Apostolate for Epilepsy
Praying for those involved in cinema and theatre
Among a number of other patronages, St Genesius is also the patron saint of those who suffer from epilepsy. Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder which results in recurrent and unprovoked seizures, varying in degree in each individual case: some take major seizures (grand mal) while in others a seizure may be no more that a slight, momentary distraction. In reality the condition is not a single disorder, but rather understood as a group of syndromes, and not all are life long: some only occur in childhood. For the most part epilepsy is a hidden condition and most of those who suffer it bear no physical signs. It is estimated that there around 50 million people in the world who have the condition. For the most part epilepsy can be controlled by medication, although according to World Health Organisation statistics (2001), about 30% of those with epilepsy do not have seizure control even with medication. In serious cases surgical procedures can be performed to ease the condition.
In the past it was called “the falling sickness” (or in some cultures which saw it as a religious experience, it was called the “Sacred Disease”) and had a certain stigma was attached to it. It was viewed as some form of mental disorder and often in the past sufferers were incarcerated with the insane. Some religions also saw it as an indication of possession by demonic forces, while the ancient Romans saw it as a curse from the gods. While the condition is better understood today, the cultural baggage associated with the condition has left a residue and so the stigma remains. Those diagnosed with the condition often feel a sense of shame and fear, and so hide the fact that they have it. Despite this a number of well-known sufferers revealed to the public that they have the condition among them actors Danny Glover, Martin Kemp and Hugo Weaving, and also comedian Rik Mayall. Other artists with condition include the late Ian Curtis, Neil Young, Lindsay Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac) and Adam Horovitz (Beastie Boys). Among writers with epilepst: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Edward Lear and Laurie Lee. Historically some have argued that there is evidence that Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar had the condition, and there are claims that Muhammad also had the condition, although there is no evidence of it.
Among Catholic religious figures the future Blessed Pope Pius IX had childhood epilepsy and the Venerable Francis Libermann suffered from seizures which delayed his ordination to the priesthood for many years: when they ceased in 1841 he was ordained.
St Genesius, Patron of Epilepsy
As with many saints and their patronages sometimes connections are hard to make, and often a saint’s patronage will simply be the result of successful prayer to a saint for a particular grace over a long period of time. In other cases, a group of people may express a devotion to a particular saint and over time an association is made. We might see the work of the Holy Spirit in this, but knowing the love and generosity of the Saints, they are happy to intercede for what we need, and so we can presume they are willing to accept a patronage.
Genesius’s patronage of epilepsy has been acknowledged for a long time, and he shares this patronage with St Vitus and St Dympna. We are not sure of how he became associated with the condition: there is no evidence that he suffered from it. In the introduction to the Acts of his martyrdom, in Bollandists’ encyclopaedia of Saints, we read, reproduced from his Notes on the Hieronymian Martyrology (1688) an interesting account written by the hagiographer, F. M. Fiorentini on celebrations of St Genesius’ feast day at church dedicated to him in a village near Lucca in Tuscany, Italy:
© The Fraternity of St Genesius 2007
The solemnity of St Genesius… is kept on this day, the 25th of August, in a village near Lucca called Bargecchia, where there is a church dedicated to the same name, and an annual miracle still takes place in our day, which I myself have seen; nor do I think it out of place to make a brief note of it here, to the glory of the holy martyr. In the all-night vigil of the feast of St Genesius (the ancient images there seem to indicate an actor, and Rabanus mentions an actor on this day) there is a great coming together of the local people to that church; those who suffer from epilepsy, surrounded by families and neighbours, make their way in all haste to the church for healing and for the marvels of the surrounding soil.
Scarcely do those who suffer from this disease arrive on that sacred earth than immediately they are seized by an epileptic fit, and fall down on the ground; they are carried by pious hands to the portico of the church, and right through the night vigil the people help to carry them to and fro between the portico and a cross placed at the far side of that sacred ground, while they suffer very frequent epileptic seizures. Very many gain complete health; and one constantly hears that the others are not seized by the disease for the rest of the year. All these things are clearly seen by the eyes of all present year after year, and are worthy to be reckoned with those marvels which God has wished to take place on an annual basis, as signs of the true Church. Hence it is that the surrounding peoples call epilepsy “St Genesius’ disease”, and use the phrase: “He has touched the earth of St Genesius” about someone who cannot stand still.
While the Fraternity’s primary aim is prayer and support of those in theatre, cinema and the arts, and assisting the Church in the renewal of culture, it cannot ignore this patronage of our saint, and so right from the beginning an Apostolate for Epilepsy was included. Two councillors on the Council are responsible for this apostolate, Sr Eucharia Kenny, RSM, who as a trained nurse spent many years of her religious life caring for the sick. Now retired, she is keen to assist those suffering from epilepsy, promoting prayer to St Genesius for those who have the condition. She is assisted in this by Elizabeth King.
If you, or a member of your family have epilepsy, be assured that you are remembered in the prayers of the Fraternity. Prayers for epilepsy and for all who are sick are included on the website, but if you would like prayer cards or the Blessed Oil of St Genesius, please contact us. We would also like to invite you to join the Fraternity and offer your prayers and sufferings to help us in our mission. As St Genesius and his Fraternity pray for you, you may join that family of prayer and intercede for the others who are under his care. Details of membership are to be found on this website and you can send an application for membership to us from here. Prayer intentions can also be sent to us.