Today, I am seriously considering a hot toddy in honor of St. Blaise (or St. Blase, St. Blazey, San Biago, San Blas, Agios Vlasios, or Sourb Barsegh), the patron saint of throat illnesses, wild animals and wool gatherers, among a great many other things. The only trouble is that I’m not sure rye would work with lemon and honey. Still, sacrifices must be made to advance knowledge.Blaise was a wealthy Armenian physician in what was then Sebastea, Cappadocia and is now Silvas, Turkey. It is a place best known for sour yogurt soup, sour potato soup (with yogurt), and killing people. According to legend, 65 people drowned in a pond trying to kill Blase, plus seven women who were so impressed by his torture that they gathered up his blood and refused to sacrifice it to the Roman gods. Some people will do anything to get out of the house. The women reportedly shed milk rather than blood from their wounds, leading two of their children to exclaim, “leave us not after thee, but right sweet mother, like as thou hast nourished us with thy milk so replenish us with the realm of heaven.” Kids say the darndest things.
A few years later, the townfolk tried to revive the old show in a barn, but they were only able to martyr 40 Christians. One wonders how hard they were trying. That’s nothing by Broadway standards. Then there were the usual wars and invasions by Tamerlane. About twenty years ago, rioters protesting a humorist’s presence at a conference burned a hotel in Sivas, killing 37 people. Anyone who sees this as evidence of barbarism hasn’t tried to read Larry the Cable Guy’s book. Lately, hardly anyone’s been massacred there, though.
Blaise lived in a cave, like any self-respecting saint. He also had birds and animals who would come to see him, but they were polite enough to wait until after he was done with his prayers. At our house, they won’t even wait for dinner to be over.
One day, a widow told Blaise a wolf was being mean to her little piggy. Well, what would you expect? He had hardly chewed on the pig at all, maybe just a little around the ears and tail as an appetizer. But Blaise asked the to give the little porker back to the widow, and he did. Later the widow slaughtered the pig and brought its head and feet to Blaise in prison. The pig’s reaction to his short-lived reprieve is not recorded, but I’ll bet the wolf was disappointed. The widow also brought Blaise a pair of candles, which became one of his symbols in later years. Oddly, no one seems to have paired them with a pig’s head.
Everybody agrees that Blaise ran into trouble in 316, unless it was 387 or 283. Anyway, it was when Agricola was governor of the region and during the fifteen minutes or so when Licinius Augustus controlled Cappadocia and didn’t like Christians. He came to a sticky end later in his second civil war against Constantine. Some people just don’t know how to be satisfied with occupying Thrace. Blaise was peacefully avoiding the soldiers in his cave when some hunters stumbled across him and turned him in to the governor. And what, we may ask, were they doing in the woods out of season? Blaise may or may not have been healing wild animals when he was captured. You didn’t hear that from a wolf.
While in custody, Blaise was beaten both with and without iron carding combs, which I have to admit is a new one on me. According to Wikipedia,
The iron carding combs typically used for torture were sturdy instruments with one or two rows of teeth, each a few inches in length and designed to prepare wool and other fibres for worsted-spun thread. Used for rough fibres, these instruments resembled miniature garden rakes rather than the modern, short-toothed carders that are used to prepare wool for spinning and which resemble brushes for dog grooming.
I’ll take their word for it. Blaise’s captors may have tried to drown him or perhaps throw him in boiling water. Eventually, they got bored trying to come up with new ways to inflict pain on him and decided to behead him. It gets to be a slog making martyrs, you know.
On the way to the execution grounds, a woman put her son in Blaise’s path. He was choking on a fishbone. Dr. Heimlich was 1500-some years from being born and Obamacare was even farther away, so she did the best she could. Besides, saints didn’t charge for house calls. Blaise blessed the boy’s throat and told him to take two aspirin and call his colleague Eustathius in the morning. Because of this, Blaise is the patron saint of throat ailments. Every February 3rd, some Catholic church or other will offer a blessing of throats. They place two candles on the throat in question and then pray, “Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you free from every disease of the throat, and from every other disease.” My father-in-law remembers blessings being offered on Blaise’s day. My father-in-law remembers a great many things. His grandfather buying beer in a bucket, for example.
Some people think Blaise was from the Isle of Jersey. They’re wrong. It’s just because the place has so many sheep. Others think Blaise bears a strong resemblance to a certain Germanic God, but I’m not going to pass along his name, never having seen them in the same room at the same time. The Orthodox church believes Blaise was a shepherd and celebrate him on February 11th. Anything to be different.
Many lovely churches are named after St. Blaise. Some others are too. Blaise is said to have come to the aid of the people Dubrovnik, Croatia, informing them of an imminent attack by the Venetian navy. At least that was the canon Stojko’s story, and he’s sticking to it. Nobody’s quite sure why Blaise would appear in a vision in Dubrovnik—Stojko never did get around to explaining that—but then nobody’s ever provided a satisfactory answer to the question of why anyone would think the Venetian navy was a threat, either. Speaking of Venetians, Marco Polo mentions passing by St. Blase’s shrine on his journey. According to him, it was a tourist trap. Marco Polo made up a great many things.
Dubrovnik is a Catholic town, not Orthodox. It is a beautiful place, or so I’ve heard. Blaise is sometimes depicted carrying a model or miniature Dubrovnik in one hand.
Blaise is known as St. Blazey in Cornwall. In England, it used to be a tradition to set the fields on fire on St. Blaise’s Day. This may have reflected the need for a day off as much as anything. The vicar of St. Blaise’s church in Haccombe, Devon, is called an “archpriest.” No word on whether he or she blesses throats on February 3rd. Blaise is one of the “Fourteen Helpers” or “auxiliary” saints who became popular in the Middle Ages when there was a lot of disease and not much else to do. There are towns named for him in Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Malta, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Spain, probably Portugal and Brazil as well. Cape San Blas is part of a peninsula on the gulf side of Florida. They have lighthouses there.
St. Blaise teaches us that wolves are better than people, pigs always get the short end of the stick, and if you are a good Christian and die a horrific death, eventually you will be remembered along with thirteen other people on the Russian Orthodox calendar. And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go clear my throat.+ + +