Woolly Saints – Introducing St Blaise


St Blaise, flanked by a seamstress and a woollen mill worker, in memory of the donor’s parents. This is the west window of the Clackmann Parish Church Scotland, founded in C12th. The window is a later addition.

Saintly Summary

Who Was He? Bishop of Sebastea in Armenia
Type of Saint Martyr
Year of Death 316AD
Feast Day 3rd February
Patron Saint Wool workers, throat illnesses
Link to Wool Tortured with wool combs prior to beheading


Who Was Blaise?

Blaise was a Bishop in the Roman Era, who’s background isn’t known. He was martyred when the Emperor decided that all Christians were heretics, only believing in one God and not the Roman pantheon. Prior to formal canonisation beginning 1234 (New Catholic Encyclopedia), martyrdom lead to sainthood, hence Bishop Blaise became Saint Blaise.

It is reported that he lived in a cave for sometime to evade arrest and healed wounded and sick animals that came to him for help. He is the patron saint of throat diseases, due to one of the 2 miracles he is reported to have performed on the way to his imprisonment and martyrdom: the restoration of an elderly woman’s pig that had been savaged by a wolf and healing a child who was choking to death on a fishbone. It is said that the old woman took 2 candles to him to light his cell.

His cult moved into Europe around 8th Century and gained popularity from C11th onwards. His feast day is still marked by an unusual, ancient ceremony: people go forward to have their throat blessed, the old woman’s kindness remembered by  the priest holding 2 unlit candles in the shape of the cross to the throat. The throat is healed of disease or disease or harsh words are prevented.

He is one of the 14 Holy Helpers, a collective of Saints with a responsibility healing which evolved in the Germanic states somewhere between the 11th and 14th C, probably in response to the plague.

What About The Wool?

The martyrdom of St. Blaise (Blasius), Bishop of Sebaste. Hours of Philip of Burgundy The Hague, KB, 76 F 2 fol. 260r, 1450-1460

It seems a strange tradition that Saints who had a particularly grizzly demise become associated with the implements of their death for time immemorial as a Patron Saint. The purpose of Medieval ecclesiastical art was teaching the mainly illiterate congregation about their faith, hence martyrs were traditionally painted holding the item that caused their death. Blaise was flailed with large metal combs, prior to his beheading,  that resembled wool combs. These are implements used to align the fibres in the fleece of long stapled or long wool sheep. As can be seen from the picture on the left, they have very long iron prongs and can obviously do a fair amount of damage!

Wool combing is only a small part of the process of cloth production however so its likely that the wool comber also had other skills such as spinning, weaving, fulling etc and overtime Blaise became the Patron Saint of wool workers in general.

His cult then became involved with the wool guilds and guild halls,  churches and chantries were endowed in his name, his relics were held at Canterbury and his Feast Day became a time of celebration, all of which will be covered in following posts.



References and Bibliography

New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) [online] Available: http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/when-did-the-custom-of-canonizing-saints-start-and-is-it-true-that-canonizations-are- Accessed 27.10.15

Saunders W, (2003) Blessing Throats on the Feast of St Blaise, Arlington Catholic Herald  [Online} Available: http://www.itmonline.org/bodytheology/stblaise.htm Accessed: 27.10.15

Wikipedia (2015) Fourteen Holy Helpers [Online] Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteen_Holy_Helpers Accessed: 27.10.15

Wikipedia (2015) St Blaise [Online] Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Blaise   Accessed: 27.10.15

Williams B (1998) St Blaise’s Well, Bromley [Online], Available http://people.bath.ac.uk/liskmj/living-spring/sourcearchive/ns6/ns6bw1.htm Accessed 27.10.15

Woolly Saints – Introducing St Blaise

Addendum to The Pantheon of Woolly Saints

I believe that if people are kind enough to read and give feedback on your writing, then it is only correct to acknowledge this and take their suggestions on board. So I intend to add a short addendum to posts where necessary.

Added to the Table

St Crispin – Feast Day 25th October

Crispin is most famous as the Battle of  Agincourt  was fought on “Crispin’s Day”, with Shakespeare’s Crispin’s Eve speech being particularly well known. He is more commonly associated with leather workers and shoe makers, having been one himself, before his martyrdom.

Not Added to the Table

St Bernard of Clairveaux – Feast Day 20th August

Bernard was the 12thC abbot of Citeaux and held great power both in his native France, via his influence over King Louis VII and the Church. He reformed and developed the Cistercian Order, who founded their first English Abbey at Waverley in Surrey in 1118. They went on to become very successful sheep farmers, breeders and merchants, hence many of their great abbeys are said to be built on wool. Yet,Bernard is not the Patron Saint of Farmers or Shepherds, but of Candlemakers, Bees and Beekeepers and Wax Workers, plus his Cistercian Order.

Therefore, in view of his seminal, if indirect, role in the development of the English Wool Trade, he definitely merits both a mention here and a future series of posts exploring the Cistercian order in the British Isles.

