It was a great pleasure to have the children of St. Blasius Primary Academy, together with their teachers, some of their parents, and friends of the school, at St. Blasius’ Church for a special service on 23 May. The intention was to celebrate the fact that both the church and the school are named after St. Blasius by learning a little more about our Patron Saint as the children acted out some stories and traditions that have become associated with him over the centuries.
And, first of all, there was the story of the boy who was choking to death with a fishbone lodged in his throat, and his mother’s appeal to the saintly Blasius, the Bishop of Sebastea in Armenia, who prayed for the boy and healed him. This has given rise to the practice, all over Catholic Europe, of blessing the throats of worshippers with crossed candles on the Feast Day of St. Blasius, which falls on 3 February. We had the crossed candles at the service on 23 May, and the pupil who acted the part of St. Blasius looked resplendent dressed up in a cloak and a Bishop’s ‘mitre’ which was made specially at the school!
Next came a tradition about St. Blasius that is distinctive to the ‘World Heritage Site’ city of Dubrovnik in Croatia, where the good Bishop of Sebastea is the Patron Saint of the city. This was because long ago an old priest in Dubrovnik had a vision in which St. Blasius appeared to him and warned him of an impending attack on the city by troops from Venice, whose galleys were secretly anchored nearby. The younger children enthusiastically acted this out in a simple version from a little book Dubrovnik for Kids which Marion and I brought back from Dubrovnik two years ago, in which ‘Maro’ and ‘Baro’ and their friends see off ‘Leo’ the Venetian Lion with the heavenly assistance of St. Blasius!
Finally, we had a very ‘English’ scene, based on a great procession that was held in the city of Norwich in 1783, and written about at the time in The Diary of a Country Parson, by the Revd James Woodforde. This ‘Woolcombers’ Procession’ was in honour of ‘Bishop Blaise’, who had become the Patron Saint of Woolcombers because he is believed to have been martyred with large metal combs with sharp teeth similar to those used by woolcombers to comb the rough fibres of wool and produce fine cloth to make clothes. The original procession in Norwich was on a very large scale indeed, and it filled the whole of the city centre, whereas the St. Blasius Academy version was necessarily more limited in scope and in numbers. But the older children put on a wonderful show for all that, with drummers with real drums, ‘trumpeters’, shepherds and shepherdesses in costume and many others, and with St. Blasius appearing once again in all his splendour!
Well done, children, and all concerned with making this service so memorable. There always were links between St. Blasius’ Church and the former Shanklin C of E Primary School, of course, but since the school’s transformation as a Diocesan ‘Academy’ bearing the name of the parish’s patron saint, the links are still stronger, and a school service now takes place at the church every half-term, which is a most welcome development.