Of Spiders and Saints and So-Much-Kindness

A Guest Blog Post by Suzie Andres

My family and I are visiting my husband’s family in Florida.

Yesterday my husband surprised me by getting up early (this is vacation!) and asking if I’d like to go with him to Mass (it was a weekday morning; the feast of St. Sixtus the Second and of St. Cajetan, as it turned out).

As we got into his parent’s car, we noticed something on the driver’s side mirror, just a few inches away from my husband, but on the outside of the car…it was…a spider of some sort.

We were soon driving and the spider didn’t leave his web or even move. I suppose he clung harder…or actually, I should say, she clung harder….because I was certain it was Charlotte herself!

For spun into the spider’s web were words! The words formed the shape of a white cross – the kind of cross St. Andrew was crucified upon, according to our beautiful tradition. St. Peter asked to be crucified upside down, feeling unworthy to die in the same way as his best friend and Savior. I guess St. Andrew didn’t feel worthy to die like his brother! (I bet I’m missing something here – but ah, the Internet – here is what I have found to better explain–)

One of the most famous symbols, St. Andrew’s Cross is shaped like a big X.
Saint Andrew was martyred by crucifixion at Patras in Achaea in Greece. Because St. Andrew deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross on which Christ had been crucified, he asked to be tied to a Crux decussata or an X shaped cross. Thus the Saltire became known as Saint Andrew’s cross. 

The Scottish flag proudly displays the Cross of St. Andrew. In 832 AD, King Angus MacFergus had a dream the night before a battle, where Andrew appeared to him. During the battle the next day, a saltire or x-shaped cross like that of the St. Andrew’s cross appeared on the battlefield giving the Scots encouragement and causing their opponents the Northumbrians to flee the field. Saint Andrew’s cross is known as the Saltire and it began to appear not only on the flags but also on the coins and clothing of the Scots. 

(from St Andrew’s Cross)

So there you are, we were dealing with a Scottish spider. No wonder I’d never seen anything like it! Only it was also a New England spider, clearly a descendant of Charlotte, because from where I sat in the passenger seat, the cross looked like it spelled out words. Add to this that the mirror over which is stretched did a wondrous job of reflecting spider, web, and cross, and you can understand why we were quite enraptured by this wonder of nature.

When we returned from Mass, the spider was still there, and we had time to examine her and her web at leisure. I came inside and invited my in-laws to come out and examine her. My mother-in-law brought out a magnifying glass and we were even more astounded…

Our spider was orange with stripes on the legs; she wore a stunning silver bodice; and her head –no, actually that was her abdomen– well it reconciled me at last to the head of Darth Maul! It was like a jewel encrusted royalty-thing-like-Queen-Elsa-held — like a mace? Or maybe like a mitre…and studded with jewels, truly–teensy tinsy jewels, but they were jewels as clearly as her bodice was pure silver…

I told my mother-and-father-in-law that I could find this spider on the Internet, and thus identify her, in 5 seconds. I was wrong! Looking up Florida spiders (that’s where we are at the moment, in the southeast corner of the United States), I saw many images on sites that seemed to present exhaustive portraits of the local inhabitants, but nothing like our spider.

I tried again and typed into Google “Spider with a cross on its web.”

Bingo! St. Andrew’s Cross Spider, native to…Australia?

St Andrews Cross by Cyron, (CC BY 2.0)

Considering I’d been living in Australia (not really; perhaps we could say I was vacationing there while on my vacation to Florida, but I was considering moving — as in: to Sue Elvis’ blog!), well this was marvelous! Miraculous really!

Had an Australian spider come all this way just to make me feel at home (in her homeland?) – or perhaps she was doing a house exchange with a native Florida spider who was now weaving a web across some part of an Elvis-mobile?

Looking more closely at our spider’s web, I was slightly disappointed that there were no words in the cross…but the beauty and wonder didn’t leave much room for disappointment! And all day, whether we left the car in the driveway or took it out for a spin – that spider stayed settled in her new home! Okay, except when my mother-in-law went out to get the mail…then the spider — “zoop!” as my m-i-l put it — zipped down on a thread to the ground! And moments later, when my m-i-l walked up the driveway and again past the car? “Zip!” Somehow just as speedily as she’d dropped, the spider ascended back to the mirror. But the speed with which she did it astonished the observer! How in the world…?

Or again: where in the world?

My husband almost burst my bubble when he explained that this spider was most likely not actually from Australia…the wikipedia article he read said that there were maybe several species of spider (all in the same genus) that made a cross or “x” on their webs like this, and they were spread over the world – there was a species in the Philippines, for instance, called the X spider. It seemed that only my punching in “cross on the web” had brought up the St. Andrew’s Cross spider in particular…If I’d punched in “x on the web” I’d have gotten the Philipino X spider…

Ah, but what a spider, no matter where she resides (or visits)! For yes, it turns out she is native to this area (South Florida, USA) too…although I’m not convinced this isn’t an Aussie cousin on a vacay to her U.S. cousin…

My disappointment couldn’t last for long. Here is what wikipedia has to say — that the spider in North America is sometimes called “the zipping spider” (my mother-in-law turns out to be a great naturalist and could have named this species!), and also “the writing spider” because of the similarity of the web stabilimenta (in this case that would be the cross) to writing. So she is descended from Charlotte! And in the Philippines, she is sometimes known as gagambang pari, that is “priest spider,” because of the way the spider’s body resembles a priest with a mitre!

