The Transformative Power of Cheese

So you think you love cheese? St. Perpetua was so impressed by a taste of cheese she had in a dream that she considered it proof of God’s divinity—and decided to die a Christian martyr during the Roman times of the third century rather than renounce a Lord who could make such heavenly curds.

I learned of St. Perpetua in the latest edition of Mental Floss, a magazine dedicated to confounding trivia and weird facts. In “Our Lady of the Curd: 4 Holy Women Transformed by Cheese,” (not online, sorry) writer David Clark tells of Perpetua, and other pious women, such as St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who ate cheese as a type of self-flagellation.

You see, in 17th-century Europe, cheese had a bad rep. People thought it was rotten, and would surely make you sick. Thus, when St. M.M.A. was asked by her Mother Superior to eat cheese when she entered the convent, she trembled for days at the thought. Nonetheless, her faith triumphed over her fear, and the sister managed to choke down a few disgusting ounces of cheese each day for the next eight years as a sort of ascetic ritual. The result? I guess cheese-eating really does something for your vision quests: St. Margaret Mary Alacoque is known for her vision of the Sacred Heart, Christ’s heart on fire, pierced, and crowned with a ring of thorns.

Clark also discusses Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the Mexican nun who gave up cheese so that its supposed intellect-clouding qualities would not disturb her religious studies, and Diana Duyser, the Florida gambler who discovered an image of the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich.

Of course, Duyser isn’t alone. The human tendency to see images in random patterns is hardly new. But most people who catch sight of a potato chip that looks like Jesus probably don’t later get a tattoo of it.

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