Saint Blaise is known in Italian as San Biagio.
In Poggioreale, Saint Biagio’s name is invoked as thee protector of children suffering from throat pain.
On February 3, the day of his feast, a special bread is made in the form of a cookie made into circles so that they may more easily be separated and distributed, bread that bears the name of miliddri.
At the end of the mass the bread is blessed and distributed to the children.
This tradition is founded on the miracle worked during his incarceration for being martyred, when a suffering, and almost dying, child extracted a thorn from the lion’s jaws [sic].
Saint Biagio died in Armenia, under the cruel Diocletian.
Background on Saint Blaise / San Biagio
(Source: Catholic Online Saints and Angels Directory. https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=28)
Feast Day: February 3
Patron Saint of throat illnesses, animals, wool combers, and wool trading.
Death in the year 316.
Saint Blaise was the bishop of Sebastea and a doctor. The first known record of the saint’s life comes from the medical writings of A√´tius Amidenus, where he is recorded as helping with patients suffering from objects stuck in their throat. Many of the miraculous aspects of St. Blaise’s life are written of 400 years after his martyrdom in the “Acts of St. Blaise.”
Saint Blaise is believed to begin as a healer then, eventually, became a “physician of souls.” He then retired to a cave, where he remained in prayer. People often turned to Saint Blaise for healing miracles.
In 316, the governor of Cappadocia and of Lesser Armenia, Agricola, arrested then-bishop Blaise for being a Christian. On their way to the jail, a woman set her only son, who was choking to death on a fish bone, at his feet.
Blaise cured the child, and though Agricola was amazed, he could not get Blaise to renounce his faith. Therefore, Agricola beat Blaise with a stick and tore at his flesh with iron combs before beheading him.
In another tale, Blaise was being led to the prison in Sebastea, and on the way came across a poor old woman whose pig had been stolen by a wolf. Blaise commanded the wolf return the pig, which it did -alive and uninjured – to the amazement of all.
When he reached Sebastea, the woman came to him and brought two fine wax candles in an attempt to dispel the gloom of his darkened cell.
In the Middle Ages, Blaise became quite popular and his legend as a beast tamer spread. He was then referred to as the “saint of the wild beast.”
Saint Blaise is often depicted holding two crossed candles in his hand, or in a cave with wild animals. He is also often shown with steel combs. The similarity of the steel combs and the wool combs made a large contribution to Saint Blaise’s leadership as the patron saint of wool combers and the wool trade.
Saint Biagio Day in Sicily
(Source: Delicious Italy. 16 November 2017. https://www.deliciousitaly.com/basilicata-itineraries/saint-biagio-day)
Saint Biagio is celebrated on the 3rd February every year with a festival known as the ‘benedizione della gola’ or ‘blessing of the throat’. Why so?
Well, the Saint is famous for having saved a boy from choking on a fish bone during their incarceration. Over time this act has become representative of his powers to cure all types of throat ailments and his growing cult.
Saint Biagio was Vescovo of the Armenian city of Sebaste in 4th century AD during the reigns of the Roman Emperor of the East, Licinio, and his rival from the West, Constantine. As a Christian, he was persecuted and imprisoned by the former to suffer nine days of unbearable torture only to be then thrown mercilessly into a lake. He survived, but was subsequently beheaded.
Maratea in Basilicata conserves the martyr’s bones in the Basilica on the summit of Monte San Biagio (image above), where the famous 21 meter high Redentore statue of Christ was erected in 1963. They arrived there after a decision was made to transport them to Rome during the Arab expansion. A storm forced the ship to interrupt its journey near the islet of Santojanni opposite Maratea.
San Biagio Day around Italy
Maratea actually celebrates the Saint in May with a solemn procession from the Basilica to the town. Other cities have their own particular celebration with bread a protagonist. In Milan, for example, there is the tradition of eating the ‘panettone di San Biagio’, or rather the last piece, in his honour.
In Salemi in the province of Trapani, Sicily, every 3rd February sees the preparation of the ‘Cuddureddi” and “Cavadduzzi” di San ‘Brasi in occasion of the traditional Feast of Bread. The bread is made of dough without yeast which is baked then brought in front of the Church of San Biagio where the statue of the Saint is adorned with laurel leaves.
The “cuddureddi” symbolize the throat while the “cavadduzzi” remember the time when the intervention of the Saint saw the countryside of Salemi liberated from an invasion of locusts which were destroying the crops. For this reason he was elected joint Patron of the city. Bread is also prepared for the “Cena di San Giuseppe” on the 9th March. In the Norman Castle and along the streets of the city the ‘Corteo Storico Rievocativo del Miracolo di San Biagio’ forms a lively procession with traditional drums to re-evoke the moment of liberation.
And many other places in Italy bear his name: Monte San Biagio (Lazio); San Biagio della Cima (Imperia); San Biagio di Callalta (Treviso); San Biagio Platani (Agrigento); San Biagio Saracinisco (Frosinone) and San Biase (Chieti).
[This webpage is excerpted from the book: “The History of Poggioreale, Sicily – From 1640 to 1956.” Originally written in Italian by: Canonico Dottore Francesco Aloisio in 1956. Adapted and translated by: Dr. Jeremiah P. Spence, Ph.D. of Austin, Texas. 5th Edition. International Order of Genealogists Publishing. Ireland. 2019. ISBN: 9781072403371. The book can be purchased online at: https://www.amazon.com/History-Poggioreale-Sicily-1640-1956/dp/1072403374/ ]