By Frank Pestaño
A SAINT in the Catholic Church is as rare as a 5-carat diamond. A chess playing one is even more so.
There are several reasons for this. Chess was invented between the fifth to sixth century probably in Iran or India and only spread to the middle east in the eighth century by the Muslims and to Europe around the 10th century via Spain.
Most of the saints of the church became one (saint) prior to this period.
I guess that if chess was played in the first century, I am sure that some of the apostles would have been playing the game. Additionally, during the middle ages, when monasticism and religious fervor were at its highest, the game of chess was banned at one time or another by most bishops and abbots in their jurisdiction as a “sin” or waste of time.
There are only three chess-playing saints that I know of. The most prominent one is a lady, St. Teresa of Avila known in the Church as Saint Teresa of Jesus (1515-82). Unknown to many, she is the patron saint of chess players and was a Carmelite nun and mystic. She was a leading writer during the Counter Reformation and the first female to be named Doctor of the Church in 1970.
In a previous article about her, I penned, “She wrote that we should play a “spiritual chess” with the Beloved of our hearts and that we should checkmate Him. She adds that He cannot escape from our moves and would not even wish to.”
Saint Thomas Becket or St. Thomas of Canterbury, (c. 1118 – December 29, 1170) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church.
He engaged in conflict with King Henry II over the rights and privileges of the Church and was assassinated by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral. His best friend was the King himself and they played a lot of chess together. People close to them say they have “one heart and mind”.
Saint Charles Borromeo (1538 –1584) was an Italian saint and cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. Owing to his influence over Pius IV, he facilitated the final deliberations of the Council of Trent and he took a large share in the drawing up of the Tridentine Catechism(Catechismus Romanus).
He was once playing a game of chess and someone asked him what he would do if he were suddenly informed that he was to die within the hour. He replied that he would continue the game, because he was doing it for God’s glory and he desired nothing better than to be called to God in the midst of an action that he had begun for the glory of God.
There has been a lot of talk that the late John Paul II would someday be canonized as a saint.
During his reign, the pope traveled extensively, visiting over 100 countries, including Cebu, more than any of his predecessors.
He was a chess enthusiast. In 1999 FIDE awarded the title “Grand Commander of the Legion of Grandmasters” to him.
The following popes were also noted chess players and I thought Innocent III and Leo XIII were saints.. Innocent III built the papacy into a more powerful, prestigious institution than it had ever been before. Leo XIII is known primarily by two encyclicals, “Rerum Novarum” and “Humanum Genus.”
There is however another side as Leo X is known primarily for the sale of indulgences to reconstruct St. Peter’s Basilica and excommunicating Martin Luther (also a chess player) and the subsequent rise of the Reformation giving birth to protestantism. Gregory VI was accused of purchasing the Papacy and freely admitted it and was forced to resign.