Seven Sleepers’ Day (Siebenschläfertag) on June 27 is a feast day commemorating the legend of the Seven Sleepers as well as one of the best-known bits of traditional weather lore (expressed as a proverb) remaining in German-speaking Europe.
The atmospheric conditions on that day are supposed to determine or predict the average summer weather of the next seven weeks. and it is believed that whatever the weather is on this day, it will remain so for seven weeks.
Apparently this forecast is about as accurate as Groundhog Day forecasts in the U.S. The story of the Seven Sleepers has many versions and is widespread throughout the Christian and Muslim worlds. It has been told and retold repeatedly from ancient times to the present day.
The Story of the Seven Sleepers
The earliest Syriac version of the tale states that during the persecutions of the Roman emperor Decius, around 250, seven young men were accused of being Christians. They were given some time to recant their faith, but chose instead to give their worldly goods to the poor and retire to a mountain cave to pray, where they fell asleep.
The emperor, seeing that their attitude towards their faith had not changed, ordered the mouth of the cave to be sealed. Decius died in 251, and many years passed during which Christianity went from being persecuted to being the state religion of the Roman Empire. At some later time—usually given as during the reign of Theodosius II (408–450)—the landowner decided to open up the sealed mouth of the cave, thinking to use it as a cattle pen. He opened it and found the sleepers inside.
They awoke, imagining that they had slept for a single day, and sent one of their number to Ephesus to buy food, with instructions to be careful in case the Romans were to recognize him and seize him. Upon arriving in the city, this youth was astounded to find buildings with crosses attached. The townspeople for their part were amazed to find a man trying to spend old coins from the reign of Decius. The bishop was summoned to interview the sleepers; they told him their miracle story, and died praising God.
As the earliest versions of the legend spread from Ephesus, an early Christian catacomb came to be associated with it, attracting scores of pilgrims. On the slopes of Mount Pion near Ephesus, the cave of the Seven Sleepers with ruins of the church built over it was excavated in 1927–28. The excavation brought to light several hundred graves which were dated to the 5th and 6th centuries. Inscriptions dedicated to the Seven Sleepers were found on the walls of the church and in the graves. This cave is now a local tourist attraction.
The story of the Seven Sleepers is probably best known in the Muslim world. It is told in the Qur’an (Surah 18, verse 9-26). The Qur’anic rendering of this story doesn’t state exactly the number of sleepers; the exact number is believed to be known to God alone. It also gives the number of years that they slept as 300 solar years (equivalent to 309 lunar years).
Unlike the Christian story, the Islamic version includes mention of a dog who accompanied the youths into the cave, and was also asleep. But when people passed by the cave it looked as if the dog was just keeping watch at the entrance, making them afraid of seeing what is in the cave once they saw the dog. In Islam, these youths are referred to as “The People of the Cave.”
There are numerous retellings of the tale in early modern and modern literature. John Donne’s (1572-1631) poem “The good-morrow” contains the lines:
were we not wean’d till then?
But suck’d on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?”
A Recipe For Today
Given that the sleepers were hungry when they awoke and sent one of their number to buy food, I thought a local Turkish recipe found at roadside food stalls would be suitable for the day. Gözleme are flaky pastry packets stuffed with a mix of feta cheese and spinach plus herbs and spices. Variants can be found throughout Turkey and Greece. They can also be stuffed with ground lamb flavored with garlic, paprika, and cumin. Once in a while you will come across them with both fillings in one.
- 2 cups (250 g) plain flour, unbleached
- 2 cups (250 g) wholemeal flour
- pinch of salt
- vegetable oil
- 2 cups (450 g) grated feta cheese or
- 2 cups (200 g) finely chopped spinach leaves
- ½ cup (50 g) chopped fresh mint leaves
- ½ cup (50 g)chopped flat leaf parsley
- ½ cup (80 g) chopped green onion
- ½ cup (80 g) diced white onion
- 1 tsp (5 g) white pepper
- 1 tsp (5 g) allspice
- 1 tsp (5 g) dried oregano
- 1 tsp (5 g) dried sage
Sift the flours and salt and mix with 1 ½ cups (210 ml) of water in an electric mixer with a dough hook or knead by hand for at least ten minutes.
Keep adding more water a little at a time until you get a very pliable, elastic dough that is easy to knead, but not so watery that it is too sticky to handle. Dust frequently with the extra flour.
Allow the dough to stand, covered, overnight (at least 10 hours). When ready to cook, divide the dough into six round portions. Dust with flour. Roll one of the rounds flat with a rolling pin on a flour-dusted surface, into a rectangle shape, as thinly as possible.
Brush on a little oil, then fold over into a square. Fold over twice more into a square. Repeat the dusting, rolling out to a large rectangle, folding, oiling, dusting process three more times. Repeat the entire process for each of the six rounds
Take one of the folded dough squares and roll it out very thinly for the final time, into a large square. Sprinkle on the filling sparingly – – as you would for a pizza topping but on half of the square only.
Start with a layer of cheese. Mix the spinach, mint, green onion and parsley together in a bowl, and add some of this as the next layer. Mix together the white onion, spices, and dried herbs, and add some as a final topping.
Fold over the uncovered half of the square to cover the filling. Press down lightly all over.
