Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Saint for Pipers?

It is surprisingly difficult to find an appropriate saint to pray to if you happen to be a piper. Of course, there is St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians. Somehow though, the sweet, brave Roman virgin and martyr doesn't seem to be the correct person to invoke when playing the pipes, which have long been associated with men in generally, and fighting men in particular. Still, I thought it ought to be fairly easy to come across someone more appropriate. There are a good number of soldier saints on the Catholic calendar - some of whom, no doubt were also musicians of some sort. And the pipes were an extremely popular instrument for centuries, especially during the Middle Ages, so the chances are that one of the great number of saints from that period would be associated with the pipes.

It was with a light heart, then, that I began a search for a piper saint, which has rapidly turned into something like an obsession. The only saint I have come across is was positively identified as a piper is St. Philemon, a pagan, who agreed to impersonate the Deacon Apollonius (who was afraid of martyrdom) and offer inscense to the gods in his place. This led to Philemon's dramatic public conversion, and the martyrdom of himself and Apollonius. Unfortunately, Philemon destroyed his pipes upon that conversion - no doubt from the holiest of motives - but this does rather disqualify him from being the patron of pipers.

Intensive searching did not produce another single piper saint... nor, for that matter, a saint who played any instrument related to the pipes. I ended up broadening my search to include just about any saintly musician I could find, warrior saints, just because, and Celtic saints in general, because piping today is almost exclusively associated with the Scots and Irish. What I ended up with was a list of possibles, some of whom were exceedingly unlikely. Here, in no particular order, is the list:

St. Dunstan: He is Saxon saint, a monk of Glastonbury, who became bishop of Worcester, and later, of London. He was a harper, not a piper, but he also was an instrument maker, so it entirely possible that he turned out a bagpipe or two in his life time, and therefore a reasonable candidate for a piper saint.

St. Gilbert of Caithness: He was the bishop of Caithness, and apparently an extremely outspoken individual. He is included primarily on strength of his being a highlander, and because he wrote a treaty in defense of Scottish liberty.

St. Thomas More: He is a stretch, of course. St. Thomas is best known for his defense of the papacy and the Catholic Faith against King Henry VIII. However, he is exactly the sort of person pipers of my acquaintance would enjoy keeping company with. In addition to being very learned and erudite, he had a tremendous sense of humour and of fun. Furthermore, he had a musical family - no pipers, but they could acquit themselves well on lutes and harps. Still, I can't help thinking that St. Thomas would be happy to assist any musician who employed his intercession.

St. Meriadoc: (or Meriasek, as it is often given.) Yes, there really is a St. Meriadoc, two of them actually. If my memory serves me aright, this particular saint ended up in a section of Brittany called Rohan. He was a Cornishman and there is a very old play, Beunans Meriasek, written in Cornish, chronicling his life. For reasons lost to obscurity, pipers were generally associate with the play, and associated so strongly that the Cornish pipers generally took him as their patron.

St. Joan of Arc: Who is probably the most unlikely of all the possible patron saints for pipers, but who also just might be the most logical. A little known fact in the life of St. Joan, is that she had a good number of Scots in her army - in fact, the victory of Orleans is due, in no small part, to the valour of the Scots. Once the city was taken from the English, the saint and her army marched in to it, accompanied by sound of bagpipes. Supposedly, the tune they marched in with, was an old tradition tune called, at the time, Hey Tuttie Taiti but better known today as Scots Wae Hae. (Some of you might be familiar with the poem which Robert Burns put to the tune.)


Molly said...

St. Joan of Arc is a rather good fit. Somebody told me the other day that she was Breton, too. Is that true?

Mahri said...

Well, Lorraine, where she was born, is in the northeast of France, while Brittany is in the far northwest, so I doubt she was Breton. However, during the 100 Years War, Lorraine was not considered part of France. I can't tell you why, since they fought for the French, and identified themselves as French. Perhaps Brittany occupied a wider area then?

She is rather a good fit, though, isn't she?