Posted by: anna | November 17, 2010

St Clair of Rochester

Today (4 November) we commemorate St Clair (Clarius) of Rochester. From Baring-Gould:
S. CLAIR, RM. (9TH CENT.) [Usuardus, Gallican and Roman Martyrologies. — Authority : — Mention in the Lessons of the Rouen and Beauvais Breviaries.]
S. Clarius, or Clair, was a native of Rochester, who, in the 9th century, quitted his country, after having been raised to the priesthood, and passed into Normandy. He fixed his residence in Le Vexin, in the diocese of Rouen, and lived there for several years a life of great seclusion and severity, imitating the Fathers of the Egyptian deserts. A woman of rank in the neighbourhood cast eyes of passion on him, and as he indignantly repulsed her advances, in a fit of revenge she sent two of her servants to murder him. His head was cut off. He is represented as carrying it. As he kept a watch on his eyes, and bashfully covered them with his hands when the lady cast her warm glances on him, he is often represented with one hand covering the eyes of the head he holds with the other hand. The place where he was assassinated bears his name, and has become a place of pilgrimage.
S. Clair is invoked by those affected with inflamed eyes. He is sometimes by error represented as a bishop, being mistaken for his namesake, a bishop of Nantes.
Oh it’s unfortunate. I look at these stories seriously, I do, but I can’t help it, every time there’s a martyrdom by decapitation like this I start hearing the refrain of that old song about Anne Boleyn: ‘With ‘er ‘ead tucked underneath ‘er aaaaaarm!’ This is hardly fair on the terribly modest and pious Clarius.
I must say I do get fed up with B-G’s strange tone, documenting all these peculiar old stories but cutting out all the ‘miraculous’ bits so his readers can’t get a look at them, and being so condescending.  Come on – in or out? Then I looked up the briefest of biographies and saw Anglican cleric + antiquarian and wondered no longer… His attitude must have been that the ‘concrete’ bits of the stories are folklore, and therefore worth collecting, and the exaggerated silly miraculous bits are ignorant popish superstition, which any sensible God-fearing person should suppress. He does know how to take the stuffing out of a good story. And yet he wrote a book about werewolves! what!! I’d stop using him but he’s so often the only readily available English source that’s ever heard of some of these obscure British saints… And if he hadn’t done the work, I’d have precious little to read, mark, learn and complain about. I first came across his name in one of his anthologies of nursery rhymes or fairy tales when I was little, and of course assumed that he was she. But in fact his work in tirelessly collecting and recording songs and stories, sayings and saints’ lives, is very widespread, and still very much around. Though come to think of it, given his heavy-handed editing propensities with the saints’ lives, goodness knows what he actually heard to come up with his written versions of for instance folk songs! Anyway, well done, SBG, what a tremendous mass of material you have set down, and possibly preserved from extinction.
  • there is *of course* an SBG Appreciation Society, whose site seems to be entirely about the activities of the society, rather than providing much information at all about SBG, such as
  • a bibliography from the luridly-coloured fantastic fiction
  • and returning to St Clair, the Catholic Encyclopedia has just about heard of him
  • the French wikipedia article about the place named for him, St-Clair-sur-Epte, reveals that in France he is remembered as St Clair de Beauvaisis and leads indirectly to a lovely new tag: cephalophore. Much more dignified than that song…
Who is the patron saint of those who inconveniently tend to see the silly side?
St Clair, supplie le Christ de sauver nos âmes – St Clair, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

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