Friday, February 03, 2017

Who was Saint Blaise?

Saint Blaise blessing a child. From the
altarpiece in the Church of Saint Blaise,
Alsace, France.
Most Catholics’ familiarity with Saint Blaise (also, Blasius) begins and ends with the blessing of the throats on February 3. Who he was is an interesting question. What we know of his life is based almost entirely on a Greek hagiography written in the 8th century and later incorporated into The Golden Legend – a collection of stories of the lives and deeds of the saints compiled in the 13th century.

The accepted facts about Saint Blaise seem to be as follows: He was an Armenian who was bishop of the city of Sebasteia in Anatolia (Sivas in modern Turkey). He was martyred during the reign of the Eastern Roman emperor, Licinius (about AD 315), the colleague and brother-in-law of Constantine who ruled in the west at this time.

The invocation of Blaise’s name concerning diseases of the throat may be attributed to the following passage from The Golden Legend, as translated into pre-modern English by William Caxton:
There was a woman that had a son dying, in whose throat was a bone of a fish athwart, which estrangled him, and she brought him tofore his feet, praying him that he would make her son whole. And Saint Blaise put his hand upon him and made his prayer to God that this child, and all they that demanded benefits of health in his name, that they should be holpen and obtain it, and anon he was whole and guerished [healed]. 
Click here to read the full Life of St. Blaise from The Golden Legend.

This piece of the legend seems to bear out. In an ancient medical work dating from the late 5th or early 6th century AD by Aetius of Amida, the name of Saint Blaise is mentioned in connection with helping clear a throat obstruction:
“To remove a bone stuck in the throat, one should cry out in a loud voice: “As Jesus Christ drew Lazarus from the grave, and Jonah out of the whale, thus Blasius, the martyr and servant of God, commands: ‘Bone come up, or go down.’” [Taken from Garrison: An Introduction to the History of Medicine.
So the good Saint Blaise was considered a wonder-worker in this regard at least 200 years after his death and 200 years before his Greek Acta was compiled.

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