St. Blaise's Day

St. Blaise's Day

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: February 3
Where Celebrated: England, France, Germany, Spain, United States, and by Christians all over the world
Symbols and Customs: Blessing the Draft Horses, Blessing the Throat, Bonfires, Candles, Comb, St. Blaise's Loaves

ORIGINS

St. Blaise (or Blasius) was the child of rich and noble parents, who raised him as a Christian. He was a physician by profession and was made Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia sometime early in the fourth century. All of the legends about his life portray him as a kind and generous man who loved animals and birds.

One legend in particular tells how Blaise escaped the persecution of Christians in Armenia by fleeing to the mountains and living in a remote cave. The wild beasts around him immediately saw that he was a friend and neither feared nor attacked him. Instead, they came to his cave every day, waiting patiently outside until he was finished with his devotions, and asked for his blessing. He also healed their injuries and cured their diseases, in return for which the wild birds brought him food in their beaks. Eventually his hiding place was discovered, and he was dragged off for punishment by Agricolaus, the governor of Cappadocia and Lower Armenia.

On his way back to the city, he met a woman whose only pig had been carried off by a wolf. He rescued the pig by demanding that the wolf give up its prey. Later, when he was in prison, this same woman secretly brought him food and CANDLES to lighten the darkness of his cell. But even her kindness could not prevent his being tortured and beheaded in 316.

Today, St. Blaise's Day is observed by those who are afflicted with throat troubles (see BLESSING THE THROAT ) and, to a lesser extent, by people who care for wild beasts and working animals (see BLESSING THE DRAFT HORSES ). At one time, he was the patron saint of wool-combers (see COMB ). The basis of the remembrance of St. Blaise, as well as other saints, is found in ancient Roman tradition. On the anniversary of a death, families would share a ritual meal at the grave site of an ancestor. This practice was adopted by Christians, who began observing a ritual meal on the death anniversary of ancestors in the faith, especially martyrs. As a result, most Christian saint days are associated with the death of the saint. There are three important exceptions. John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus are honored on their nativities (birthdays). Many who suffered martyrdom are remembered on saint days in the calendars of several Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant sects.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Blessing the Draft Horses

According to legend, on the journey back from his mountain hideaway with his captors St. Blaise stopped to bless the draft horses he passed on his way. For this reason, February 3 is often associated with the blessing of work horses. In Bavaria, farmers used to bring their work horses to church on St. Blaise's Day to be blessed by the parish priest. In some areas, the horses would be led to church wearing a small brass COMB behind one ear.

Blessing the Throat

Another event said to have occurred either on the way to his trial or just before St. Blaise was executed explains why he is the patron saint of sufferers from throat afflictions. A child who had swallowed a fishbone was on the verge of choking to death when St. Blaise touched his throat, dislodging the bone and saving the child's life. Perhaps his training as a physician helped him to do what was needed, but the incident was hailed as a miracle.

In some Roman Catholic churches, the ceremony known as Blessing the Throat is observed on February 3, St. Blaise's Day. In the church of St. Etheldreda in London, for example, two long CANDLES are blessed, lighted, and tied together with ribbons to form a cross. Those who suffer from throat ailments kneel while the ribboned cross is laid under their chins. Their throats are touched gently with the ends of the lighted candles while the priest says, "May the Lord deliver you from the evil of the throat, and from every other evil."

Bonfires

The custom of lighting a hilltop bonfire on St. Blaise's night has often been explained by the connection between the saint's name and the word "blaze." A more likely explanation is the saint's association with fire and light (see CANDLES ) and the fact that his feast day is the day after CANDLEMAS, also a festival of fire and light.

Candles

The candles that are lit in churches on St. Blaise's Day or tied in a cross and used to bless throats commemorate the candles brought to him in prison by the woman whose pig he had rescued. St. Blaise told her that every year on the anniversary of his death she should offer a candle in church in his memory. He also promised that good things would happen to her and to others who followed this practice faithfully.

Comb

Before he was executed, St. Blaise was tortured by having his flesh torn with sharp iron combs, similar to those used in the preparation of wool for weaving. Because of this, he became the patron saint of wool combers, and his cult flourished during the Middle Ages in Germany, France, Italy, England, Scotland, and other countries where the wool trade was important.

Until fairly recently in England, St. Blaise's Day was observed as a holiday in all of the major wool-producing towns, which held processions and pageants. Everyone involved in the production of wool-from young apprentices to wealthy merchants, from shepherds and sheep shearers to weavers, spinners, and dyers-participated in these processions, which were usually accompanied by lively music. St. Blaise was represented by a man dressed as a bishop riding on horseback, carrying a book in one hand and a comb in the other. Sometimes a shepherdess would ride in a carriage, carrying a live lamb in her lap. Speeches and poems were recited in honor of the wool trade and its patron saint.

St. Blaise's Loaves

In Spain, small loaves called tortas de San Blas or panecillos del sants (little breads of the saint) are baked in preparation for St. Blaise's Day. They are then blessed during Mass and eaten by the children to prevent them from choking during the coming year.

FURTHER READING

Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Cohen, Hennig, and Tristram Potter Coffin. The Folklore of American Holidays. 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999. Dunkling, Leslie. A Dictionary of Days. New York: Facts on File, 1988. Harper, Howard V. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Hole, Christina. Saints in Folklore. New York: M. Barrows, 1965. Jobes, Gertrude. Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore, and Symbols. New York: Scarecrow Press, 1962. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992.

FURTHER READING

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia www.newadvent.org/cathen/02592a.htm

St. Blaise's Day

February 3
The association of St. Blaise (or Blase, or Blasius ) with the blessing of throats can be traced to a number of sources. According to one story, as he was being led to his own execution in 316, he miraculously cured a child who was suffering from a throat infection. Another story has it that he saved the life of a boy who was choking on a fishbone. In any case, St. Blaise, since the sixth century in the East, has been the patron saint of people who suffer from throat afflictions, and celebrations on this day in the Roman Catholic Church often include the blessing of throats by the priest. In Paraguay, the religious services are followed by a holiday festival ( see San Blas, Fiesta of).
Among the many tortures said to have been suffered by this saint was having his body torn by iron combs similar to those used at one time by wool-combers in England. St. Blaise thus became the patron saint of wool-combers as well, and his feast day has traditionally been celebrated in English towns where the woolen industry is important.
In Spain they bake small loaves, called tortas de San Blas ("San Blas's loaves") or panecillos del santo ("little breads of the saint"). They are blessed during mass, and each child eats a bit to prevent him or her from choking during the year.
SOURCES:
BkDays-1864, vol. I, p. 219
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 46
DictDays-1988, p. 100
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 31
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 70
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 121
OxYear-1999, pp. 65, 74