 St Germaine Cousin – Feast Day – 15th June

Germaine was a young French shepherdess who had a very difficult, yet short life, in the late 16th / early 17th Century, ruling her as a medieval saint. I plan to continue the series on saints, and as the Patron Saint of Shepherdesses / Sheep, I will revisit her story.  It is particularly touching and definitely wool orientated.

References and Bibliography

Donkin RA (date not specified) Cistercian Sheep Farming and Wool Sales in the Thirteenth Century, British Agricultural History Society [Online] Available:  http://www.bahs.org.uk/AGHR/ARTICLES/06n1a1.pdf Accessed 26.10.15

Fletcher, A (2000-2015) British Cistercian Abbeys [online] Available http://www.paradoxplace.com/Photo%20Pages/UK/Cistercian_Britain/Cistercian%20Britain.htm#Waverley0 Accessed 26.10.15

Pennington MB,  (1995) St Bernard of Clairveaux IN Glazier M, (1995) The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, Liturgical Press [Online] Available: http://www.osb.org/cist/bern.html Accessed 26.10.15

Wikipedia (2015) Germaine Cousin. Available:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germaine_Cousin Accessed 26.10.15

Wikipedia (2015) St Crispin’s Day Accessed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Crispin%27s_Day Accessed 26.10.15


Addendum to The Pantheon of Woolly Saints

The Pantheon of Woolly Saints

There are so many ways and places that this blog could start and ideally it would be truly chronological. However because the British Medieval History Group on Facebook are having a themed week – Medieval taverns, feast days, cuisine and culinary ettiquette – starting tomorrow it seemed to sensible to put together a couple of posts looking at the Saints of the Medieval Wool Industry.

Why Did Wool Workers Need Saints?

Saints were people who had died, who had either lead an exemplary, holy life, been martyred for the faith or performed miracles, often posthumously. During the medieval period, people were taught that they could not pray directly to God directly but needed an intercessor or intermediary, namely a priest or a Saint. Different groups of people adopted patron saints as their intercessor, for example women might pray to Mary or her mother St Anne, whilst men in a battle situation would call upon Saint George to help them.So if a piece of wool was spinning badly the spinster might pray to her patron saint for aid in making the process easier. The patron saint also gave people a sense of belonging to a named group, often a trade guild. The Feast Day of the Saint also gave rise to a social occasion, a celebration of the Saint’s life.

Who’s Who?

An overview of the trades, their patron saints and feast days.

Patron Saints of Medieval Wool Workers
Shepherds Cuthbert, 20th March
Dyers Maurice 22nd September
Carders Blaise 3rd February
Spinners St Catherine of Alexandria 25th November
Weavers Maurice, Blaise, Crispin 22nd Sept, 3rd Feb, 25th Oct
Fullers Anastasius the Fuller 7th September
Farmers George 23rd April
Wool Merchants St Blaise 3rd February


The next post will focus on St Blaise – he was the universal Saint of wool workers  and had a rather unfortunate, wool related, death. There are churches throughout England dedicated to Blaise, at least one town named after him and his feast day was a highlight in some places.

References and Bibliography

Caulfield SFA & Saward BC (1989), Dictionary of Needlework, London, Blaketon Hall Ltd (reprint from 2nd Ed 1885)

Riches, S & Gill M () Pilgrims and Pilgrimage – Medieval Saints, [online] available at: http://www.york.ac.uk/projects/pilgrimage/content/med_saint.html accessed 25.10.11

The Pantheon of Woolly Saints


The Woolly History  of The British Isles is researched and written by Bev Newman of Bits and Bobs Crafts.

This site gives me the opportunity to share my learning as I explore the history of wool in the lands we now call the British Isles. The aims of my research are to examine both archaeological and historical documents and writings that demonstrate how wool became important to man, the tools he made in order to use it in a variety of ways and as time progresses used the profits from the wool trade to build England and finance her wars.I also hope to discover the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the Wool trade across The British Isles and in time explore the factors that lead to the decline in the use of wool. I will also explore the various cultures that influenced the wool industry and also the specialist techniques that have developed over time in hand knitting in specific island and / or trade based communities. 

I will also share extracts of my research over on my sister blog, Bits and Bobs Crafts, via a combination of experimental archaeology where I will learn some of the crafts that lead to the development of the wool industry and share snapshots in woolly history via a fictional family or two who are part of the wool industry through time. I hope this will encourage modern crafters to engage in the story of the people who came before.

My broad themes are as follows:

  • Tools
  • Sheep
  • People and Communities
  • Methods of preparing wool for use
  • Methods of Using Wool
  • Wool, taxation and politics
  • Evolutions in Production
  • Impact of the Industrial Revolution

I apologise in advance for not writing in strict chronological order, this site is in effect my research journal and I will hop around the centuries, especially when following a specific theme or historical thread. However by using categories and tags I hope to make finding specific threads of information easier for you.

I hope you will join me on my journey and I look forward to getting to know my readers and welcome comments, suggestions and feedback… as long as its polite 🙂