February 3: St. Blase: The Man for Sore Throats and Wool Combers

Blase (or, more often, “Blaise”–perhaps not to be misread as Blasé?) was Armenian, and lived in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. Before becoming a bishop, Blase was a physician who specialized in removing objects caught in people’s throats. Following his martyrdom, his relics (that is, his bones) were sent to various locations and, writes Butler, Blase’s “veneration was propagated by many miraculous cures, especially of sore throats” Additionally, though without clear reasons, Blase became the patron saint of wool-combers.

For your information, a video about woolcombing:

One theory for why Blase has been chosen the patron saint of wool combers is that iron combs were among the numerous implements used to torture and eventually kill him during the persecution of Licinius, a co-emperor for a time with Constantine. The iron combs (such as indeed were used to comb wool) served as torture devices through the abrasion and eventual flaying of the victim’s flesh.

This is the first explicit blog discussion this year of someone who is a “patron saint” of some group, cause, guild, or practice. It is a revolutionary thing to reclaim the words and the tools of one’s persecution and to beat those swords (or, in this case, iron combs) into plowshares. In fact, today at St. John the Baptist, Timberhill with St. Julian’s Norwich (in Great Britain), the Feast of St. Blaise is being celebrated at noon (GMT), “followed by the traditional blessing of throats.” And all are welcome!


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