Cook on a pre-heated oiled heavy skillet (cast iron if possible). Make sure the skillet is not too hot. It takes about 10 minutes to cook everything through. Turn them often until the outside is golden and crisp. Cut into smaller squares and serve with lemon wedges. Yield 6.
Some Weather Science
The Seven Sleepers singularity is contested as quite inaccurate in practice. Objections have been raised that the weather lore associated with the day might have arisen before the 1582 Gregorian calendar reform, and as at this time the difference to the Julian calendar amounted to ten days, July 7 would be the actual Seven Sleepers Day. Based on this date the prediction has a slightly increased probability of about 55–70%, if confined to the southern parts of Germany, where the rule seems to have originated. In contrast, the weather lore is not applicable to Northern Germany and its rather oceanic climate.
Depending on the meandering flow of the polar jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere (Rossby waves) and the emergence of veering low-pressure and high-pressure (anticyclone) systems, the atmospheric conditions tend to stabilize in early July: either a high-pressure ridge takes hold over Scandinavia, which may coalesce with the subtropical Azores High to form a stable and warm macro weather situation; or a high North Atlantic oscillation between the Icelandic Low and the Azores High implies a long-standing influx of wet air masses into Central Europe.
The 2nd of June is St Erasmus of Formia’s day – better known as St Elmo. He is said to have kept preaching during a thunderstorm and even when lightning struck near him. Sailors therefore look on the electrical discharges that hit masts or other protuberances as a sign that the saint is watching over them, and call this St Elmo’s Fire.
St. Elmo’s fire is a bright blue or violet glow, appearing like fire in some circumstances, from tall, sharply pointed structures such as lightning rods, masts, spires and chimneys, and on aircraft wings or nose cones. St. Elmo’s fire can also appear on leaves and grass, and even at the tips of cattle horns. Often accompanying the glow is a distinct hissing or buzzing sound. It is sometimes confused with ball lightning.
Invoking Saint Erasmus
In addition to being the patron saint of sailors, Saint Erasmus is also the patron saint of a host of other groups, including explosives workers, ordnance workers, and women in labor. He is also invoked against colic, birth pains, intestinal disorders, stomach diseases, and storms. He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints regarded as special protectors against various illnesses.
Invocation of St. Erasmus
Holy martyr Erasmus, who didst willingly and bravely bear the trials and sufferings of life, and by thy charity didst console many fellow-sufferers; I implore thee to remember me in my needs and to intercede for me with God. Staunch confessor of the Faith, victorious vanquisher of all tortures, pray Jesus for me and ask Him to grant me the grace to live and die in the Faith through which thou didst obtain the crown of glory. Amen.
Account of His Life and Martyrdom
Erasmus was Bishop of Formia, Italy. During the persecution against Christians under the emperors Diocletian (284-305) and Maximian Hercules (284-305), he left his diocese and went to Mount Libanus, where he hid for seven years. However, an angel is said to have appeared to him, and counseled him to return to his city.
On the way, he encountered some soldiers who questioned him. Erasmus admitted that he was a Christian and they brought him to trial at Antioch before the emperor Diocletian. After suffering terrible tortures, he was bound with chains and thrown into prison, but an angel appeared and helped him escape.
He passed through Lycia, where he raised up the son of an illustrious citizen. This resulted in a number of baptisms, which drew the attention of the Western Roman Emperor Maximian who, according to Voragine, was “much worse than was Diocletian.” Maximian ordered his arrest and Erasmus continued to confess his faith. They forced him to go to a temple of the idol, but along the saint’s route all the idols fell and were destroyed, and from the temple there came fire which fell upon many of the pagans.
That made the emperor so angry he had Erasmus enclosed in a barrel full of protruding spikes, and the barrel was rolled down a hill. But an angel healed him. Further tortures ensued.
When he was recaptured, he was brought before the emperor and beaten and whipped, then coated with pitch and set alight (as Christians had been in Nero’s games), and still he survived. Thrown into prison with the intention of letting him die of starvation, St Erasmus managed to escape.
He was recaptured and tortured some more in the Roman province of Illyricum, after boldly preaching and converting numerous pagans to Christianity. Finally, according to this version of his death, his stomach was slit open and his intestines wound around a windlass. This version may have developed from interpreting an icon that showed him with a windlass, signifying his patronage of sailors.
Traditional weather lore has it that St. Dunstan was a great brewer who sold himself to the devil on the condition that the devil would blight the apple trees to stop the production of cider, Dunstan’s rival drink. This is said to be the cause of the wintry blast that usually comes about this time. (May 19)
Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then, indeed, he would have roared to lusty purpose.
~A Christmas Carol
This piece of folklore seeks to explain the late May frosts, known as ‘Franklin Days’ in the West Country, which often hit between 17-19 or 19-21 May. The tale was apparently particularly popular in Devon in the 19th and 20th centuries and goes thus:
Dunstan had bought some barley and made some beer, which he then hoped to sell for a good price. Seeing this the Devil appeared before him and offered to blight the local apple trees with frost (the tale is presumably set in Somerset, perhaps when Dunstan is Abbot of Glastonbury). This would ensure there was no cider and so drive demand for beer. Dunstan accepted the offer but stipulated that the frost should strike from the 17-19 May.
