In Sebaste, Armenia, the passion of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr who performed many miracles. He suffered lengthy tortures under the Prefect Agricolaus. He was hung from a tree, his flesh was torn with iron combs, and then he was thrown into a foul prison. They tried to drown him in a lake, but he emerged unharmed. So the judge had him beheaded along with two boys. Seven women who had collected blood he had shed during the tortures were arrested for being Christian, cruelly tormented, and put to the sword. – Roman Martyrology for February 3
According to the legends St. Blaise was bishop of Sebaste, in the province of Cappadocia. Because he saved a boy who had a fish bone lodged in his throat, he was adopted as the patron saint of throat ailments. After he was arrested and tortured with iron combs, seven women followers were executed for tossing the city's idols into the sea. St. Blaise was then beheaded along with two small children of one of the women.
The saint is always portrayed in episcopal vestments with a bishop's mitre and crozier (example). Images with a martyr's palm are very rare. His martyrdom is more often symbolized, if at all, by an iron comb (example).
The most frequent attribute, especially in later years, is a candle, as in the first picture at right. This refers to a candle that was brought to him in prison, along with some food, by a woman whom he had helped earlier. In the Golden Legend Blaise tells the woman "that every year she should offer in his church a candle, and know thou that to thee and to all them that so shall do shall well [prosperity] happen to them." In Roman Catholic churches the use of candles on Blaise's feast continues to this day.
Some portraits draw on the Blaise legends' Eucharistic imagery. The fourth version in the Acta Sanctorum, for example, has Jesus appear to the saint on the eve of his arrest and tell him to celebrate Mass: "and when you have faithfully taken of the Cup and of my Body, drink that same cup full of true blood." Awakening, Blaise realizes that "the Lord was calling him to . . . his own passion and martyrdom."1 This identification of the Eucharistic cup with the Christian's sacrifice of himself can be traced to Jesus' own words and is particularly emphasized in Roman Catholic doctrine.2
Thus, in a 15th-century fresco a chalice and paten serve as the saint's attribute, and in a 19th-century image we see God's call to Blaise while he is at an altar. Another intriguing example is an 11th-century portable altar that symbolically relates the sacrifice of Isaac to the sacrifice performed on Christian altars by Saints Blaise and Nicholas.
In Dubrovnik, Croatia, the many images of Blaise have him holding a maquette of the city, of which he is the patron saint (examples from the Church of St. Blaise and from one of the city gates).
These are not as numerous as portraits. The revived boy is among the more common narrative images (example). The beheading is in the second picture at right. In the Golden Legend Blaise makes a wolf return a pig it had stolen from a poor woman. This is illustrated in a 15th-century predella panel by Sano di Pietro.3
Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, revised 2015-10-13, 2016-09-29, 2016-10-28.