04 July 2013

4 July - St. Ulrich of Augsburg; Grilled Fish Steaks

This is also the feast of the translation of the relics of Saint Martin of Tours, given the appellation “St. Martin Bullion” (very hot) as a way of differentiating it from the feast of Saint Martin in cold November.

Weather - If Bullion's Day be dry, there will be a good and early harvest.

If the deer rise up dry and lie down dry on Bullion's day, there will be a good harvest.

If it rains on Bullion's Day, it will rain for forty days.

If it rains on the fourth of July, there will be no grapes that year.

At Augsburg, in Bavaria, St. Uldaric, a bishop illustrious for extraordinary abstinence, liberality, vigilance, and the gift of miracles.

This sickly and weak scion of a noble family connected with the Emperor Otto was born in 890 and not expected to live long.  His parents sent him to study first at the monastery of Saint Gall in his native Switzerland, and then sometime in his teens to the tutelage of his uncle, the Bishop of Augsburg, for whom he served as chamberlain.  His piety and humility were already remarked upon, and his saying, “Take away the fuel, and you take away the flame” (referring to avoiding even the shadow of temptation) set him apart from his fellow clergy who were not quite so scrupulous.  When his uncle died, he returned home, but when his uncle’s successor, Bishop Hiltine died in 923, the influence of Ulrich’s family got him the preferment.

"Cook this"
As Bishop of Augsburg, he set about reforming the clergy of his See, but since his personal habits included such austerities as one small meal before the end of the day (which was shared with the poor and never included meat (which Ulrich never touched) unless strangers were present), three to four hours of sleep on a thin straw pallet, and even more frugal diet and added devotions during Lent, I’m sure they weren’t in the least grateful for his example.   Father Butler describes his episcopal day as one of prayer, devotion and Mass until about 3:00 pm, when he would visit the local hospital to comfort the sick and gave alms.  After that he would preach, teach, visit the sick and poor, and take care of pastoral business, visiting his whole diocese once a year and building churches where they were needed.

The wars against the Hungarians had left Augsburg in a deplorable state with the cathedral plundered and destroyed.  Ulrich rebuilt the cathedral in 962, dedicating it in honor of Saint Afra.  At this point, he was 72 years old and very tired, but his desire to resign the bishopric to a more energetic man and retire to the monastery where he spent his earliest years was opposed, and he continued his work among the faithful of Augsburg.  Finally, God called His servant home in 973.  Twenty years later, he was canonized by Pope John XV, the first instance of an official canonization (prior to that, saints were made by popular acclaim, which led to the odor of sanctity being spread pretty thin on some not-so-sanctified people.)

Several legends arose, including that earth from his tomb at Augsburg Cathedral was efficacious in driving away rats and mice if sprinkled in the house or on the fields.

His depiction with a fish comes from a story told in a couple different ways. In one, Saint Ulrich and Saint Conrad of Constance were walking and talking so earnestly on the eve of a fast-day (probably a Friday) that they lost track of time and forgot to eat their evening meal until after midnight.  Even though Ulrich is said never to have touched meat, the picnic dinner included something verboten on a day of fast and abstinence, but with two saints about, what else could happen but that the meat turned into fish?

Another version says that a messenger to the two saints (or just Ulrich) was allowed to take part of the meal with him as sustenance for his journey home, but arriving there on Friday, the meat entrée turned into fish.  That the courier might have been dishonest and taken the meat to discredit these holy men (“yeah, look what they eat when nobody’s looking.  Real holy they are!”) only to be discredited himself, is an added amusement.

One of the traditions of Saint Ulrich’s feast day was to bring fish to his shrine, and for this purpose, a person sat in or near the church selling fish to be used as offerings.  Of course, this sort of thing is open to dishonest practices, but whether Naogeorgus was correct in affirming that dishonesty was rampant, or whether he was just being his usual sour anti-Catholic self, is matter for conjecture.

“Wheresoever Ulrich has his place, the people there bring in,
Both Carps, and Pikes, and Mullets fat, his favor here to win.
Amid the Church there sits one, and to the altar nigh,
That sells fish, and, and so good cheap, that every man may buy:
Nor anything he loses here, bestowing thus his pain,
For when it has been offered once, ‘tis brought him all again,
That twice or thrice he sells the same: ungodliness such gain
Does still bring in, and plenteously the kitchen does maintain.
Whence comes this same religion new?  What kind of God is this
Same Ulrich here, that so desires, and so delights in fish?
Which never any heathen God, in offering did receive,
Nor any thing unto the Jews the Lord hereof did leave.
Much folly and iniquity, in every place they show,
But we the chiefest will declare, and write but of a few.”

So, naturally, fish should be the entrée of the day, and since it is (in the Northern Hemisphere) a good day for grilling, try GRILLED FISH STEAKS, which even Saint Ulrich would enjoy (although he would probably double his austerities for months afterward).

[For those heading into the depths of winter, grill indoors or choose your own favorite non-grilled fish recipe.]

You want a large, firm-fleshed fish for this, like salmon, tuna, halibut, or swordfish.

Cut steaks 1” to 1½” thick, (one steak for each person).  Melt butter – how much depends on how many steaks you have, but one tablespoon of butter per steak is a good start.

Dip steaks in melted butter – or brush both sides with same – and arrange in a long-handled, hinged grill basket.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Make the basting sauce by melting ½ cup of butter in a saucepan, then adding ¼ cup of lemon juice and 1½ tablespoons of minced parsley.

Grill about 4” to 6” from the coals for 5 to 7 minutes per side, or until the interior center has lost its translucency (use a knife to test the center).  Don’t overcook.  While grilling, baste often with the lemon-butter sauce.

When done, serve with the remaining sauce.

Well, yes, you may have to join Saint Ulrich and double your diet austerities for a while, but the pleasure of grilled fish is worth it.
Artwork:  Leonhard Beck, “Saint Ulrich of Augsburg”, circa 1510, Veste Coburg Castle.  Swiped from Wikipedia.