

It may be that some day soon, I too will have joined the doubtfully authentic. It will be an honor to join such company.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: