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  • 5 Candidates for the Patron Saint of Urban Planners

    There's patron saints for all the people planners deal with every day; architects, lawyers, politicians, civil engineers, builders, and real estate agents. There's even patron saints for candle makers, taxi drivers, clowns, truss makers, stenographers, pastry chefs, soap boilers, and French airline crews. However, there's no patron saint of urban planners. It's not fair. We're the city builders, the place makers, the ones who bring order out of a chaotic built environment, yet there's nobody up there looking out for us. A developer can light a candle and call out to any or all of six patrons — Barbara Blaise, Louis IX, Our Lady of Loreto, Thomas the Apostle, and Vincent Ferrer — for aid in getting a property rezoned. There's no patron a planner can turn for help to convince the powers that be the request doesn't conform to the comprehensive plan, and should be denied. Sure, there's always Saint Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes, but he's already overworked, with those thousands of classified ads he has to read every day.

    It's time to change that. In a world of growing cities, sprawling suburbs, diminishing natural resources, and the ever-looming threat of government cutbacks that usually take the planners first, we need a patron saint that's on our side of the counter, to intercede for us when things get tough. Here's a short list of the beatified who would make ideal candidates for the job of patron saint of urban planners.

    5) Thomas the Apostle

    Currently the patron saint of: architects, builders, construction workers, geometricians, masons, people in doubt, stone masons, surveyors, and theologians.

    Feast day: July 3.

    Why he's right for the job: Not much was written about Thomas, and what was noted doesn't seem to have a connection to the professions he represents as a patron saint. Like many planners, Thomas was pessimistic, but loyal. "Doubting Thomas" is best known for questioning Jesus' resurrection when first told of it. If he were alive today, Thomas would likely believe that proposed lifestyle center, when completed, won't look a thing like the renderings.

    How he died: Thomas was supposedly speared to death near Madras, India. No, it wasn't a public meeting; he was in prayer.

    Conclusion: Thomas is a fairly popular saint who seems quite busy with those on the other side of the counter. However, being an evangelist, he might make a good intercessor for new urbanists.

    4) Sebastian of Aparicio

    Currently the patron saint of: Mexican transportation.

    Feast day: February 25.

    Why he's right for the job: Sebastian was born to Spanish peasants. When he was 31, he sailed to Mexico, where he found his niche in transportation. At first, he built oxcarts to take agricultural goods to market, but later realized they would be more effective if they traveled on a network of good roads. He eventually built over 600 miles (1000 kilometers) of roads. His crowning achievement was a 466 mile (750 kilometer) road from Mexico City to Zacatecas, which took 10 years to build and required careful negotiations with indigenous people along the route.

    How he died: Sebastian died in 1600 of natural causes, performing miracles until his very last days. Kind of like the elderly FAICPers who still make it to every national planning conference.

    Conclusion: While beatified, Sebastian is not an official saint yet. Transportation planners would benefit from having him on their side, but there might be too many similarities with Robert Moses for younger planners to be comfortable with him.

    3) Ferdinand III of Castille

    Currently the patron saint of: engineers, governors, magistrates, paupers, prisoners, and rulers.

    Feast day: May 30.

    Why he's right for the job: Ferdinand III was the King of Castile from 1217 and León from 1230. He founded and funded hospitals, monasteries, and churches. He reformed Spanish law, and compiled it into a form used centuries afterward. He was considered a just ruler, using his power to better his people and his nation.

    How he died: Ferdinand died of natural causes in 1252.

    Conclusion: An excellent administrator who would likely welcome and appreciate the work of today's planners.

    2) Bernward of Hildesheim

    Currently the patron saint of: architects, goldsmiths, painters and sculptors.

    Feast day: November 20.

    Why he's right for the job: Bernward served as a scribe and chronicler at the court of Otto II and Theophanu. However, he was better known as a builder. As Bishop of Hildesheim. Bernward was determined to give his city an image fitting for a center of power in the Holy Roman Empire. He refurbished older buildings, built new churches, and erected a massive twelve-towered wall and network of forts in the countryside to protect Hildesheim from attacks by the neighboring Slavs.

    How he died: Bernward died of natural causes in 1022, just a few weeks after the consecration of the last church he built, St. Michael's in Hildesheim.

    Conclusion: St. Bernward got stuff done. He's a fairly obscure saint who probably has plenty of time to intercede on your behalf. He's a good choice for a patron saint of planners if our #1 choice turns us down.

