Yesterday was Candlemas and today it is the Feast of St. Blaise. The traditions for St. Blaise’s Day, it would seem, come directly out of having all those candles about the day before: For ailments of the throat, we pray to St. Blaise… and on his feast day, the Third of February, it is not uncommon to go to church to have the priest bless your throat by holding two candles, crossed into an X shape, with your throat in the crook of the candles, as he says a blessing over your head. It’s one of those mystical ceremonies that seems almost over the top even to us Catholics.
St. Blaise became the patron saint of folks with throat maladies by association: He is famed for having healed a young boy who had a fishbone stuck in his throat. St. Blaise was a fourth century bishop in Armenia, but he had to go into hiding in a cave for his faith. It was there that wild animals would gather with him and join him in food and conversation… and so St. Blaise is also associated with animals and their protection.
He is fondly remembered in my family, for St. Blaise was the name of the church my grandparents attended, up the hill from their home in Brooklyn. My Aunt Anne and Uncle Joe were married there, and so were my own parents. Folks with high aspirations went to the big cathedral up the road, but the simpler folks went to St. Blaise. It was a small church that served a small community made up mostly of Italian immigrants and their families.
In England and Scotland, it was once customary to light bonfires on the eve of St. Blaise, which would be the night of Candlemas, and perhaps there is some connection to be made between Blaise and blaze. It is a day also important to wool carders (a matter having to do with St. Blaise’s martyrdom), as well as to spinners and dyers.
Today’s chapter is an improved (I hope) version of the one from St. Blaise’s Day, 2014. Pictured above: My newly married mom and dad, posing for photos with their wedding party, on the front steps of St. Blaise Church in Brooklyn.