Sunday, December 10, 2023
Saints Alive

Fabian, Patron Saint of Dove Fanciers

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WEST GOSHEN, Pa.—Fabian d’Fabiano, whose name literally means “Fabian, Son of the Son of Fabian,“ was a poor excuse for an olive farmer, who lived outside Rome. To supplement his pitiful income he raised doves for racing and companionship and, when all else failed, food.

In 236 CE—shortly after the tragic yet unforeseen [sic] death of Pope Anteros—Fabian took himself to Rome. He went for many of the same reasons people still travel to Rome during a papal election today: celebrity gawking, fried smelts and thick slices of tomato pie from vendors, Papal Mingle Speed Dating booths, and fortune tellers.

The papal balloting, held next to an open-air pet market, had failed to yield a new pope on the first twelve votes, which were interrupted but briefly by two assassination attempts. People were beginning to mutter among themselves about “an heroicos pluvia stercore” when a dove that had escaped from its cage landed on Fabian’s head, which was crowned with a thatch of dry yellow hair that made him look as if he was balancing a young haystack on it. Although Eusebius the historian reported that the dove “landed” on Fabian’s head, other historians, principally Onerous the Obscure, claim the bird defecated (or perhaps even ejaculated) on Fabian’s dome.

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Whatever the case, the assembled multitude took it as a sign, a deja vu damn reminder of that time the Holy Spirit had descended upon Jesus’ head when Jesus was baptized. “Habemus papam. Habemus papam,” they shouted, lifting the startled Fabian onto their shoulders and carrying him about the town square with a frightened dove clinging murderously to the right side of his head. (Miraculously the dove’s claws left no marks on Fabian. He was credited with his first miracle as a consequence.)

As the qualifications for being elected pope were less refined in those days—it would be centuries before the sons of popes would be given legacy consideration in papal elections—Fabian was in. This despite the fact that he spoke no Latin, was not a priest, had not received Communion in three years, and was a complete stranger to most of the people of his small village.

Because Pope Fabian had not only raised doves but also had been selected for the papacy by a dove, he established a large aviary, that also served as his personal living quarters, in the papal residence. He devoted most of his time to the care and feeding of his ”winged little children“ during his thirteen years in office. He is said to have known all their names by heart, and he is credited with inaugurating the custom of releasing doves during masses and other special events.

Fabian’s devotion to his doves left him without much time or inclination to increase the papal coffers through the sale of indulgences or questionable relics. He has been criticized by some church fathers for this—”putat puppis non olet”—but Fabian was left in peace, some would say ”ignored,” by the Roman emperor, Philip, who rubber stamped Fabian’s appointments of seven deacons, whom Fabian named in honor of the seven Hills of Rome.

Pope Fabian was also instrumental in remodeling the catacombs, installing benches for visitors and courtesy lights in some of the darker regions. Sadly Pope Fabian was soon to occupy one of those burial vaults.

With the ascension of Emperor Decius in 249 CE, the Roman government lost patience with Christianity. Any Christian who refused to make an offering to a pagan god was toast. Fabian, who refused to sacrifice even the slowest and most sickly of his doves, became one of Decius’ first victims, dying as a martyr on 20 January 250. He was buried in the catacombs he had helped earn their first Michelin star.    

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