St. Blaise confronting the Roman governor: Scene from the life of St. Blaise, bishop of Sebaste (Armenia), martyr under the Roman emperor Licinius (4th century). Stained glass window from the area of Soissons (Picardy, France), early 13th century.
Saint Blaise 4th c. (Armenian : Sourb Barsegh) In Christian legend, bishop, patron saint of physicians, wax chandlers, and wool combers. Invoked against throat infections. Feast, 3 February.
Blaise was a physician before he became a bishop in Armenia. He studied philosophy in his youth, was a doctor in Sebaste in Armenia, the city of his birth, and exercised his art with miraculous ability, good-will, and piety. When the bishop of the city died, he was chosen to succeed him, with the acclamation of all the people. His holiness was manifest through many miracles: from all around, people came to him to find cures for their spirit and their body; even wild animals came in herds to receive his blessing. He suffered beheading after his flesh was torn with iron combs used for carding wool. One legend tells that while the bishop was in prison awaiting his martyrdom, he miraculously cured a little boy who nearly died because a fish bone was stuck in his throat.
During the Middle Ages, St. Blaise was one of the most popular saints. In central Europe and in Latin countries people are still given pan bendito (St. Blaise sticks), which they eat when they have a sore throat. One of the most popular customs of the Roman church is the blessing of throats, held on St. Blaise’s feast day. A priest holds crossed candles against the head or throat of a person, saying: “Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may the Lord free you from evils of the throat and from any other evil.” In certain parts of Italy priests touch the throats with a wick that has been dipped into blessed oil. Throughout Europe many places and churches ware named after him. In Cornwall UK the village of St Blazey derives from his name, where the parish church is still dedicated to Saint Blaise. The council of Oxford in 1222 forbade all work on his festival. There is a St. Blaise’s Well in Bromley, Kent (UK) where the water was considered to have medicinal virtues. Many German churches, including the former Abbey of St. Blasius in the Black Forest and the church of Balve are dedicated to Saint Blaise/Blasius. In Italy he is known as San Biagio. In Spanish-speaking countries, he is known as San Blas, and has lent his name to many places (see San Blas).Saint Blaise’s remains rest at the Basilica over the town of Maratea (Italy), shipwrecked there during Leo III the Isaurian’s iconoclastic persecutions.