February 3 is the Feastday of St. Blaise, patron saint of throat illnesses, wool combers, and wild animals. This 4th-century bishop of Sebastea in present-day Armenia was martyred by Emperor Licinius around A.D. 316. Very few facts are known about Saint Blaise’s life. On the way to his execution, he is said to have healed a boy choking on a fishbone. The first reference to him was in the medical writings of Aëtius Amidenus, a 6th-century court physician who advised invoking St. Blaise’s aid in treating objects stuck in the throat.
By the eighth century, St. Blaise had become a well-known cult hero. Legend has it that he was born into a rich and noble family who raised him as a Christian. After becoming a bishop, a new persecution of Christians began. He received a message from God to go into the hills to escape persecution. Men hunting in the mountains discovered a cave surrounded by wild animals who were sick. Among them, Blaise walked unafraid, curing them of their illnesses. Recognizing Blaise as a bishop, they captured him to take him back for trial. On the way back, he talked a wolf into releasing a pig that belonged to a poor woman. When Blaise was sentenced to be starved to death, the woman, in gratitude, sneaked into the prison with food and candles. Finally Blaise was beheaded by the governor but not before ripping his flesh with iron combs, hence his association with wool combers.