Saint Blaise, Bishop and Martyr (died 3rd or 4th Century): The Iconography

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.

Portraits

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 at left. 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 the Lord 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).

Narrative Images

These are not as numerous as portraits. The revived boy is among the more common narrative images (example). There is also a 15th-century painting of the beheading.

Feast day: February 3 in the West, Feb. 11 in the Eastern Churches

At left, a 1740 painting of St. Blaise

Hagiography:
Golden Legend #38: html or pdf
Early South English Legendary 485-90

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1Acta Sanctorum, February vol. 1, p. 350. Compare the second version, where upon his arrest Blaise says, "Let us hurry then, and may he be with us who has desired the sacrifice [hostiam] of my body, my Lord Jesus Christ" (ibid. 340). In the Golden Legend God appears to him in prison and says "Rise and offer sacrifice to me" (Ryan 151, not in Caxton). In the fourth Acta Blaise also brings the Eucharistic host to St. Eustratius on the morning of the latter's martyrdom (ibid. 349).

2Please follow this link for a list of Jesus' sayings on this topic. Also see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 160f and 344 ( 618 and 1367).