Custom survived:Blessing throats at St Etheldreda’s church Holborn

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St Etheldreda’s church in Ely Court Holborn is a curious place. In all senses a ghetto; a microcosm:  outside the city’s jurisdiction, with its own ‘police’, a beadle and was the first medieval church to be converted back to Catholicism after the Toleration Act.

The church is probably most famous for its revival over a hundred years ago of a Catholic rite, the blessing of throats on the 3rd of February. Now undertaken at a number of other catholic churches across Europe and now in the UK, but this is the oldest. It was introduced in 1874 by the Father’s of Charity who overtook the church at this time.

I am always compressed with the work-a-day nature of Catholic Service, amongst the rather packed pews was a range of people from glamorous society types to workmen with their paint soaked trousers. After a lot of Latin, the priest called the assembled to get their throat blessed, often people have come especially because they had a throat complaint. The ceremony consists of the placing of two large lit altar candles blessed and tied in a St. Andrew’s cross beneath the chin. The following is said:

“May the Lord deliver you from the evil of the throat, and from every other evil”

This was recited whilst the recipient kneeled before the priest.

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Why St. Blaise?

Little is known of the saint, but he is said to be an Armenian Bishop who is said to have a boy who nearly choked to death on a fish bone! He touched the boy’s throat and he brought forth the fish. His cult was popular across England, especially in sheep farming areas because he was martyred with implements which resembled sheep shears.

Let me clear my throat

Of course I joined the queue and the priest place the crosses to my thought an after reciting the pray, I was dismissed. I thought very little of it…but on the 4th February exactly a year later I had the worse sore throat ever, sadly a day too late to have it blessed again and I haven’t been back since.

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One response »

  1. I was born and brought up roman catholic, attending convent school till age 17. The crossed andles held at the throat was a familiar and intriguing ceremony of every Candlemas (f eb 2nd) . I always thought it was a throw back to the scourge of diphtheria in children, I now know feb 2nd is also Saint Brides’s day a memorable feast day in the pagan world, celebrated as Imbolc, the coming of the light!

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