Saint Blaise is the patron saint of the throat and is widely revered for having miraculously saved a boy from choking on a fish bone while he was being led to prison.
Over time, this act has become representative of his powers to cure all types of throat ailments and his growing cult.
On February 3, it’s an Italian tradition to eat leftover panettone from Christmas – or other soft bread or sweets – with a glass of wine to bless the throat.
In some places, the day is also celebrated with parades, music, a special mass or bonfires.
Saint Blaise was a physician and bishop of the Armenian city of Sebaste in the 4th century AD during the reigns of the Roman Emperor of the East, Licinius, and his rival from the West, Constantine.
As a Christian, he was persecuted, then imprisoned by the former to suffer nine days of unbearable torture only to be thrown mercilessly into a lake.
He survived, but was subsequently beheaded.
The legendary Acts of St Blaise were written 400 years after his death, and are apocryphal and, perhaps, fictional.
The legend is as follows:
Blaise, who had studied philosophy in his youth, was a doctor in Sebaste in Armenia, the city of his birth, who exercised his art with miraculous ability, good-will, and piety. When the bishop of the city died, he was chosen to succeed him, with the acclamation of all the people. His holiness was manifest through many miracles: from all around, people came to him to find cures for their spirit and their body; even wild animals came in herds to receive his blessing. In 316, Agricola, the governor of Cappadocia and of Lesser Armenia, having arrived in Sebastia at the order of the emperor Licinius to kill the Christians, arrested the bishop. As he was being led to jail, a mother set her only son, choking to death of a fish-bone, at his feet, and the child was cured straight away. Regardless, the governor, unable to make Blaise renounce his faith, beat him with a stick, ripped his flesh with iron combs, and beheaded him.
The martyr’s relics are housed in the Basilica on the summit of Monte San Biagio, in Maratea, where the famous 21-metre-high statue of Christ was erected in 1963.
They arrived there after a decision was made to transport them to Rome during the Arab expansion.
A storm forced the ship to interrupt its journey near Maratea.
Interestingly, Maratea actually celebrates the saint in May with a solemn procession from the Basilica to the town.