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Dunbeath: Week 4 – 1 March

Did you know that we archivists have our own patron saint? She’s St Catherine, the Great Martyr; although, as there are only so many saints to go around, we have to share her with a whole bunch of freeloaders such as librarians and teachers and knife grinders. (This probably explains why she never answers my prayers: “You have reached the number of St Catherine of Alexandria, I’m too busy to come to the shrine right now so please leave a message after the world-weary sigh, honestly how hard is it to keep an edge on a blade—”; but by then I’ve usually hung up.) St Catherine’s qualities are said to be beauty, fearlessness, virginity and intelligence, and if that’s not a perfect description of an archivist then I don’t know what is.

Nets on the quay

Catherine is supposed to have lived around 300 AD. She was a famous intellectual (the sort of person our current Prime Minister would probably characterise as a “girly swot”; I’d always thought of the Billy Bunter books as a series of children’s public school stories, instead of, as it turns out, Cabinet Office papers). One time the Emperor Maximian gathered some fifty pagan philosophers to dispute with her. She not only won the argument, she even converted several of them to Christianity (Maximian, a textbook bad loser, promptly had them executed). She was going to be martyred on a burning wheel, but when it shattered at her touch she was beheaded instead. Now she spends her afterlife rushing about helping, among others, potters, hat-makers, theologians, tanners, haberdashers and Greece. And archivists. No wonder my records contain so many mistakes. I can’t help feeling the church needs more saints.

Wick on a sunny day

I was shocked to learn that there isn’t a patron saint of gansey knitters, probably because several centuries of picking up dropped stitches in other people’s knitting would try the patience of—well, of a saint. (Dare I propose St Gladys of Thompson?) Still, even without divine assistance, the body of my gansey is coming along nicely, just the collar and sleeves to go. Incidentally, if you want to see the original pattern we’ve based this gansey on, you can find the photograph on the Wick Society’s Johnston Collection website.

In parish notices, Nigel has sent us pictures of a very splendid gansey he’s made. The yarn is Frangipani Helford blue, with edging in paler blue merino wool. The pattern is Matt Cammish, an absolute classic, and Nigel’s done it full justice here. Many congratulations to him!

Snowdrops catching the sun

And if St Catherine is one of the busiest, which saints have the strangest responsibilities? Could it be St Columbanus, patron saint of motorcyclists? Or perhaps St Balthasar, one of the three wise men, who looks after playing card manufacturers? The saint with the most challenging caseload is probably St Rita, patron saint of the impossible. Then there’s St Drogo, who has charge of unattractive people and, er, coffee houses (still, it’s good to see Frodo Baggins’s father gainfully employed). In fact, I imagine St Catherine saying to St Polycarp of Smyrna, “Look, you take earaches, I’ve got my hands full with all these by-our-lady archivists complaining their pencils need sharpening (and no, St Fotino and St Hypatius of Gangra, and how many times must I say this, that is not a euphemism!)…”

10 comments to Dunbeath: Week 4 – 1 March

  • E

    I think St Catherine is missing a trick – if she were to rim spinning wheels (as she is also the saint of spinners, is she not?) with whetstone material, then the knifegrinders could set up shop with the spinners and everyone would be happy.

    • Gordon

      Yes, Catherine is the saint for those associated with learning, or wheels, like potters and spinners. (And Greece. Why Greece?) i often think spinners could generate electricity – that’s green energy right there – so adding a whetstone seems like a natural step forward!

  • =Tamar

    I think there is, or was, a Saint Fiacra, who was chosen as a patron of knitting by a Parisian guild of knitters in 1527, nobody knows why.
    In Barcelona the wool knitters chose Saint Sebastian, while the silk knitters chose St Lucy and St Ursula.
    The only knitting saint I know of is in a picture of a group of saints each of whom is doing a different form of fiber work; the one knitting a color-patterned stocking is, of course, the one with the illegible label.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, yes I saw there were a few candidates chosen by knitters, but that feels like cheating somehow. If the Pope says it’s ok, fair enough, it’s official, he’s infallible!

  • Derek Martin

    In terms of caseload, we should probably spare a thought for poor St. Edmund, who got lumbered with the job of patron saint of pandemics…

    • Gordon

      Hello Derek, yes, poor St Edmund, the human pincushion. (I always thought it curious that he gets a town named after his burial site – Bury St Edmunds – but we don’t actually know where he’s buried!)

      He’s also the patron saint of wolves, though I don’t imagine he’s got much time to spare for them just now, alas.

  • Dave

    An interesting combination for St Edmund. If the wolves are getting hungry, he can turn up the pandemic to supply a few carcasses. Perhaps all we need do to end the pandemic is feed a wolf or two, then we can get back to the more serious business of praying to St Drogo.

    • Gordon

      Hi Dave, after Edmund was killed by Danes he was beheaded, and no one could find his head till they heard a voice in the woods crying “hic, hic, hic” – Latin for “here, here, here” (and not, as you might expect, a wolf with the hiccups) – and they found Edmund’s head guarded by a wolf.

      Proof, if need be, that medieval scribes had discovered the hallucinogenic properties of certain wild mushrooms long before the hippies…

  • Christa Sluijs

    I had a peek at the picture of the Johnston collection and noticed some patterning just above the cuff of the sleeve. Maybe it was done more often but I never saw it before. I like that detail. Thanjs fir sharing.
    Groetjes, Christa

    • Gordon

      Hi Christa, yes, I’ve not seen pattern bands above the cuffs like that before. (Though some of the Wick ganseys have cables as part of the cuff ribbing, which is pretty cool.) I probably won’t replicate that on this gansey, though.

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