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

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