Clearly we are talking about a very Catholic and literary spider here; hence her accompanying us to church and then onto Sue’s blog…

Which leads me from spiders to Saints…Did you know that St. Therese was terrified of spiders?

I think this fear was just something God allowed her to offer up because He really wanted her to be born in her own saintly family. Her parents will be canonized this October during the Synod on the Family

and she had the joy of living with 3 of her sisters who were also, in the Lisieux convent, Carmelite nuns. Her remaining sister, Leonie, was eventually a Visitation nun at Caen, also in France, and Leonie’s cause for canonization has recently begun!

Since Therese’s saintly family lived in France, that’s where she was dropped, like a heavenly rose, into their midst…and I bet she never ever came across a St. Andrew’s Spider there (or a writing spider or a priest spider). Which would explain her fear of spiders not being replaced — as fear was so famously and happily replaced in almost every other instance in her life — by love. Perfect love casts out fear, and St. Therese was wedded to Pefect Love, so there was no room for fear. Maybe she did overcome her fear of spiders even on this earth! But surely now in Heaven she sees their beauty…

I think this must the longest post ever to appear on Sue Elvis’ blog — which is why I think it’s best that my place here is in a page of my own, a page I’m planning to maintain more as a webite than a blog. Thank you, Sue, for giving me a page–a room–of my own, and for letting me enter through your main room!

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Internet, but clearly there is too much beauty in this world for just one person to write about it, and for even the writings of many to be contained only in books. And so I say hoorary for blogs! Hooray for Sue Elvis’ dear blog that has welcomed so many and now welcomes me in a special a space where I can in turn welcome my readers. Hooray, in other words, for blogs that have a page that looks like a website and can even direct the reader back to books! And last but not least, hooray for spiders that live in the book of creation and send their observers most joyfully to the “book of the Internet,” where one can find the spider she’s looking for, if not in 5 seconds, at least in 5 minutes!

My spider is from Australia, I’m fairly sure of it. I hope she enjoys her vacation as much as I’m enjoying mine. It is nice to imagine that she was in as much wonderment when she saw me, as I have been since I saw her! But even if a spider can’t be full of wonder, certainly St. Therese, who showers me with so many roses that I suspect she showered me with a spider we could both love, and clearly St. Andrew, my family’s patron saint whom I hardly ever remember is watching over us but who sent me a spider who shares our name, surely these two among many others are in wonderment at God’s glories on earth as in heaven — even if the beautiful spider is unable herself to wonder (which inability is redeemed by her own little way of glorifying God in perfect accord with His plan).

Pope John Paul II Hybrid Tea Rose by Liz(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

{These particular roses-from-Therese for us today are John Paul II hybrid tea roses, described by one purveyor as having Exceptional Disease Resistance, Vigorous Growth, and Perfect Bloom Form. But of course! They’re straight from Heaven!}

When I go home soon from Florida to my native California, perhaps my spider will return to her proper home in Australia. (We are departing from an International Airport, after all). Even if she has actually begun her life here, not really on vacation but a genuine Floridian-American, I can’t possibly saddle her with the life-long sobriquet “black and yellow garden spider” which is the unimaginative name she is apparently sometimes called in these parts…I may have to look up international flights to NSW, and see if I can wave her off on her long plane ride to stay with the Elvis family there.

But with what delight will I know, even as my vacation is over, that my stay in Australia has just begun! Spiders…Saints…and so much kindness — That last would be the kindness of Sue Elvis, and lately her daughter Sophie too! Sue has long included me as a welome visitor on her blog, and now she’s set up a room for me all to myself. There will be lots of windows, right up by the ceiling, so that you can climb (or click) back to the many other beautiful pages and rooms in Sue’s blog-as-good-as-a-book…And there will also be more magic portals all the way down the page, throughout the length of my new room, we might say — portals leading to my favorite books and their authors (whom I know will graciously welcome you too, for they are gentle authors, all) and leading to my saints as well–their welcome is the stuff of legends, as well as modern-day miracles.

Good-bye, dear spider. Good-bye until our next visit, dear in-laws of so much kindness. Good-bye Florida, but hello Australia (and everywhere else in the world thanks to the wonders of the Internet, and thank you Sue and Sophie, for making me feel right at home. My job today is to get you a profile picture for my new page…I’ll resist the temptation to let my spider’s photo take the place of my own! She’s lovely, but in case St. Therese drops by, we may want to keep the roses to make her feel right at home 🙂

Oh, and for those who would like to visit while we’re emptying boxes and moving in, come on by! You’ll have to provide your own cup of tea, but we’ll provide a warm welcome. You can always find us by typing “Suzie Andres Sue Elvis” into google (that’s what I keep doing!) or click on the handy secret doorway to gain instant access: Suzie Andres 

Author of
Homeschooling with Gentleness
A Little Way of Homeschooling and
The Paradise Project

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    • Amy
    • August 14, 2015

    What a lovely long post! I look forward to reading more.

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