|A depiction of St. Otteran|
I learned today that there is a patron saint of atheists – Saint Odherain (also spelled Oran, Otteran, Odhran, and Oderan). Apparently, he was a sixth century Irish monk on the Scottish island of Iona. The lead monk (named Columba) was trying to get a chapel constructed on the island, but every morning, he’d rise to find that the previous day’s work had been destroyed. When a voice told Columba that this would continue to happen unless they buried someone alive in the foundation, Odherain volunteered. (All I can say is that life on Iona must have really sucked in the sixth century, if being buried in a church foundation seemed preferable.)
|St.Otteran's gravesite and chapel in Iona|
In some versions of this story, Odherain is Columba’s brother or his son, not just a fellow monk. In any case, any familial attachment was insufficient for Columba to reject the offer, so Odherain was buried in the foundation and the chapel was successfully completed. Quite some time later, when Odherain was presumed dead, there was a rumbling in the chapel and Odherain pushed his head up from the floor of the chapel. He proceeded to tell the congregation that there wasn’t any hell, nor any heaven either. At this point, Columba either just pushed him back into the ground, or had him reburied - some say back in the same place but deeper, others say in the consecrated ground of the churchyard – so that he’d shut up about it.
And after all that, the poor guy is given charge over atheists, the one group of people especially unlikely to ever petition him. It’s quite the Catch-22 here - if atheists want help, they must petition Odherain; but if they petition Odherain, they aren’t atheists and therefore, don’t qualify for help. Ah well, such is the way of the world, isn’t it? Now, I’m off to see if I can find some Saint Odherain holy cards or saint’s medals. They’d be a lovely match for those of Saint Expeditus that I already have. Wish me luck!