Stories About St. Dustan and the Devil:
According to legend, St. Dunstan had a number of encounters with the devil. The most famous story, which entered popular folklore, tells how he pulled the devil by the nose with his blacksmith’s tongs.
The story goes that while he was living as a hermit in a cell at Glastonbury, he occupied himself with various crafts, including metalwork. Against the old church of St Mary he built a small cell five feet long and two and a half feet deep. It was there that Dunstan studied, worked at his handicrafts, and played on his harp. It is at this time, according to a late 11th-century legend, that the Devil is said to have tempted Dunstan.
One day, as evening was coming on, an old man appeared at his window and asked him to make a chalice for him. Setting aside what he was working on, Dunstan agreed to the request and set to work. But as he was working his visitor began to change shape: one moment he was an old man, then a young boy, then a seductive woman.
Dunstan realized that his guest was the devil; but, pretending not to notice, he went on with his task. He took up the tongs from among his tools and laid them in the fire, waiting until they were red-hot. Then, pulling them out of the fire, he turned round and seized the devil by the nose with the tongs. The devil struggled and screamed, but Dunstan held on until at last he felt he had triumphed. Then he threw the devil out of his cell and it fled, running down the street and crying “Woe is me! What has that bald devil done to me? Look at me, a poor wretch, look how he has tortured me!”
St Dunstan stood in his ivied Tower,
Alembic, crucible, all were there;
When in came Nick to play him a trick,
In guise of a damsel passing fair.
Every one knows
How the story goes:
He took up the tongs and caught hold of his nose.
~Lay of St Dunstan, 1840
Many people heard and saw this, and the following day they came to Dunstan and asked him what had happened. He said to them, “These are the tricks of devils, who try to trap us with their snares whenever they can. But if we remain firm in the service of Christ, we can easily defeat them with his help, and they will flee from us in confusion.” And from that time he dwelt safely in his little cell.
The story was of course retold in other forms, as here in playful fashion in the South English Legendary:
þe deuel he hente bi þe nose & wel faste drou;
He twengde & ssok hure bi þe nose þat þe fur out blaste.
þe deuel wrickede here & þere & he huld euere faste,
He 3al & hupte & drou a3en & made grislich bere.
He nolde for al is bi3ete þat he hadde icome þere!
Wiþ is tonge he strok is nose & twengde him euere sore,
Forte it was wiþinne ni3te þat he ne mi3te iseo namore.
þe ssrewe was glad & bliþe inou þo he was out of is honde
And flei & gradde bi þe lift þat me hurde into al þe londe:
“Out, wat haþ þis calwe ido? wat haþ þis calwe ido?”
In þe contreie me hurde wide hou þe ssrewe gradde so.
As god þe ssrewe hadde ibeo habbe ysnut atom is nose,
He ne hi3ede namore þuderward to tilie him of þe pose.
He seized the devil by the nose and pulled very hard; he tweaked and shook him by the nose so that fire burst out. The devil wriggled here and there, and he still held fast. He yelled and hopped and pulled away and made a horrible commotion. He wished for all the world that he’d never come there! With his tongs Dunstan yanked at his nose and nipped him very sore, until night came on and he could no longer see. The villain was glad and happy indeed that he was out of his hands, and fled and cried out so it was heard all over the land: “Alas, what’s this bald one done? What’s this bald one done?” It was heard far around how the wicked one cried out. The villain had got such a good tweaking of his nose, he never hurried back there again to heal his cold!
On another occasion, when Dunstan was praying alone, the devil appeared to him in the likeness of a wolf with a gaping mouth, snarling and baring his teeth. Dunstan would not be distracted from concentration on his prayers, so the devil suddenly changed himself into a little fox, trying to get Dunstan’s attention by jumping about, contorting himself and trying to get Dunstan to laugh at him.
But, smiling a little, Dunstan only said, “You are revealing how you usually behave: by your tricks you flatter the unwary so that you can devour them. Now get out of here, wretch, since Christ, who crushed the lion and the dragon with his heel, will overcome you by his grace through me, whether you’re a wolf or a fox.”
Another legend regarding the Devil and St. Dunstan also occurred in Mayfield when the convent there had just been built. The Devil appeared to St. Dunstan and said that he was going to knock down all the houses in the village. St. Dunstan bargained with the Devil and got him to agree to leave standing any house with a horseshoe on the outside. At that time, the custom of nailing horseshoes to doors for luck wasn’t well known so the Devil agreed but St. Dunstan managed to nail a horseshoe to all the houses in the village before the Devil could get to them so the village was saved.
The Devil managed to get some measure of revenge against St. Dunstan by repeatedly setting Mayfield church, then built of wood, off its normal East-West axis, leaving St. Dunstan to repeatedly correct it. According to the lore, this was accoplished by pushing the church back into the proper east-west alignment with his shoulder!
Another church is involved with yet another St. Dunstan story. This time it is the steeple of the church in the village of Brookland, just over the border into Kent. The Devil took the steeple and was chased by St. Dunstan who caused the Devil to drop the steeple near Hastings by application of the tongs mentioned in the Mayfield story.
According to one version of the story, the injured devil flew off from Mayfield to cool his nose in the springs of Tunbridge Wells, and that’s how its famous waters got their reddish tint (don’t let anyone tell you it’s because of the iron in the water). Alternatively, he flew away with the tongs still attached to his nose, and they dropped off in the place near Brighton which is now called Tongdean (for, I hope, obvious reasons).
