St. Blaise, holy helper of men and beasts

St. Blaise Day has been part of my life since childhood.

Memories of trecking to St. Anne’s Church in Newark with my grandmother, Mae Racioppi and the chorus of aunts that always seemed to surround her, for the blessing of the throats every year on Feb. 3 – the saint’s feast day – remain evergreen.

Mae lost seven of her ten children to various illnesses including diptheria during the hard days of the early 20th century when antibiotics weren’t even glimmering on the horizon.

 She had a horror of throat illnesses and always went out of her way to make sure her “chickens” – children and grandchildren – made it to church for the annual blessing bestowed over crossed, white candles.

A wonderful fringe benefit of working  at the Diocesan Pastoral Center is the ability to celebrate this ritual in company with co-workers who appreciate it as much as I do.

 It’s traditional at the Pastoral Center for Msgr. James Innocenzi, pastor of St. George, Titusville, and  Associate Judicial Vicar of the Diocesan Tribunal to bestow the throat blessing.

This year, I approach the annual feast with a deepened appreciation of St. Blaise. 

While researching this commemoration for the blog, I learned that he is one of fourteen “Holy Helpers” – saints venerated as a group because their intercession was considered particularly effective against various diseases.

Scholars write that the grouping of Nothelfer (helpers in need) originated in Germany in the 14th century probably as a result of the Black Death.

 The Nothelfers,  included St. Denis to whom the faithful prayed for relief from headache; the aforementioned St. Blaise for ills of the throat; St. Elmo for abdominal maladies; St. Barbara for fever and St. Vitus for relief from epilepsy.

St. Pantaleon was prayed to as the patron of physicians and St. Cyriacus invoked against temptation on the deathbed while Christopher, Barbara and Catherine were the go-to saints for protection against a sudden and “unprovided for death.”

St. Giles received the prayers of those seeking to make a good confession and St. Eustace as the healer of family troubles.

Today, the focus is definitely on Blaise, who according to pius legend, was a physician before he became a priest and an Armenian bishop. When the persecution of Christians began in there in the early fourth century, he took refuge in the hills.

Men who tracked him down and brought him back for trial, torture and death are said to have captured him in a cave where he was living, surrounded by the sick and wild beasts who came to him for help.

While in prison, he cured a young boy who was choking to death on a fish bone. It is because of this miraculous healing that he is considered the patron of throat ailments. Because of his tender care of the wild animals, he is also their patron.

Where St. Blaise is concerned, no recipes for humans turn up as intrinsic to his feast but you’re most welcome to scroll back to Oct. 15, the date I posted an adapted recipe for grandma Mae’s chicken soup if your throat is scratchy.

For your outside animal friends, it might be nice to whip up a treat such as the Sweet Oat Cake posted on BirdWatcher’

Sweet Oat Cake

Ingredients: 1/2 cup ground wheat or Roman Meal Bread; 1/2 cup rolled oats; 1/2 cup whole milk; 2 tablespoons molasses; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon cooking oil.

Directions: Mix all the ingredients together and blend well. Grease a pie pan for baking. Pour the mixture into the pie pan and bake at 350 degrees until the mixture is brown. If desired, add raisins. Crumble pie and place in feeder.


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