Saturday, April 08, 2006

Patron Saint of Shoes

The patron saint of shoemakers is St Crispin and traditionally shoe shops close on St Crispin’s Day (October 25th). He and his brother Crispiain were born into a wealthy Roman family in the third century AD (350 AD), but were converted early to Christianity. In these days it was not considered the done thing for noble Romans to do and history indicates they were disinherited. Forced to make his own way in life they moved to France and became a humble shoe makers. Crispin became a lay preacher supporting himself by making and selling shoes. Eventually he was beheaded for his beliefs in Soissons, France in 288AD. In time Crispin became the patron saint of shoe making although he was never sanctified by the Roman Church.

Now it is not all that well known but there was an English equivalent to St Crispin and he was called St Hugh. The son of the King of Wales and married a Christian princess he was soon converted to Christianity. Disowned for his beliefs he was thrown into poverty and became, yes you have guessed it, a shoe maker. Like St Crispin, he preached the gospel by day and plied his craft by night. Hugh’s demise was both violent and untimely and in 300AD he was hung for their beliefs. Legend has it his fellow shoemakers kept vigil and consoled him during his last hours.

After his execution they dried his bones and forged them into shoe making tools. Even now shoemaker’s tools are known as St Hugh's Bones.

The patron saint of surgical shoemakers is Chiron, centaur and Greek Immortal. A according to mythology was a healer of the lame and lived the life of a recluse at the bottom of a large mountain. Hercules, known for his enormous strength, was a terrible shot with a sling. He hit Chiron on the head, causing him to become lame. So disgusted at this indignity Chiron decided to relinquish immortality and become a mere mortal. He continued with his healing work but changed his name to Sagittarius.

A common thread in these and other stories about shoemakers is rectitude and humility. History tells us people who work with feet and shoes are humble, moral and virtuous but often with a deeper more complex side to their character. In fairy tales for example cobblers are often depicted as mature elfs or goblins. Fairy tales were used as a form of satire, where contemporary society could be lampooned safely within the context of an underworld. The goblin cobbler depicts our impish fascination with foot eroticism.

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