About Saint Dustan:
- Feastday: May 19
- Patron of armorers, goldsmiths, locksmiths, and jewelers
Born of a noble family at Baltonsborough, near Glastonbury, England, Dunstan was educated there by Irish monks and while still a youth, was sent to the court of King Athelstan. He became a Benedictine monk about 934 and was ordained by his uncle, St. Alphege, Bishop of Winchester, about 939.
After a time as a hermit at Glastonbury, Dunstan was recalled to the royal court by King Edmund, who appointed him abbot of Glastonbury Abbey in 943. He developed the Abbey into a great center of learning while revitalizing other monasteries in the area. He became advisor to King Edred on his accession to the throne when Edmund was murdered, and began a far-reaching reform of all the monasteries in Edred’s realm.
Dunstan also became deeply involved in secular politics and incurred the enmity of the West Saxon nobles for denouncing their immorality and for urging peace with the Danes. When Edwy succeeded his uncle Edred as king in 955, he became Dunstan’s bitter enemy for the Abbot’s strong censure of his scandalous lifestyle. Edwy confiscated his property and banished him from his kingdom.
Dunstan went to Ghent in Flanders but soon returned when a rebellion replaced Edwy with his brother Edgar, who appointed Dunstan Bishop of Worcester and London in 957. When Edwy died in 959, the civil strife ended and the country was reunited under Edgar, who appointed Dunstan Archbishop of Canterbury. The king and archbishop then planned a thorough reform of Church and state.
Dunstan was appointed legate by Pope John XII, and with St. Ethelwold and St. Oswald, restored ecclesiastical discipline, rebuilt many of the monasteries destroyed by the Danish invaders, replaced inept secular priests with monks, and enforced the widespread reforms they put into effect. Dunstan served as Edgar’s chief advisor for sixteen years and did not hesitate to reprimand him when he thought it deserved.
When Edgar died, Dunstan helped elect Edward the martyr king and then his half brother Ethelred, when Edward died soon after his election. Under Ethelred, Dunstan’s influence began to wane and he retired from politics to Canterbury to teach at the Cathedral school and died there. Dunstan has been called the reviver of monasticism in England. He was a noted musician, played the harp, composed several hymns, notably Kyrie Rex splendens, was a skilled metal worker, and illuminated manuscripts.
The feast day of St Agathius is May the 7th, (formerly May 8th). It is unclear why the date was changed, and some information online still has it listed as May the 8th. He is a patron saint of soldiers, and most often invoked against headaches.
- About him:
Saint Agathius (Greek: Ακακιος; died 303), also known as Achatius or Agathonas or Acacius of Byzantium, according to Christian tradition, was a Cappadocian Greek centurion of the imperial army, martyred around 304.
Agathius was arrested on charges for being a Christian by Tribune Firmus in Perinthus, Thrace, tortured and then brought to Byzantium where he was scourged and beheaded, being made a martyr because he would not renounce his Christian faith. The date of his martyrdom is traditionally May 8, when his feast is observed.
St. Acacius the Centurion is not to be confused with the St. Acacius who was crucified in the second century along with 10,000 (!) companions. Neither of these martyrs is the St. Achatius numbered among the “14 Holy Helpers.”
- For Headaches:
I’ve found that amethyst is one of the best gemstones to help relieve headaches and reduce stress and tension. You can simply sit quietly and hold a piece of amethyst against your forehead, or you could make a gem elixir so that you can take a drop or two of the liquid when necessary.
Another traditional spell is to find a pebble and hold it against your head and say: ‘Pain from my head go into this stone, go into this stone, go into this stone. Pain from my head go into this stone, go into this stone and stay there.’ Then take the stone outside and hurl it away from you with as much force as you can manage.
St. Agatha was tortured and martyred in 251 A.D. In addition to many other tortures, her were breasts cut off. In Catania, Sicily, and other places around the world, her feast day is celebrated with masses in her honor, large processions and symbolic foods, such as le minni di Sant’Agata (breasts of St. Agatha) or le minni di virgini (breasts of the virgin).
According to the story, not only did 15-year-old Saint Agatha of Sicily refuse to abandon her faith, she also rejected a Roman governor’s advances. As such, she was punished with torture and by having her breasts amputated, then died of her wounds in prison on February 5, 251 A.D. Frescoes of the mutilated martyr are easily recognizable. She’s often depicted holding her breasts on a platter.
Each February, hundreds of thousands of people flock to Catania to honor Saint Agatha in a three-day celebration. The centuries-old festival features an all-night procession and delicious replicas of saintly, amputated breasts at every pastry shop.
Known as minne di Sant’ Agata in Italian, these sweet cheese and marzipan desserts are an edible reminder of Saint Agatha’s suffering. Bakers craft the perfectly round confections using a base of shortcrust pastry topped with ricotta. After adding in chocolate or a piece of boozy spongecake to accompany the filling, they blanket everything in pistachio marzipan and a thick, creamy glaze. A candied cherry on top completes the anatomically-correct aesthetic.
