Have you heard of Catholic Robots?

I like robots and droids. As you know by now, I am a geek. I love R2D2 from Star Wars, Data from Star Trek, and Will Smith’s I, Robot.

So what could excite me more than medieval robots?

Oddly enough, the liturgical calendar this week lines up two of our “robot” saints.

The Saint Didacus Robot (AD 1580s)

As I discussed in the last podcast, King Philip II of Spain had a robot created of Saint Didacus (Nov 13) in order to commemorate the cure of his son Don Carlos through the intercessions of Saint Didacus. In short Don Carlos fell down some stairs and his head swelled up like a pumpkin. He went blind and lost consciousness. The corpse of Saint Didacus was brought in and the young man was healed. I tell the whole store with some more detail in this podcast.

Philip II’s robot is a walking version of Saint Didacus. The non-existent legs are hidden under the habit and the feet are automated. The mouth moves. He also strikes his chest “mea culpa” style.

It’s eerie but fascinating. The Didacus robot is now kept at the Smithsonian. Here’s a video of the friar-droid in action:


If you’re having trouble viewing the robot video, click here to see it.

Saint Albert the Great’s Legendary Talking Head

So you thought David Byrne of the 1980s was the first Talking Head? Well, not if you believe this strange medieval legend about Saint Albert the Great (feast day today November 15).

Albert the Great magnus

According to the fable, Albert the Great created a robotic automaton in the form of a brass head that would answer questions – something like the iPhone’s Siri but in the form of a brass bust). The idea is this: “There’s no way one human could know so much stuff…Therefore, Albert had a magical bronze head that taught him everything.” Crazy right?

Here’s an academic recreation of Albert the Great’s legendary talking brass head (just kidding):

Vader Head

Recreation of St Albert’s Talking Bronze Head
(just kidding)

The reputation of Albert’s power as a quasi-magician comes from his association with the Philosopher’s Stone (wrongly named Sorcerer’s Stone in the Harry Potter Saga).*

According to the bogus Pseudo-Albertine manuscripts, Saint Albert discovered the “Philosopher’s Stone” which could be used to turn base metals into gold or alternatively create the elixir of eternal life. We know the story is fake because it explains how Saint Albert the Great passed the Philosopher’s Stone to Thomas Aquinas just before his death. The problem is that Thomas Aquinas died before Albert the Great!

Of course, Saint Albert is best-known for his greatest disciple: Saint Thomas Aquinas – patron of the New Saint Thomas Institute where we discuss cool topics like this.

Saints Didacus and Albert the Great, pray for us!

Question: Who’s your favorite robot? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

* Before people start a Comments War, let me show my cards: I believe that Harry Potter books are bad news and should be avoided altogether. I know many exorcists. They are in 100% agreement that Harry Potter is spiritually toxic and have dealt with possessed people who were introduced to preternatural forces through Harry Potter. Also, regarding “the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the original British version of Harry Potter was “the Philosopher’s Stone.”

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  • RDGStout

    Odin was said to have a talking head that whispered to him the wisdom of the world. I can’t help but imagine that the old myth influenced the later legend. As for wizards, the whole Harry Potter thing reminds me of medieval debates regarding Arthur and Merlin: namely, how could Arthur be one of the Nine Worthies when he hung out with Europe’s most notorious sorcerer all the time? Their solution was to dub Merlin a cambion, sort of a latter day nephilim, who drew not on powers outside himself but on his own natural abilities. Good to know such debates are nothing new! :)

  • KSJ

    As one “trekkie” to another, obviously the Force is with you. And, R2D2 is my Bot! Thanks for a great blog.

    • http://taylormarshall.com/ Dr. Taylor Marshall

      Umm…Trek-ker…

  • http://therecusanthousemate.blogspot.com/ Chatto

    My ex-girlfriend told me that Robocop was a Catholic. Seriously. Apparently (I haven’t seen the film) there are other ‘robocops’ who all go mad and kill themselves because of the stress of their half-man-half-machine situation. Only the eponymous Robocop keeps his head, and his superiors attribute it to his Catholic upbringing. Can any Catholic sci-fi fans confirm this?

    • grainofsalt

      His name was Murphy, and they did attribute it to his Irish-Catholic upbringing and sense of duty. The movie was incredibly violent, even by today’s standards.

  • Timothy Black

    2 nitpicky things in an otherwise awesome post, because I’m a geek. Love me some sci-fi and robots. The first Harry Potter book is correctly titled Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK and other parts of the world. It was changed to Sorcerer’s Stone for the US, because the publisher didn’t think Americans would “get it.” And Talking Heads’ first record was in 1977. I suppose they peaked in the early 80s but their best stuff was in the 70s…in my opinion. Also the Didacus-bot is crazy. I watched that when the podcast came out a couple days ago…crazy!

  • Bruce Bedford

    Really, Harry Potter is spiritually toxic?!! It’s fantasy. How in the world does one acquire possession by demons via watching Harry Potter? It is fantasy! Does this mean I should not watch Fantasia because Mickey Mouse is dressed as a sorcerer and wields a wand? One other thing I wanted to say about heretics and the death penalty. Scripture says our greatest peril comes not from those who would hurt us physically but by those who would harm our souls or convince us to do things that would bar us from eternal life in Heaven. But kill them? I think one commandment says, “Do not kill!” And there is also something that says vengeance belongs to the Lord God.

  • geek

    This whole read was just great. Thank you!

  • elbo43

    I’m not sure if it counts as a robot but I rather like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, otherwise my favourite is definitely CP30 on Star Wars.

  • Maggie

    I have a house full of geeks, although I am not one of them. My children loved the robot who developed a conscience from Bicentennial Man. They love superhero movies and movies that deal with outer space and other realms. So yes, we love Data, R2D2 etc. Thanks for your terrific post!

  • Patricia Last

    I allowed and even encouraged my three children to read all Harry Potter books. I only read the first three and half of the fourth. We are devout Catholics. I have a degree in Early Elementary Education and know that we need to encourage children at an early age to read for pleasure. Many friends disagreed with me. What to do then – forbid Snow White because children might think all step-mothers are witches? How about step-sisters, are they all ugly and evil too. What of Hansel & Gretel, should it be forbidden because children will believe that old women with warts are witches? Did Minnie and Daisy cohabitate before marriage with Mickey and Donald? Was Scrooge MacDuck avaricious? No. I respectfully disagree. Witches have existed in much of children’s literature for centuries and it neither influenced nor introduced children to “dark forces”… it is fantasy.

  • Smb

    Gort, from “the day the earth stood still”

  • JMJT

    I’m still dreaming of the robot maid and butler who don’t listen to your conversations nor steal your correspondence.

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  • David L. Mohn

    My favorite robot was Robbie, from The Forbidden Planet (?), and later showed up in Space Family Robinson, as well as a number of tv scify shows.

  • Didactic

    The “saints” do not intercede for us. We have one mediator, the man Jesus Christ (whose birthday wasn’t on December 25th).