Composed by Master Alan Fairfax, November, A.S. LII
Here begins the life of the Holy Cynnabarius.
The city of Toledo has been adorned with the virtues of holy men and women who served as examples of virtue and patrons of the faithful. Not least among the saints of Toledo in virtue was Cynnabarius. Cynnabarius was born to parents of ancient lineage in the city who were famed throughout the city for their charity and their diligent service to all in need. His parents, Pedro and Maria, were merchants who sold furs to the people of Toledo. They were observant in all things as their ancestors had been, and the whole city rejoiced at their union and looked forward to the children who would be nurtured by parents of such virtue. After waiting a due time for nature to take its course, they remained childless and sought out the assistance of the saints—doubling their diligence and adding entreaties for their own child to the constant prayers they offered on behalf of others in need.
During this time King Alfonso the Brave came to Toledo, followed closely by the army of the King of Granada, who prepared to lay siege to the city. While Pedro went to the walls to take part in the city’s defense, Maria stayed in her home and engaged in her usual devotions. As she prayed, she found herself in the presence of a man garbed in the vestmens of a bishop, but glowing white and shining in the darkness. Looking up at the figure, she knew that she was in the presence of a saint sent from heaven.
“I am Saint Ildephonsus, patron of the city of Toledo.”
“Oh holy Elephantsus, welcome to my humble home, ”replied Maria.
“Ildephonsus. Your prayers have been heard, and in due time you will give birth to a son. You will raise him in this city, but when he becomes a man he will become a pilgrim and travel to the Holy Land, where he will be honored by many. He will be forgotten for many years. But his name will be revived by a people who bear his name. They will revere him as a saint and spread the fame of his name throughout the world.”
“Excellent! St. Raimundo of Toledo, leader of the Raimundeans. I like that.”
“Oh, no,” said the saint, “not Raimundo. His name has already been written in heaven. You shall name him…Cynnabarius.”
Maria puzzled over this name. She was not aware of the two Saints Cynnabarius who had been martyred in Slovenia some centuries before, so she found it a strange name indeed. “Are you sure it has to be Cynnabarius? What about Fernando?”
“Cynnabarius it will be.”
“Cynnabarius,” the saint said, with a note of finality. “In any case, do not fear for his safety. Nurture him but allow him to grow and seek out adventures. Allow him to meet people of all stations and all ways. One day people from many lands, with many beliefs and many strong opinions, will join together under his name to achieve great deeds. Let him speak with any who will welcome him, so that one day he will welcome all. And tell him that he will never be alone, for I, the holy Ildephonsus, will be with him wherever he goes.”
“Thank you, blessed saint Elephantsus, for your gift. We will follow your instructions faithfully—even the weird name.”
“You will do well. Just remember: Ildephonsus!”
On that very night, King Alfonso departed from this earth and was succeeded by his young daughter, Queen Urraca. In the midst of all the turmoil, Pedro remained away from his home for many days. When he returned, Maria faithfully recounted all that had happened, informed her husband of the blessed event, and at length informed her husband that the child would be named Cynnabarius. When he objected, she reminded him of the tale of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who was struck dumb when he argued with his wife about the name of their child. Not wishing to suffer the same fate, he consented. When the baby was born, he was duly named “Cynnabarius.” As he grew, his mother remembered the words of the saint and allowed Cynnabarius to venture through the city, conversing with the various residents of the city. In that time Toledo was home to people of many lands and many faiths, and Cynnabarius saw that each brought a unique gift to the city and its people. He went to the royal school where wise people from many lands met to study each other’s works and translate the knowledge of one land into the languages of others. Cynnabarius studied the tongues of many lands and gained knowledge of foreign lands, and longed to see them. Although his mother sorrowed to think that he would leave her home and journey to far lands, she was comforted by the knowledge that he had a patron watching over him, and reminded him that if he ever found himself in danger, he could call on the name of Elephantsus for protection and aid.
In due time Cynnabarius went to his father and asked for permission to go out into the world and learn more about the ways of the world and their people. And so Cynnabarius went east, over the Pyrenees and across France. No tales of his journey through those lands were kept, but “The Continuing Tale of Saint Cynnabarius” records that he stopped to rest in the monastery of Fulda, the great house under the patronage of St. Boniface. There he met a young monk named Thaddeus. We read that Thaddeus was poorly suited to the cloistered life, and so he sought permission to join Cynnabarius on his journey. Of course, having taken vows to remain in the cloister, it was not suitable for Thaddeus to simply leave his cloister to wander the world. Thus, Cynnabarius and Thaddeus made the decision to travel to Jerusalem as pilgrims. Although it must be said that they were more motivated by curiosity than devotion at this time, Thaddeus received permission from the abbot to undertake the long journey to Jerusalem with Cynnabarius on his pilgrimage. Indeed, the monks loaded them richly with gifts to sustain them on their long journey.
