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There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

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27: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's St Christina the Astonishing
capital Lfemale saintAST MONTH'S STORIES OF Agatha and Azenor puts me in mind of St Christina the Astonishing, the 12th-century Belgian saint who also had miraculous breasts. Yes, there is much more to her story, and I know I shouldn't fixate on that one part, but I'm 38 and it's too late to change my ways now.

Aged 21, the orphan peasant Christina had a fit and died. During her funeral she revived and floated up into the church roof. The priest insisted she come down, so she landed on the altar and told her erstwhile mourners that she had been to heaven, hell and purgatory, the whole tour.

She had some eye-opening revelations about whom she had seen where, but her main intelligence was that human beings stank from sin. She ran off to begin a new ministry of prayer, vicarious suffering for souls in purgatory, and floating as high as possible to avoid the smell.

She sat in burning ovens and icy rivers, swam under mill wheels and leapt from treetop to treetop. She lived in rags and was chased about the country as a lunatic or demoniac. Sometimes she was chained by her own family, but escaped into the forest.

The Lord provided food for her on such occasions, but she had become rather fussy – she found human food like "swallowing the bowels of frogs."

"You've never eaten the bowels of frogs," my mum would have said. "Eat it or go hungry."

But the Lord was more sympathetic to Christina's dietary requirements and worked a miracle, allowing her to breastfeed herself. Her virginal breasts also produced oil which she dipped her bread into and which she used to treat her sores.

Christina was undoubtedly a real person, her life written by a contemporary, and she lived to the age of 70, though opinions were divided about whether she was holy, mad or demon possessed. The Catholic church, in making her patron saint of the insane, seems to have gone for some from column A and some from column B. Good call.

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