Wednesday, 13 November 2019

saint brice’s day

Though the feast day is darkened with the 1002 massacre of Danes in England ordered by Æthelred the Unready—probably in part responding to a populace weary of the piracy and appeasement, the commemoration of Saint Brice of Tours has a direct link to a recent celebration. Adopted by the sainted bishop Martin when discovered as an orphaned infant, Brice (Brictius, *370 – †444) was raised within the church under Martin’s tutelage, becoming a monk and eventually an archdeacon and succeeding his mentor Martin as the fourth head of the archdiocese upon Martin’s death in 397. This iconic, generic manuscript miniature illustrates Martin lecturing his pupil and ward Brice comes from the fourteenth century workshop of hagiographer Jacobus de Varagine and his anthology The Golden Legend (Legenda aurea).
Brice’s temperament and focus, however, according to the community was very much in opposition to his teacher’s and fellow clerics dismissed him as worldly and overly-ambitious and certainly did not like the idea of him becoming their spiritual leader. Scandalously, a nun became pregnant and there were persistent rumours that Brice was the father. In order to prove that he was the baby daddy, Brice submitted to a ritual ordeal of carrying hot embers in his cloak to the tomb of Saint Martin and coming out unscathed with his garment none the worse for wear either. This test did not impress and his parishioners banished him—saying that he could not return unless the pope in Rome himself exonerated him. Seven years later, absolved by Innocent I, Brice returned and discharged his duties as a bishop and confessor with such dedication and humility he was not only accepted back into the fold but was, upon his death, venerated as a saint. Brice is depicted with the iconography of glowing coals in his robe and/or a baby in his arms, the paternity issue never really resolved. No particular patronage is attached to Saint Brice (so you’re invited to come up with your own) but he does share this day with Saint Homobonus (Sant’Omobono, Sankt Gutmann, literally “a good man,” †1197) who was a celebrated tailor and cloth-monger of Cremona. A wealthy merchant, Homobonus expressed gratitude for his good fortune and privilege to work at a job he enjoyed by donating to and dressing the poor. Usually represented with a money bag, Homobonus is the patron of business casual and corporate executives.