Cynnabarius and Thaddeus travelled south and east, eventually entering the Eastern March of the Empire, which at that time was almost a wilderness. On the road they met a traveler who told them that two pilgrims much like them had been attacked and killed by bandits not long before. He further informed them that the superstitious inhabitants of a nearby village were building a shrine to placate the spirits of the murdered pilgrims. Cynnabarius and Thaddeus went to the village and assisted in the building of the shrine, and it seems likely that Thaddeus was moved to stay with the ignorant villagers. Welcomed as a teacher, Thaddeus became the first person who found his true home through the influence of Cynnabarius.
For his part, Cynnabarius continued on his pilgrimage alone. He visited the great city of Constantinople, then filled with great wealth, scholars from all over the world, glorious wonders, and precious relics collected by the Emperors and other great men and women through the centuries. Undoubtedly Cynnabarius was welcomed there had rich opportunities to learn and to teach, but remembering his commitment and original goal he moved on past the great city and continued his journey to Jerusalem. Passing through Anatolia he went into the desert of Syria.
“Cynnabarius in Egypt” relates that while traveling through Syria a great sand storm rose up, in which Cynnabarius lost his way, causing him to wander having no sense of direction for weeks. Like the children of Israel in ancient times, he wandered through the trackless desert for a surprisingly long time, eventually finding himself in the land of Egypt. Without food or water, he lost his senses and fell to the ground in the hot desert sun.
Fearing for his life, Cynnabarius remembered the words of his mother. Though parched with thirst and burned by the desert wind, he called out as best he could: “Elephantsus! Elephantsus!” And in that moment, the lesson that Cynnabarius’ mother had taught him bore rich fruit. In the distance, a noble elephant heard the feeble cry. Recognizing his name, the elephant followed a path toward the weakened man. He filled his trunk with cool water and brought it to Cynnabarius. The elephant stood shading the holy man with his body until he regained his senses. When Cynnabarius roused, he was astonished to behold a sight unlike any he had imagined, with a massive body atop four column-like legs and a huge head with a long rope like snout. Large flaps of skin fanned out from each side of the beast’s face like wings and slapped gently back down.
At first he thought he was witnessing some kind of magic, but the long years he had spent seeking to understand others served him well. The elephant made it clear that he was a living creature—unusual in appearance but an animal like any other. Filled with wonder, Cynnabarius apologized for the misunderstanding. After this encounter, the elephant accompanied Cynnabarius for the rest of his days.
While Cynnabarius and the elephant were visiting another oasis, there was also passing through a large caravan, bringing many exotic beasts to the Sultan of the land. Among these beasts was an evil Tiger from the East who hated all elephants and upon seeing the holy elephant became mad and lunged out so fiercely it broke its bonds. The tiger came at the gentle elephant, teeth bared, intending to kill him. The elephant was so startled that he raised up and fell his foot on the big toe of the great Saint, causing him to lose his toe nail. Cynnabarius however was able to subdue the tiger with only a thin olive branch and tie him with a length of fine yarn spun from the soft wool of a lamb.
After this encounter, when Cynnabarius came to Jerusalem his fame preceded him, and he was pressed on all sides by people seeking his assistance. After he devoutly completed his pilgrimage, he realized that any hope goal of spending his life in study and meditation would be forlorn if he remained in a great city. So, despite his great love for others, he withdrew to a secluded cave in the desert accompanied only by the elephant, his companion. There in the desert he spent his days in peaceful labor, eased by the companionship and assistance of the great beast who befriended him. Like the desert fathers of old he greeted those who passed through the desert and gave them what aid and hospitality he could. Again the fame of his wisdom, gentleness, and holiness spread through the surrounding country, and not a few came to see him. His words of wisdom were treasured and shared with those who came to visit him, and it is said that he did wondrous deeds. However he strictly instructed those who visited him not to spread tales of his actions too widely, so that he might live in peace with his friend the elephant. While, as could be expected, his visitors followed that advice imperfectly, it is difficult to find evidence of the life of Cynnabarius in the desert. We do know that even though he was far removed from the world of scholars and learned doctors, he continued to welcome all who took the trouble to attend his hermitage, and used his knowledge of many lands and tongues to the benefit of his visitors. Thus we hope that diligent inquiry may reveal new information about Cynnabarius from diverse sources.
After living for over one hundred years, Cynnabarius recognized that he had reached the end of this earthly life. “Elephant,” he said, “you have been my faithful companion for these many years and God knows you deserve some rest. However I must ask that you complete one final task on my behalf. After I am gone you must take word of me far into the west.” He laid down for the last time on the mat in the cave on which he slept, and the elephant laid at his feet, and together passed from this world as they had passed through it. And even after this two great wonders are told of Saint Cynnbarius and the elephant. First, that after seven years a herd of elephants came to that region, where they were unknown, leading the people of the countryside to follow them. And when they arrived at the place where Saint Cynnabarius and the elephant lay, they found both incorrupt where they had laid, looking as though they had simply slept. The elephants stayed at that place for several days, mourning and wailing (for elephants, though incapable of speech, have great hearts and mourn for the dead), then dug graves for the two and buried them before departing. And by this sign it was confirmed to all that Cynnabarius was truly a saint worthy of reverence. So let us call upon Saint Cynnabarius in time of need, that he may bring us aid in time of hunger and thirst and bring us also the spiritual food of patience, hospitality, and kindness.