What is known about the life of St. Blaise derives from various traditions. His feast day is celebrated in the East on February 11th and in the West on February 3rd. All sources agree that St. Blaise was the Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia who suffered martyrdom under Licinius about AD 316. From here, we rely on the tradition which has been associated with our liturgical celebrations over the centuries.
St. Blaise was born to rich and noble parents, and received a Christian education. He was a physician before being consecrated a bishop at a young age.
During the persecution of Licinius, St. Blaise moved from the town, and lived as a hermit in a cave. Wild animals visited, and he healed any that were sick and wounded. One day, a group of hunters gathering wild beasts for the games in the amphitheatre discovered St. Blaise and seized him. As he was being taken to the governor Agricolaus, St. Blaise encountered a woman whose pig was being seized by a wolf; St. Blaise commanded the wolf to release the pig, and it was freed unhurt.
While in prison, he miraculously cured a small boy who was choking to death on a fishbone lodged in his throat. Also, the woman whose pig had been saved brought St. Blaise candles so that his cell would have light and he could read the sacred Scriptures.
Eventually, Agricolaus condemned St. Blaise for upholding his Christian faith rather than apostatizing. He was tortured and finally beheaded.
By the sixth century, St. Blaise’s intercession was invoked for diseases of the throat in the East. As early as the eighth century, records attest to the veneration of St Blaise in Europe.
One reason for St. Blaise’s popularity arose from the fact he was a physician who cured, even performing miraculous cures. Thereby, those who were sick, especially with throat ailments, invoked his intercession. Eventually the custom of the blessing of throats arose, whereby the priest held two crossed candles over the heads of the faithful or touched their throats with them while he invoked the prayer of the saint and imparted God’s blessing.
While we invoke St. Blaise for his protection against any physical ailment of the throat, we should also ask his protection against any spiritual ailment — profanity, cursing, unkind remarks, detraction or gossip. St. James reminds us, “If a man who does not control his tongue imagines that he is devout, he is self-deceived; his worship is pointless” (1:26) and later, “We use [the tongue] to say, Praised be the Lord and Father’; then we use it to curse men, though they are made in the likeness of God. Blessing and curse come out of the same mouth. This ought not to be, my brothers!” (3:9-10). Therefore, may St. Blaise protect us from all evil, physical and spiritual, which may attack the throat.