Throat and wax

Maratta - Martirio di san Biagio
Martirio di san Biagio | Carlo Maratta | c. 1680

Saint Blaise was a physician in fourth-century Sebaste in Armenia (modern Sivas, Turkey), who soon became a healer of souls, and was elected bishop of the same city, eventually earning the crown of martyrs. He is known as Blasius (use Sancte Blasi if the need to add him to the Litany arises) in Latin. He is Blas amongst Hispanophones, Biagio amongst Italophones, Blaise amongst Francophones, Brás amongst Lusophones, and Blasiu amongst Rumanophones. Tradition obtained his association with throats from his profession as a physician, and from the miracle wrought during his incarceration. His cult eventually spread throughout Europe, as evidenced by the many churches dedicated in his name in the West.

During Diocletian’s persecution, Blaise, elected bishop, retired to a cavern in Mount Argaeus (presently Mount Erciyes) in order to contemplate on the divine. The sick and the infirm, however, continued to come, whom he healed with the sign of the cross. Even wild beasts sought his care! When the soldiers of Agricolaus, governor of Cappadocia and Lesser Armenia, discovered him during a hunt, he exclaimed in his joy to his captors: “Let us go to shed blood for Christ Jesus, Who mercifully deigned Himself to shed His own Blood for our sake. For a long time now, my little sons, have I sighed for martyrdom, and tonight, the Lord made me more certain of Himself intending that I should offer myself to Him as sacrifice.”

Brought before the governor, and commanded to offer sacrifice to idols, he dared answer: “Gods, O Governor, callest thou demons, which accomplish nothing except slaughter?” Incensed at this insult, Agricolaus ordered Blaise be publicly tortured, and later cast to prison, where he healed many sick, one of which was a child, whose health had been abandoned as hopeless by physicians, who was choking on a fishbone. (How he performed the miracle is still debated. One pious tradition affirms that the incarcerated bishop picked up two candles and, crossing the two, pressed them to the child’s throat. This appears to be the basis or the explanation of the prevailing custom.)

Brought again before the governor, he once again refused to offer sacrifice to idols, for which Agricolaus ordered him be cudgeled, and then lacerated with iron combs, and finally decapitated. The proper lessons of the see of Salerno add that seven women gathered his spilt blood in vials, who, brought before the governor and commanded to offer sacrifice to idols, instead cast the idols into the lake, for which they were then beheaded as well, together with two of their children. Blaise was later thrown into this lake as well. The Lord himself came to this lake and, walking on its surface, called the martyred bishop, who hurriedly went out revived from the waters. The governor had him martyred a final time by the sword.

Blessing of throats by Fr. John Saward in the Church of Saints Gregory and Augustine in Oxford on the feast of Saint Blaise, 3 February 2016 (image from the LMS Chairman)

Back to the blessing. (Candles are not the only means by which throats are blessed in honour of Saint Blaise. There is also a blessing of bread, wine, water, and fruit which are to be consumed to relieve throat ailments.) While not exactly related to voice, as opposed to the patronage of Saint John the Baptist, whose birth healed his father’s muteness, we cantors and choristers should receive this blessing in honour of Saint Blaise to preserve our throats from all afflictions that could otherwise affect our voices. Let us also ask Saint Blaise to keep us from those daily accidents that harm our throats and consequently impair our singing. For we may, amateurish as we are, having little background on breathing techniques while singing, choke on our own spit one Sunday, and end up rasping throughout Mass. Or a new thurifer may be breaking the thurible in, end up burning incense that would put to shame Zacharias’ own offering, and inadvertently cause our throats, irritated by draughts of smoke, to collapse in the middle of chanting that kilometric first-Sunday-of-Lent tract.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

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