Someone asked me the other day which saint to turn to when one is struck by a migraine. Since I’ve never had one, I didn’t know. So, I suggested we do a Google search so that we’d both know. Turns out there are two intercessory experts, Gemma Galgani and Teresa of Avila, both of whom were frequently beset with severe, even crippling headaches.
But then I thought of another saint, one whose example of courage—“grace under pressure” is how Hemingway once put it—makes him the perfect, if unofficial, patron for all who suffer from afflictions of the head. And while he may never have suffered this particular malady himself, it scarcely matters in light of the story I’m about to tell.
It’s about Francis de Sales, the saintly bishop of Geneva, who, as he lay dying in the last hours of his life, knowing that the end was near, asked for the Last Rites; they were duly administered but without benefit of Viaticum owing to the unsettled state of his stomach. He was given a rosary instead, which, at his request, was wrapped around his wrist. He lasted through the night. On the following day, his doctors, having gathered around the sick bed to confer, agreed that extreme measures would be necessary in order to save his life. What did they have in mind? Repeated applications of a red-hot poker to the temple was their considered recommendation. Was that, one wonders, what the medical experts back then would have called “following the science”?