Friday, February 29, 2008


If Mayor Bloomberg had decided to run for President, he probably would have suspended alternate-side parking for Leap Year Day. Now that he has announced that he will not run, and because he can't run for Mayor again, there's no incentive for him to remain popular. Car owners had better be prepared for congestion pricing, higher rates for meters, and God knows what all else.

I find myself wondering what saint had the bad luck to die on February 29th and therefore be feted only once every four years. My Italian hubcap calendar assigns this day to San Giusto, about whom a single piece of information can be found: martyr. Oddly, a group of people on a Yahoo Italia site were wondering about the same thing. Correspondents cited St. Oswald of Worcester (an archbishop, of Danish parentage, who died in England on February 29, 992, and if he isn’t the patron saint of misprints, he should be); Sant’Augusto Chapdelaine, another martyr, who had something to do with a Parisian missionary order; and John Cassian (ca. 360-435), a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Churches but a mere Venerable among Roman Catholics, who brought the Egyptian brand of monasticism to Western Europe, founding an influential monastery in Marseille, where his relics (head and right hand) are kept and his feast is celebrated on July 23rd (the weather is better).

In Italian, Leap Year Day is “bisesto,” which looks totally inexplicable unless you are a Latin scholar, which I am not. I fell back on Webster’s Second International Unabridged, where I found “bissext,” the root of the English “bissextile,” from the Latin bissextus (bis = twice and sextus = sixth): “An intercalary day in the Julian calendar, added to February every fourth year. It followed February 24, the sixth day before the calends of March, and hence was counted as a second sixth day.” It dates all the way back to Julius Caesar in 46 B.C.

The best answer on the Italian Web site was San Precario. Perhaps San Giusto, too, is one of those made-up Italian saints, like San Paganino (the patron saint of payday). His name might signify, instead of a solitary martyr, a personification of Divine Justice, or at least of the Great Equalizer—he who evens up the solar calendar with a second sixth day every four years—putting a Christian spin on a pagan innovation. If I had to make a selection from my own legion of the saints, I think I'd go with St. Hot Cross Bun. Once every four years, it wouldn't kill you.


Roy said...

San Precario is a recent and totally fictitious Italian saint, invented by left wing political journalists. He is often invoked by young people who work in call centers and other service-sector jobs, under the recently reformed labor laws where these full-time employees enjoy no labor rights, and can be fired any time on any pretense (unlike all other Italian occupations, where it is almost impossible to be fired.

MJN/NYC said...

Thank you, Roy. It seems there is a real need for San Precario.

Roy also dug up the facts on San Giusto: a Roman, sent by Gregory the Great as a missionary to England in 601, he became the Bishop of Rochester and later the third Bishop of Canterbury. He is known for having written to the British and Irish, asking them to conform to the rites of the Catholic Church, but his epistles were largely ignored.