Saint UHRO’S DAY


Grasshoppers ate grapes: this is one of their sins.

So Saint Uhro chased them away from the Finns!                                                            -Anonymous

Voltaire once famously quipped: Si Dieu n’existait pas, it faudrait l’inventer: If God did not exist He must be invented.” This is pretty easy in polytheistic religions. A Dalit leader in India built a temple for the Goddess of the English Language.

Polytheism entered Christianity in disguise as hagiolatry: saint-worship. Many saints have local affiliations. St. Patrick is the Patron-Saint for Ireland; St. George, for England; St. Bridget for Sweden, St. Cyril for Bulgaria, etc. Though Saint Henrik is a Patron-Saint for Finland, he was actually an English clergyman who had come to Finland.  There have been English, German, French, Scandinavian, Spanish, Portuguese, and of course Italian and Greek saints in history, but really none who was born in Finland or did miracles in that country.

For many long centuries the people of Finland do not seem to mind this very much. But in the 1950s, it occurred to Richard Mattson in Minnesota, USA,  that it would be nice to have an authentic Finnish saint. One way to accomplish this would be to do some research and locate a truly pious Finn of the past who, besides being Christian, had also done something that could be regarded as miraculous, and report the matter to the Vatican. This would be too laborious a ask with no assurance of success.

So in 1956 – sixty years ago – following Voltaire’s dictum, Mattson invented a saint who was really a Finn, and gave him the same St. Uhro. (The name means brave in Finnish.) (Coincidentally -?- the President of Finland in 1956 was Uhro Kekkonen.) Now Mattson had to find a date to commemorate the saint’s day, and attribute a miracle him. He chose 16 March as St. Uhro’s Day: Just one day before St. Patrick’s Day which is celebrated with great fanfare in Minneapolis. As for the miracle which is a requirement for sainthood, Mattson declared that at one time Finland was invaded by a large swarm of grasshoppers which destroyed the grape-crop. It was St. Uhro who got rid of them. He did this very simply by uttering to the green insects: Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen! This has been roughly translated in a very unsaintly language as: “Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell!” This command must have been quite effective (and so deserving of sainthood for the personage who gave it) because grasshoppers have never again been a pest in Finland. Indeed, a side benefit of getting rid of the insects was that grapes and vineyard-jobs became galore for fair Finland.

Next, one has to specify modes of celebrating the day. It was recommended that the celebrants should wear something in royal purple and nile-green on that day. Celebrations include parties, parades and contests.

[See, e.g. http://www.sainturho.com/mattson.htm for other versions of this hagiogenesis.]

The project of creating this artificial saint was not unlike the introduction of the Kwanzaa festivities for African-Americans, and for all Africans more generally, a decade later (1966). However, with a hymn like the following, there is little likelihood that Saint Uhro’s name will ever enter the Christian catalog of saints, let alone a Psalm book.

Ooksie kooksie coolama vee -Santia Urho is ta poy for me!

He sase out ta hoppers as pig as birds – Neffer peefor haff I hurd dose words!

He reely told dose pugs of kreen – Braaffest finn I effer seen!

Some celebrate for St. Pat unt hiss nakes – Putt Urho poyka kot what it takes.

He got tall and trong from feelia sour – Unt ate culla moyakka effery hour.

Tat’s why day guy could sase does peetles – What crew as thick as chack bine needles.

So let’s give a cheer in hower pest vay – On this 16th of March, St. Urho’s Tay!

The name of St. Uhro has spread far and wide among the Finnish Diaspora (and even in Finland), for the urge to have a cultural heritage authentically one’s own is universal. There are paintings and statues of the saint who has the unique honor of being the only saint frankly recognized as purely imaginary.

There is,  of course, a tongue-in-cheek dimension to all this. But we must not forget that there is much fantasy in reports of the lives and deeds of many traditionally recognized saints and holy men in all religious traditions. It is because St. Uhro is a twentieth (post-science-awakened) creation that people see more humor, poetry, and joke of the miracle mongering  than those of distant generations. Given enough time and the persistence of the human proclivity for being excited about the supernatural, in due course St. Uhro will also become as authentic a saint as any other saint of any other religion. 

God appears and appeals to the human heart in mysterious ways.

March 16, 2016

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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