Life for a Christian, in the third century was very difficult. In 312, the Edict of Toleration was written by the two emperors, Constantine I and Licinius. Constantine had just won the decisive battle of Milvian Bridge, defeating the third emperor, Maxentius. He had fought under the standard of the cross. In thanksgiving for this win, Constantine had begun to honor the Christian faith. But he never was baptized until he was on his death bed. To avoid civil unrest, Constantine and his fellow emperor, Licinius, developed the Edict, giving toleration of Christianity to the whole empire. This was not a guarantee, since Licinius was still persecuting for years to come.
In Armenia, a part of Turkey now, was a town of Sebastea. A Christian man named Blaise was a doctor. A medical man, Aetius Amidenus, recorded that Blaise was known as helping patients with objects stuck in their throat. Eventually, he became bishop of Sebastea, as well. In the years after the Edict was signed, instead of finding it easier to live as a Christian, it became harder. It got to the point that Blaise had to leave the city. He gave instructions and encouragement to his parishioners. Then he left for the back country. He found a cave and lived there for some time. It is said that wild animals would come to him for aid when they were sick and hurt.
At some time later, several hunters were in the forest. They came upon Blaise’s cave. They saw Blaise kneeling in prayer, surrounded by wild animals patiently waiting for him to finish. The hunters identified him as a Christian and captured him. There probably was a reward available. They began walking him back to Sebastea.
One story says that a woman came up to him when she spotted him on the road. She had her young son who was choking on a fishbone stuck in his throat. Blaise managed to get the bone to leave the child’s throat. He blessed the child and continued on to the city.
There, waiting for him, was Agricolaus, the governor of Cappadocia and lesser Armenia. Blaise was presented to him and the story of the child was told. Agricolaus was impressed. He tried to convince Blaise to renounce his Faith and to sacrifice to pagan idols. Blaise refused and Agricolaus beat him with a stick.
A second time, Agricolaus was rebuffed. He had Blaise suspended from a tree and had his flesh torn with iron combs. The bishop, then, went back to prison.
Another story claims that when he was being led to prison, an old woman came up to him crying that her pig had been stolen by a wolf. Somehow, Blaise commanded the wolf to return the pig. The pig was returned unharmed. Later, the woman came to the prison with two fine candles, to give Blaise light in the dark prison.
In the end, Agricolaus ordered Blaise beheaded in 316.
Little was heard about Blaise for another 400 years. An anonymous source wrote a mostly fictional “Acts of St. Blaise” at that time. By the Middle Ages, Blaise was a household word. The blessings of throats came popular. The two crossed candles are a reference to the old lady and her candles.
Marco Polo wrote about the shrine in Sebastea in the late 1200s. William of Rubruck wrote about the shrine being near a citadel in 1253. The shrine is no longer there.
Many German churches have St. Blaise as their patron. English wool workers took St. Blaise to heart because the iron combs are very similar looking to the wool combs used in their work. St. Blaise is also a patron for veterinarians, animals, throats and ENT illnesses.
St. Blaise’s feast day is February 3, where many in the US go through a service of the blessing of throats.