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Who Was St. Blaise? Folklore Abounds, But Feast Remains Important

17 January 1996


h.gif (1053 bytes)istory provides little information on St. Blaise, whose feast is celebrated on Feb. 3. All that is known about him is that he lived in the fourth century and was bishop of Sebastea in Armenia. In approximately 316, he was executed during the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Licinius. Blaise's martyrdom probably took place in Cappadocia.

But in folklore, Blaise was much more interesting, says Bruce Miller, head of the theology, philosophy and canon law library at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Legend tells of a devout man, born of rich and noble parents, who received a Christian education and became a bishop when he was quite young. When the Roman persecution began, Blaise withdrew by divine command to a cell in the mountains. His only company was the wild beasts of the forests. Sick or wounded animals came to him to be healed, Miller says. Hunters discovered him and carted him off to their governor. But on the way, they encountered a poor woman whose pig had been devoured by a wolf. Blaise commanded the wolf to restore the pig unhurt, and the wolf complied, a truly useful miracle, Miller notes.

On another occasion Blaise saved a boy who became ill after swallowing a fish bone. That's how Blaise became the patron saint of those suffering from throat afflictions. The use of candles to bless the throat stems from another part of the legend: that the woman who owned the pig brought Blaise food and candles to brighten his lonely cave. According to the legend, Blaise was eventually tortured and beheaded by the Roman governor.

In Germany, St. Blaise is one of the 14 holy helpers, or saints invoked by sufferers of various maladies. The practice of blessing throats is still widespread in German churches. The candles are always lit and held over the person. But in the United States, two unlit candles are held under the throat at the time of the blessing, Miller says.

Some parishes still include throat blessing in the liturgy for the Sunday after Feb. 3, Miller says, although the practice is not common as it was years ago.

Because of his care for wild beasts, St. Blaise is also their patron saint. And in some places, water is blessed and given to animals for their continued health, Miller says.

At St. Anselm's Abbey in Washington, D.C., the throat blessing takes place right after the Eucharist during the Feb. 3 Mass, says the Rev. James Wiseman, O.S.B., chairman of Catholic University's theology department. The abbot holds the candles so that the cross shape made by the candles touches the person's throat. The abott says this blessing: Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God protect you from disease of the throat and from every other evil.

For interviews, contact R. Bruce Miller at 202-319-5088 or the Rev. James Wiseman, O.S.B., at 202-319-5481.

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Revised: 27 October 1997

All contents copyright 1997.
The Catholic University of America,
Office of Public Affairs.