Traditionally, the breasts of Saint Agatha pastries consist of a delicate outer layer of pasta frolla (shortbread dough) in the shape of a breast, stuffed with custard, zuccata, chopped almond or pistachio, covered with pink icing and topped with a half candied cherry; another version is filled with ricotta and covered with white icing and topped with a chocolate chip. For a great recipe visit this post, The Breasts Of Saint Agatha
St Agatha’s Party
Every year Catania, on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of February, offers to the Patron Saint such an extraordinary festival that can be compared only the holy week of or Seville or the Corpus Domini of Cuzco, in Perù. In those three days everybody and everything is concentrated on this fest, a mixture of devotion and folklore that attracts millions of people, either devoted or tourist.
The first day is dedicated to the candles offer. The traditions suggests that candle has to be as tall or heavy as the person that is demanding protection. Two carriages of eighteenth century, property once of the old city government, and eleven “candelore“, big candles, in representation of each corporation, are walked in procession.
February 4th it is the most exciting day, in fact it is the first day when the town “meets” the Patron Saint. Already at dawn time, the town is full of people. The devotees are wearing the traditional “sacco”, a votive dress of white cloth, very long and tight up with a string.
The “giro“, the procession on this day lasts all day long. The statue is walked in procession through the places of the martyrdom and in this way the story of the “Santuzza” is interlaced with the town story. On the statue, red gillyflowers (martyrdom symbol) are replaced with white gillyflowers (purity symbol).
On February 5th, during the day in the cathedral the pontifical mass is celebrated. At sun set time, the statue is walked in procession again, going through the centre of Catania. The most beautiful moment is when the statues goes to through “via San Giuliano” that because of its slope is very dangerous.
A Prayer To Saint Agatha
St. Agatha is the patron saint of Sicily, bellfounders, breast cancer patients, Palermo, rape victims, and wet nurses. She is also considered to be a powerful intercessor when people suffer from fires. Her feast day is celebrated on February 5.
- Prayer for healing:
Saint Agatha, you suffered sexual assault and indignity because of your faith and purity. Help heal all those who are survivors of sexual assault and protect those women who are in danger. Amen
- Prayers for persons suffering from breast cancer.
Pause for a moment to pray for all those suffering from breast cancer. Below is a traditional prayer to St. Agatha that may be used for this intention.
St. Agatha, woman of valor, from your own suffering we have been moved to ask your prayers for those of us who suffer from breast cancer. We place the NAME(S) before you, and ask you to intercede on their behalf. From where you stand in the health of life eternal — all wounds healed, and all tears wiped away — pray for [MENTION YOUR REQUEST], and all of us. Pray God will give us His holy benediction of health and healing. And, we remember you were a victim of torture and that you learned, first hand, of human cruelty and inhumanity.
We ask you to pray for our entire world. Ask God to enlighten us with a “genius for peace and understanding.” Ask Him to send us His Spirit of Serenity, and ask Him to help us share that peace with all we meet. From what you learned from your own path of pain, ask God to give us the Grace we need to remain holy in difficulties, not allowing our anger or our bitterness to overtake us.
Pray that we will be more peaceful and more charitable. And from your holy pace in our mystical body, the Church, pray that we, in our place and time will, together, create a world of justice and peace.
From 365 Goddess:
- Themes: Health; Well-Being; Protection
- Symbols: Any Health-related Items
- Presiding Goddess: Saint Agatha
Saint Agatha was a third century Italian martyr who now presides over matters of health and protects homes from fire damage. Many nurses and healers turn to her for assistance in their work. While this saint was a historical persona (not simply a rewritten goddess figure), she certainly embodies the healthy guardian energies of the goddess.
To Do Today:
Traditionally, candles are taken from a central location to people’s homes to bring Agatha’s blessings. So, get yourself a special Agatha candle, of any color, and light it in a safe place whenever you feel under the weather.
Take out your first aid kit, over the counter medications, prescription medications, band aids and bandages and bless them today, saying:
Restore vitality, well-being impart,
Saint Agatha, hear the cry of my heart.
On these tools of healing your blessing give,
That I may stay healthy as long as I live.
When you use any item in the first-aid kit, you can activate the restorative magic by repeating the incantation.
To protect your home from fire, take a sprig of mistletoe left over from the holiday season and put it near your hearth. Invoke Saint Agatha’s protection by saying:
Saint Agatha, let my home be protected,
Let these fires ne’er be neglected.
If you don’t have mistletoe, substitute any red colored stone.
These baked “breasts” are one of many different versions of pastries made in honor of St. Agatha, the patron saint for breast cancer. St. Agatha was tortured and martyred in 251 A.D. In addition to many other tortures, her breasts were cut off. In Catania, Sicily, and other places around the world, her feast day (Saint Agatha’s Day) is celebrated with masses in her honor, large processions and symbolic foods, such as le minni di Sant’Agata (breasts of St. Agatha) or le minni di virgini (breasts of the virgin).
Traditionally, the breasts of Saint Agatha pastries consist of a delicate outer layer of pasta frolla (shortbread dough) in the shape of a breast, stuffed with custard, zuccata, chopped almond or pistachio, covered with pink icing and topped with a half candied cherry; another version is filled with ricotta and covered with white icing and topped with a chocolate chip.
