February 3: St. Blaise’s Feast

saint_blaise_and_animals

February 3: Saint Blaise’s Feast

Saint Blaise was a physician, and bishop of Sebastea in historical Armenia (modern Turkey) who died in 316 AD.

Little is known about this Saint  prior to his mention in a court physician’s medical journal at  the end of the 5th century, where  his aid is invoked in treating objects stuck in the throat.

Saint Blaise began as a healer of bodily ailments, then he became a physician of souls.  But persecution was  raging  in Armenia, so  Blaise went to live as a hermit in solitude and prayer, but he made friends with the wild animals.  People often went to his cave for healing miracle

In 316, the governor of Cappadocia and of Lesser Armenia, arrested him for being a Christian. As he was being led to prison, a mother came with her young son who had a fish bone lodged in his throat. At Blaise’s command the child was able to cough up the bone.

The governor of Cappadocia, amazed,  tried to persuade Blaise to sacrifice to pagan idols. But he refused, so he was beaten, then was suspended from a tree and his flesh torn with iron combs, and finally beheaded.

In another legend, while Blaise was being led to the prison in Sebastea, he came across a poor old woman whose pig had been stolen by a wolf. At his command, the wolf restored the pig to its owner, alive and unhurt. When in prison awaiting execution, that old woman came to see him, bringing two fine wax candles to dispel the gloom of his dark cell.

In iconography Saint Blaise is often depicted holding two crossed candles in his hand, or in a cave with wild animals. He is also often shown with the instruments of his martyrdom, steel combs. The similarity of these instruments  to wool combs made a large contribution to Saint Blaise’s leadership as the patron saint of wool combers and the wool trade. 

In many places on his feast day,  which falls on 3 February,   the blessing of St. Blaise is given: two burning candles, blessed on the previous day, Candlemas,  the feast of the Presentation of the Lord , are held in a crossed position by a priest and  used for the blessing of throats  because is traditionally believed to intercede in cases of throat illnesses.

On this day in the city of Milan and in its surroundings there is a tradition to eat together in the family a stale Christmas “panettone” *, specially preserved as a propitiatory gesture against the evils of the throat and colds. This may derive either from the  association with bread, which the Saint may have used to save the boy, or  from the small sacrifice of not eating all of the cake at Christmas, but leaving a part of it

 

panettone
*panettone is a yeast-leavened bread, usually eaten at Christmas, containing raisin and candied fruit

 

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