Comic Lens Extra: Report on St. Ethbin

 Although no official image of St. Ethbin can be found, some say this could be him as the subject above appears to be in prayerful contemplation as to what to do with this branch of fruit.

Although no official image of St. Ethbin can be found, some say this could be him as the subject above appears to be in prayerful contemplation as to what to do with this branch of fruit.

My sister and I are engaged in a most poignant task at present:  sitting in the living room of my apartment in Waterloo and going through our parents' boxes of letters, photos and mementos.   We’re reading, re-reading, learning and/or remembering things about our mom and dad that we'd forgotten or never knew.  One of the most moving things about this process is learning what, of all the things that comprised the "stuff" of their lives, were important enough to retain as keepsakes.  This has proved a perfect activity for the Easter season; it feels like my sister and I are traveling along a mysteriously wonderful tangent of Resurrection promise, and reality, by experiencing our parents in this way.

I was most surprised, delighted and honored that in my mom’s memento box was a report I had shared with her.  It was a one-page inquiry I had drafted during my seminary years as part of my Christian History studies.  I don’t recall whether this report was an assignment associated with our study of hagiography (ie the study of saints) or whether it was undertaken for extra-credit.  (I doubt I had much time for that, though….)  Perhaps it’s just a little something I came across at some point while pouring over the considerable resources of the Claremont School of Theology Library, and I shared with Mom because I thought she would appreciate it, maybe even find important.  Clearly, in any case, she did.

So I’m sharing this report on St. Ethbin with you now, just for fun.  And also because it’s still Easter!!

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ST. ETHBIN (1537?-1572) - French Huguenot chef and early millennialist movement leader.  Born and trained in the culinary arts in Paris, Ethbin became a favorite cook for the Guise-Lorraine family and finally rose to Head Chef at the fervently Catholic court of King Henry II and his wife, Catherine de Medici.  It was during this time, however, that he was converted to the Reformed Church via an invasion of Calvinist missionaries into the area.  Despite the fact that his cooking was immensely popular with the king, Catherine sought to rid the court of all Huguenot influences and blamed a near-fatal urinary tract infection on her ingestion of two of his most famous dishes — a hard-boiled egg concoction containing a spicy yoke filling and a specially-prepared chocolate cake.  Accusing Ethbin of causing Satan himself to place a curse on her food, he was forced to flee Paris.  He became Head Cook for the Huguenot leadership hiding underground in Alsace, and the eating of his now-legendary “Deviled Eggs” and “Devil’s Food Cake” became a gesture of Protestant revolutionary brotherhood not only in France but in other areas throughout Europe where persecution was also rampant.

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    However, Ethbin was later believed to have been hit in the head by a large raw potato and thereafter suffered from several apocalyptic delusions.  He moved onto Antwerp where he began a radical millennialist community that was believed to invite the imminent End of the World through the continuous ingestion of another of Ethbin’s culinary creations — the seven-layer salad, so named after the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse addressed in the Book of Revelation.  Ethbin’s community collapsed when all members died of infections of the colon, and although Ethbin survived, he was killed in a subsequent Huguenot massacre.  

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    Ethbin's recipes were brought to Germany by a band of Alsatian Huguenots fleeing persecution, and his dishes became very popular with a number of local Lutheran churches near Heidelberg.  Centuries later, these recipes traveled across the Atlantic and became a popular staple at potlucks in Lutheran churches throughout Iowa as well as church basement suppers of various Protestant denominations across the United States.

    It is highly doubtful that Ethbin was the inventor of the “Deviled Ham,” as that item can only be traced back to a Mother-Daughter Banquet held in Omaha.  Ethbin has also been traditionally linked to the “three-bean salad,” as that was originally believed to have represented the Trinity, but the evidence supporting this claim is, at best, specious.

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Information located by Jane Voigts, 31 Oct. 1994.