Personally, I prefer an unfrosted version (shown above) as it looks more realistic. My daughter and I actually made these, and they were delicious! We couldn’t decide which filling was better, so I’ve included both recipes. One is for a yummy orange flavored ricotta cream filling that stood up quite well to the molding process. The other is for a pastry cream that was also really yummy, but a little more difficult to work with when molding the breasts because it was so soft.
Ricotta Cream Filling – Make in advance and chill.
- 1 lb Ricotta (drained overnight)
- 2 tbsp Mascarpone
- 1/2 cup sugar
- zest of 1 orange
- 1 tbsp Grand Marnier
Cream together the ricotta, mascarpone and suger. When it is smooth and fluffy add in the orange zest and Grand Marnier. Mix well and chill until ready to use.
Pastry Cream Filling – Make in advance and chill
- 1 1/4 cups milk (whole or 2%)
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 tablespoon liqueur (Grand Marnier, Brandy, Kirsch)
Dried Cherry, dried apricots, chocolate chips, or almonds (your choice) are used for the “nipple” of the breast shaped pastry.
In a medium-sized heatproof bowl, mix the sugar and egg yolks together. (Do let the mixture sit too long or you will get pieces of egg forming.) Sift the flour and cornstarch (corn flour) together and then add to the egg mixture, mixing until you get a smooth paste.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan bring the milk and vanilla bean just to boiling (just until milk starts to foam up.) Remove from heat and add slowly to egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. (If you get a few pieces of egg (curdling) in the mixture, pour through a strainer.) Remove vanilla bean, scrape out seeds, and add the seeds to the egg mixture. (The vanilla bean can be washed and dried and placed in your sugar bowl to give the sugar a vanilla flavor.) Then pour the egg mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until boiling, whisking constantly.
When it boils, whisk mixture constantly for another 30 – 60 seconds until it becomes thick. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the liqueur (if using). (Stir in vanilla extract if using instead of a vanilla bean.) Pour into a clean bowl and immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming. Cool to room temperature. If not using right away refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days. Whisk or stir before using to get rid of any lumps that may have formed.
- You will also need:
Egg wash – We beat up an egg and added a small amount of water to it. You could also use the egg whites left over from the pasta frolla.
And to decide what you want to use for the “nipple” of these breast shaped pastries. We used semisweet chocolate pieces in some and raisins in others, but dried cherries, dried apricots, or almonds would work equally well.
Pasta Frolla for the Shells
- 4 cups sifted all purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 lb (2 sticks) salted butter
- 1 tbsp Agave Nectar
- 5 medium egg yolks, lightly beaten
- zest from 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon Cognac
Mound flour on a flat surface and form a well or place into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. Use your hands and mix it until it will shape into coarse crumbs of diverse sizes. Knead and bring the mixture together to form a ball. Fold and press with the palm of your hands; if dough is sticky, add some more flour, if it is too dry add a few tablespoons of water, to moisten it.
Do not over mix. Do not handle dough more than necessary. Form dough into a single mass and cover with a clean kitchen rag or with plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.
Divide dough into 2 pieces and knead each piece briefly to compact; on a floured working surface, roll out one piece to 3/8 of an inch thick. Using a round cutter (or the rim of a glass) 3 inches across, cut 10 to 12 circles and place them 1 to 2 inches apart.on your greased baking sheet.
Knead the other piece of dough, adding in the scraps from the first. Compact it and roll it out 3/8 of an inch thick. Using a round cutter cut 10 to 12 circles slightly larger than the first set, and set aside.
Brush the first set of disks with the egg wash; place approximately 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of each one. Mound it up, but leave room around the edges. Put a chocolate chip or whatever you’ve decided to use for the “nipple” in the center on the top of the mound of filling.
Gently cover each with your second pastry circle. Carefully press it around the edges to seal it, as you do this, try to create a ‘breast-like: shape, pinching up on the pastry in the center to form a “nipple.” When it is pressed and sealed, use your round cutter to re-cut the edges. This will give your breast a nice round shape and help seal the edges even more. Remove the excess pastry dough.
Brush the formed pastries with egg wash. Bake the pastries for 15 or 20 minutes, or until they are a golden color. Place the pastries on a rack and allow them to cool before eating.
Recipes for the Ricotta filling and the Pasta Frolla are by Sky Buletti. The pastry cream recipe was adapted from the Joy of Baking. Other fillings can be found at Sicilian Cooking Plus, and a nice tutorial on shaping the breasts can be found at Hi Cookery.
January 21 is the Eve of St Agnes. There are many traditions associated with both this night and tomorrow night, all intended to bring dreams of the future husband. Here are some of them.
- Walking thrice backwards around a churchyard in silence at midnight, scattering hemp seed over the left shoulder.
- Boiling an egg, removing the yolk and filling the center with salt and then eating the whole, shell included!
- Sticking 9 pins into a red onion, taking it backwards to the bedroom and sleeping with it under the pillow.
But the most often repeated one is that of making a Dumb Cake. Here are the instructions:
Three, five or seven maidens should gather together on St Agnes Eve and make a cake from flour, salt, eggs and water. While they are mixing and baking the cake all the girls should stand on something different and which they have never stood on before. Each girl should take a hand in adding each of the ingredients and each girl should turn the cake once. When the cake is baked they should eat it all between them. Then, walking backwards, they should all retire to bed where they will dream of their future husbands. The whole process from start to finish should take place in complete silence and should be completed just before midnight.
