Today we celebrate St Crispin’s Day

25 Oct

There seem to be a couple of guys playing ice hockey in the background, oblivious to the grisly scene going on in this painting from 1494 by den Bossche

Saints Crispin and Crispinian, two brothers, were Christian martyrs of Roman origin. They were supposedly persecuted, tortured and put to death in around 285 AD for their faith. The story goes that they took up the trade of shoemakers in order to avoid begging for alms.

An English tradition claims that they fled from persecution to Faversham in Kent, where they plied their trade at a site which became the Swan Inn. This pub became a place of pilgrimage up until the 17th century. There is an altar in their honour in Faversham church.

They are mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry V (iv, ii) on the eve of Agincourt, which was fought on the eve of their feast day.

Here are a few lines from Henry V’s rousing speech:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me 

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, 

This day shall gentle his condition: 

And gentlemen in England now a-bed 

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks 

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

 

Crispin and Crispinian are the patron saints of cobblers, shoemakers and leather-workers.

The image above is a detail from The Martyrdom of Saints Crispin and Crispinian by Aert van den Bossche, 1494.