03 February 2012

3 February - Saint Blaise

“At Sebaste, in Armenia, in the time of the governor Agricolaus, the passion of St. Blasius, bishop and martyr, who after working many miracles, was scourged a long time, and suspended on a tree where he was lacerated with iron combs.  He was then imprisoned in a dark dungeon, thrown into a lake from which he came out safe, and finally, by order of the same judge, he and two boys were beheaded.  Before him, seven women who were gathering the drops of his blood during his torture, were recognized as Christians, and after undergoing severe torments, were put to death by the sword.”

Today is the feast of Saint Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, who died around 316.
Call upon God and remember St. Blaise!
Blaise was the bishop of Sebaste in Cappadocia (Armenia), which he governed well, but an upsurge of persecutions against the Christians caused him to flee to the hills, where he is said to have lived in a cave. The wild animals which abounded in the area would not hurt him, but gathered around his cave to listen to his prayers and receive his blessing.

This pastoral existence could not last.  More wild beasts were needed for the local amphitheaters, and in the search for replacements, Blaise was discovered and hauled off to prison.

On the way there, he healed a boy who had swallowed a fish bone and was choking to death.  His kindness to the wild animals paid off as well, when he required a wolf to return the pig stolen from a poor woman (the wolf complied).

To make him apostasize, the governor ordered that Blaise should be starved, but the woman whose pig he had recovered managed to sneak food into his prison.  Then his flesh was torn and shredded with iron combs.   Finally, the holy man was beheaded.

His story is here in the Golden Legend.

He was one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages in Europe.  As one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, Saint Blaise is invoked against choking and illnesses of the throat - including sore throats, coughs, and whooping cough, all of which are prevalent at this time of year.

On his feast day, the Church has a Blessing of the Throats, in which two consecrated candles are held in the shape of a cross over the heads of the faithful or touched to individual throats, with a blessing which asks for protection from throat troubles and any evil.

Our old friend Naogeorgus, having mocked the ceremonies of Candlemas, continued by venting his ire on those of St. Blaise:

Then follows good Sir Blaze, who does a waxen candle give,
And holy water to his men, whereby they safely live.
I diverse barrels oft have seen, drawn out of the water clear,
Through one small blessed bone of this same Martyr here,
And carried thence to other towns and cities far away.
Each superstition does require such earnest kind of play.

The candles blessed today were thought to be efficacious against toothache and against disease in cattle.  “Call upon God and remember St. Blaise” was an old charm for removing a bone from the throat, or a thorn from any part of the body.  Another charm for removing a stoppage in the throat was to take hold of the afflicted member [gently!] and pronounce: “Blaise, the martyr and servant of Jesus Christ, commands thee to pass up and down!”

The resemblance of the instruments of his torture to wool combs made him the patron of wool-combers and by extension, the patron of all things related to wool and the wool trade.  As wool was the basis of England's wealth and its primary 'cash crop', this made him a very popular saint in that country, so much so that in the 13th century, work was forbidden on his feast day.  Every seven years, the wool-combers guilds would hold high festival, in which Jason and his Golden Fleece marched alongside Bishop Blaise, and all money collected that day from appreciative bystanders found its way to the nearest public house for an evening of revelry.

As Saint Blaise is also the patron of wild animals, who waited patiently around his cave as he said his prayers, today would be a good day to contribute to a wildlife fund, the Audubon Society, or your local wildlife refuge in his honor.

Dinner tonight should be something with SHREDDED BEEF:

Start with a boneless roast like a tip or rump roast.

Cook roast in a little oil over moderate heat until brown on all sides.  Cover with about 3 cups of water (for a 4-pound roast) or other liquid (stock, broth, whatever) and cook until tender at about 40 minutes per pound.  Remove beef from pot, place on a dish, cut off a thick slice, and shred the slice by raking it with two forks in opposite directions.  Do this until you have enough shredded beef for your purpose.

[You can shred the whole roast, because the meat freezes well for future use.  I use only about a quarter of the roast to shred; the rest is wrapped in foil, and the broth it was cooked in is put in a container.  Later in the week, I will put the broth back into a kettle with onions, carrots, potatoes, and turnips, and let them simmer for half an hour; then put the roast in the kettle and let it simmer for another half hour to finish the vegetables and heat the roast through.]

The shredded beef can be mixed with a little barbecue sauce and piled on a bun with a topping of coleslaw; or seasoned and used in tacos or enchiladas.


O GOD, deliver us through the intercession of Thy holy bishop and martyr Blase, from all evil of soul and body, especially from all ills of the throat; and grant us the grace to make a good confession in the confident hope of obtaining Thy pardon, and ever to praise with worthy lips Thy most holy name. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.