It is interesting that all these methods include the elements of silence, walking backward, and retiring to bed at midnight.
Here are some more old old spells for St Agnes night:
On Saint Agnes’ night, take a row of pins and pull out every one, one after another, saying a Pater Noster, sticking a pin in your sleeve, and you will dream of him or her you will marry. “Knit tne left garter about the right-legg’d stocking” (let the other garter and stocking alone), and as you rehearse these following verses, at every comma knit a knot:
“This knot I knit,
To know the thing I know not yet,
That I may see
The man that shall my husband be,
How he goes and what he wears.
And what he does all the days.”
Accordingly in your dream you will see him, if a musician, with a lute or other instrument; if a scholar, with a book,” and so on.
Another dream-charm for St . Agnes’ Eve was to take a sprig of rosemary and another of thyme and sprinkle them thrice with water, then place one in each shoe, and stand shoe and sprig on either side of the bed, repeating:
“St Agnes, that’s to lovers kind.
Come ease the trouble of my mind.”
In many places the notion prevailed that to insure the perfection of these charms the day must be spent in fasting. It was called “St . Agnes’ fast.”
Keat’s beautiful lines commemorative of the day seem doubly exquisite when read after conning the clumsy folk-rhymes:
They told me how upon St. Agnes’ Eve
Young virgins might have visions of delight,
And soft adorings from their loves receive
Upon the hony’d middle of the night.
IF ceremonies due they did aright;
As supperless to bed they must retire
And couch supine their beauties lily white;
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.
In Scotland the lasses sow grain at midnight on St . Agnes Eve, singing,—
“Agnes sweet and Agnes fair
Hither, hither now repair.
Bonny Agnes, let me see
The lad who is to marry me.”
And the figure of the future sweetheart appears as if reaping the grain.
Here is yet another one:
A key is placed in the Bible at the second chapter of Solomon’s Song, verses 1, 5 and 17, and the book tied firmly together, with the handle of the key left beyond the edges of the leaves. The tips of the little finger of the charm-tester and of a friend are placed under the side of the key, and then they “tried the alphabet” with the verses above named; that is, they began thus:
“A. My beloved is mine, and I am his. He feedeth among the lilies. Until the day break and the shadows fall away, turn, my beloved,” etc.
At the word “turn” the Bible was supposed to turn around if A were the first letter of the lover’s name. Thus could the entire name be spellled out.
Ethiopia follows the Ethiopian calendar, consequently Christmas falls on January 7th and Epiphany on January 19th. Timkat, Ethiopia’s Epiphany celebration, is a celebration of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. The festival lasts for three days and is at its most colorful in the capital, Addis Ababa, where everyone gets involved in the celebrations.
As part of the celebration, a ritual baptism is done. A stream or pool is blessed before dawn. The water is sprinkled on some participants, while other immerse themselves in the water to symbolically renew their baptismal vows.
Pilgrims come from far and wide to take part in the festival and witness the re-enactment of the baptism. All over the country large crowds assemble as the religious festivities commence, with spectacular processions, song, dance and prayer.
In Addis Ababa, the festival is particularly spectacular. The streets are adorned with green, red and yellow to represent the Ethiopian flag and priests walk through the streets holding colorful and richly decorated umbrellas.
The religious ceremony commences on the first day when the Tabot, a model of the Ark of the Covenant, which is present on every Ethiopian altar (somewhat like the Western altar stone), is reverently wrapped in rich cloth and borne in procession on the head of the priest.
The Tabots are then carried to the river in a procession led by the most senior priest of each church, who carry the arks on top of their heads. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated near a stream or pool early in the morning (around 2 a.m.). Then the nearby body of water is blessed towards dawn and sprinkled on the participants, some of whom jump in the water to renew their baptismal vows.
The second day of Timkat marks the main celebrations, with Orthodox Ethiopians from every segment of society merrily march through the streets in a riot of color, singing, dancing and feasting. All but one of the Tabots are returned to their respective churches.
On the third day of Timkat, known as the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, the Tabot of St. Michael’s Church is escorted back to its church in colorful procession and festivities.
About the Tabot
The Tabot symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets describing the Ten Commandments, which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai to serve as the core principles of the moral behavior for humanity. The Tabot, which is otherwise rarely seen by the laity, represents the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah when he came to the Jordan for baptism.
The original Ark of the Covenant is said to be under permanent guard in Northern Ethiopia, protected by priests who have sworn never to leave the sacred grounds.
Dwynwen was Wales’ patron saint of lovers, and January 25th is the Welsh equivalent to St Valentine’s Day. However, it is a romantic country, and they also celebrate St Valentine’s day on 14 February!
She is also known as:
Her most well known saying is “Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness”
The story of Dwynwen dates back to the 5th century. She was a beautiful Celtic princess, the prettiest of all the King of Wales’s 24 daughters (Brychan Brycheiniog of Brechon also had 11 sons!).
Dwynwen was in deeply in love with the handsome Maelon Dafodrill, but her father had already betrothed her to another, so he refused to give them his consent. On finding out, Maelon cruelly forced himself upon her and fled. With a broken heart, and grieved to have upset her father, Dwynwen ran to the woods and begged God to make her forget her love for Maelon.