    1) Thomas More

    Currently the patron saint of: attorneys, civil servants, court clerks, lawyers, politicians, and public servants.

    Feast day: June 22.

    Why he's right for the job: Experience! Thomas More was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist. In his early career, he earned a reputation as an honest and effective public servant. He worked his way up to become an important councilor to Henry VIII of England and, for three years toward the end of his life, Lord Chancellor.

    Thomas More's best known work was Utopia — a word he coined — which describes a traveler's journey to a perfect imaginary society with orderly cities that were lushly described, equal education of men and women, six hour workdays, and religious tolerance. Utopia also had communal land ownership, a concept which would earn More the moniker of "damn commie planner" if he mentioned such a thing today. More drew illustrations and maps of imaginary cities, just as many aspiring planners did in their younger years.

    How he died: Thomas More refused to support the establishment of the Church of England. He told the court that he could not go against his conscience and wished his judges that "we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together to everlasting salvation." By asserting his integrity and refusing to bend his beliefs for the political gain of his boss, King Henry VIII, he was beheaded on Tower Hill in London in 1535. It's the rare planner who can't relate to that.

    Conclusion: As a Brit, St. Thomas More would prefer you call him the new patron saint of town planners.

    Anyone we forgot? Post a comment and let us know.

    Comments 13 Comments
    1. Dan's avatar
      Dan -
      Some other possible saints that were considered:
      • Lawrence: represented by a gridiron, he was grilled alive!
      • Anna Marie Tiagi: patron saint of victims of verbal abuse.
      • Kateri Tekakwitha: patron saint of environmentalists.
      • Ivo of Kermartin: patron saint of advocates.
    1. TerraSapient's avatar
      TerraSapient -
      The clear answer is Thomas More. He is likely the grandfather of our profession. However, I'm inclined to like Bernward of Hildesheim as well. I think we need a poll.
    1. UrbaneSprawler's avatar
      UrbaneSprawler -
      I was initially wondering how the person who I think is the most obvious was not included, but then I realized that Andrés Duany is still alive.
    1. Dan's avatar
      Dan -
      The usual candidates (Andres Duany, Jane Jacobs, Louis Mumford, Daniel Burnham, etc) aren't real saints, despite the claims of miracles they might have performed.
    1. JNA's avatar
      JNA -
      I would not list Robert Moses as a saint.
    1. Dan's avatar
      Dan -
      Quote Originally posted by JNA View post
      I would not list Robert Moses as a saint.
      But he almost performed a miracle by parting Manhattan ...
    1. Richmond Jake's avatar
      Richmond Jake -
      I guess it's too early to add Saint Jake of Richmond, the patron saint of conspicuous acts of drunk dialing, bitching about white tile floors, hot tubbing, blueshirt tebowing, and sipping wines by the pool, to the wall of shame?

      You say I need to die first? I thought so. Let's wait a couple of decades or so.
    1. Mud Princess's avatar
      Mud Princess -
      Quote Originally posted by Richmond Jake View post
      I guess it's too early to add Saint Jake of Richmond, the patron saint of conspicuous acts of drunk dialing, bitching about white tile floors, hot tubbing, blueshirt tebowing, and sipping wines by the pool, to the wall of shame?
      If we had a "like" button here, I'd click on it.

      Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
      But he almost performed a miracle by parting Manhattan ...
      Don't you mean the Bronx? Well, maybe both. Robert Moses would be the opposite of a saint.
    1. Dan's avatar
      Dan -
      I should say "almost parted Manhattan."

    1. beach_bum's avatar
      beach_bum -
      See I think we should go for the obvious, St. Thomas More, I mean planners are more under the radar so to speak....so I think the 2nd choice is perfect, obscure, yet important, like the planning profession
    1. Gotta Speakup's avatar
      Gotta Speakup -
      I'd vote for Thomas More. We could add A Man For All Seasons to the list of movies with planners.

      Plus Thomas is one of my middle names.
    1. Dan's avatar
      Dan -
      I just realized something:

      Thomas More:

      Mark Brendanawicz

      There's a bit of a likeness.
    1. Fabrisse's avatar
      Fabrisse -
      St. Benezet of Avignon

      First of all, he's not likely to be busy. Secondly, he founded the medieval bridge building brotherhoods which helped promote trade and the exchange of ideas. Surely, that's the ideal for urban planning.