Monday, March 16, 2015

St. Jerome, Libraries, and Lions

Things were a bit slower than usual last week, as the campus emptied for spring break. I had a few spare minutes to investigate an "I wonder" that had crossed my mind-- the story of the patron saint of librarians. Or patron saints, rather; we have a few. But the most popular one here in the U.S. is St. Jerome, who turns out to have quite the interesting tale.

"Ghirlandaio, Domenico: Saint Jerome in His Study". Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online
St. Jerome was well-read and well-educated, with a solid grounding in the liberal arts. He spoke a lot of languages and liked the secular classics so much that he eventually felt convicted about it and decided that he had to focus on Christian materials, instead. Jerome did a lot of translation work, notably the translation of the Christian Scriptures from their original languages into the Latin Vulgate.

Jerome was not a very affable monk. He had a low tolerance for wickedness and errors, and he wasn't shy about pointing them out in his writing. This tendency did not win him many friends. At one point he headed out to the desert for a few years (he took his books with him). He also spent some time as Pope Damascus' secretary. Later, he founded a monastery near Bethlehem.

My favorite story about St. Jerome is of dubious authenticity, but I like it, so I'm going to tell it, anyway. According to the legend, St. Jerome was translating in his library one day when a lion limped into the workroom. The other monks reacted much as most of us would-- they tore out of the room as quickly as possible. Jerome was unfazed. As the lion approached him, he noticed a thorn in its paw. Jerome pulled out the thorn, winning him the undying loyalty of the lion, which protected him and his monastery thereafter. One story even claimed that the reason so many libraries have lion statues out front is that they are in memory of St. Jerome's lion.

I don't know if St. Jerome and his lion really have anything to do with Patience and Fortitude sitting outside of the NYPL, but I like the idea. I've told Dr. Stanley that Reeves really needs to get a lion or two.

In the meantime, my desk could benefit from this in case anyone is looking for a birthday present for me come August:

Sources and further reading:

Saint Jerome in Encyclop√¶dia Britannica 

Saint of the Day, St. Jerome from American Catholic

St. Jerome at Catholic Online

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