Exhausted and aungished, Dwynwen eventually fell asleep. Whilst dreaming, an angel visited her and left a sweet smelling potion. This would erase all memories of Maelon, and his callous heart would also be cooled, but so much so that he turned to ice. Dwynwen was horrified to find her love frozen solid. She prayed again to God, who answered her prayers by granting her three wishes.
Her first wish was to have Maelon thawed and for him to forget her; her second, to have God look kindly on the hopes and dreams of true lovers whilst mending the broken hearts of the spurned; and her third was for her to never marry, but to devote the remainder of her life to God, as thanks for saving Maelon.
Dwynwen devoted the rest of life to God’s service. She became a nun and lived on Llanddwyn Island on the western coast of Ynys Mon (Anglesey), an area accessible only at low tide. She founded a church there, remains of which can still be seen today. After her death she was declared the Welsh Patron Saint of Lovers and ever since, Welsh lovers have looked to St Dwynwen for her help in courting their true love, or for forgetting a false one.
On the island there is a well where, according to legend, a sacred fish (an eel) swims. It is said that the eel can predict the happiness of relationships.
Her well, a fresh-water spring called Ffynnon Dwynwen, became a wishing well and place of pilgrimage, particularly for lovers because of the story above. The tradition grew that the eel in the well could foretell the future for lovers – ask questions and watch which way they turn. Women would scatter breadcrumbs on the surface, then lay her handkerchief on water’s surface; if the eel disturbed it, her lover would be faithful.
Visitors still go to the well today, hoping that the water will boil, meaning that love and good luck will follow them. Her well continues to be a place of pilgrimage; there’s a tradition that if the fish in the well are active when a couple visits, it’s the sign of a faithful husband.
Visitors would leave offerings at her shrine, and so popular was this place of pilgrimage that it became the richest in the area during Tudor times. This funded a substantial chapel that was built in the 16th century on the site of Dwynwen’s original chapel.
Prayer To St Dwynwen
Oh Blessed St. Dwynwen, you who knew pain and peace, division and reconciliation. You have promised to aid lovers and you watch over those whose hearts have been broken. As you received three boons from an Angel, intercede for me to receive 3 blessings to obtain my heart’s desire (state request) and if that is not God’s will, a speedy healing from my pain; your guidance and assistance that I may find love with the right person, at the right time, and in a right way; and an unshakeable faith in the boundless kindness and wisdom of God and this I ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
St. Dwynwen, we beseech thee, comfort lovers whose vision is unclear. Send mending to those with love lost. Protect companions. In your name we seek to do the same. In your name we choose love first. With the love of you, Mary and of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Ethiopia follows the Ethiopian calendar, consequently Christmas or Genna ((also known as Lidet, or “birthday”) falls on January 7th,
Like most other Christian holidays, Christmas in Ethiopia, is celebrated in its own unique way. The main ceremonial activities of the holiday center around local Ethiopian Orthodox churches (though Protestants and Catholics also celebrate), which hold late-night services on Christmas Eve lasting well past midnight.
People dress in white and attend church. Everyone receives a candle as they enter the church. The candles are lit, and everyone walks around the church three times. People stand during mass. Males and females are separated.
Traditional liturgical singing marks these services, as does chanting performed by priests and deacons wearing colorful robes with gold and silver accents. Many people travel by foot from church to church, taking in various services until the light of dawn announces the arrival of Christmas morning.
The first Christmas meal is often an early breakfast, eaten by bleary-eyed congregants after returning home. The light meal likely starts with juice made from flaxseed (to oil up the intestines after 40 days of fasting) before moving on to the famously spicy chicken stew doro wot, and it most certainly includes appropriately strong Ethiopian coffee to help welcome the new day.
Later on, friends and relatives gather to enjoy a full Genna feast, usually involving a freshly killed lamb for mutton tibs and traditional beverages such as tej (honey wine). And though gift-giving does not figure very prominently in the Ethiopian Christmas tradition, the purchase of new clothing for the occasion — particularly for children — is seen as an important part of the festivities.
Several hundred families walking toward churches dressed as a sea of brilliant white cotton is a common sight throughout the country.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Ethiopian Christmas tradition is that it is associated with a sport, also called Genna, that is most widely played during the holiday season. According to Ethiopian legend, when the shepherds of the biblical Christmas story were informed of the birth of the Messiah, they expressed their overwhelming joy by using their staffs to break into a spontaneous game that resembles field hockey. The afternoon of Genna is filled with matches of the game, played mainly by young men, and potentially other sporting activities such as horse racing.
Although Genna is observed by Christians across Ethiopia, the most famous Christmas celebrations arguably occur in the historic city of Lalibela. There, crowds of up to 100,000 pilgrims flock to watch immaculately dressed Orthodox clergy perform the woreb lining the steep ledges surrounding the famous rock-hewn churches, carved over 800 years ago.
Accompanied by a slowly building tempo of traditional church drums, metallic sistrum and pilgrims’ clapping, they lead the crowd in an intensely moving musical performance about the birth of Jesus Christ. For though its execution may look different here than in other parts of the world, the focus of Ethiopian Christmas remains the same: to celebrate the birth of a Savior who came to take away the sins of the world, and to bring peace to all mankind.