Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Ice Saints

Saint SophiaIt was 15th May yesterday and we went to Cluny market to get some tomato, courgette and cucumber plants. Every other stall was selling plants, because NOW is the time to plant. The last of the Ice Saints has had their day and so today I will be in the garden putting my precious plants in the ground.

The Saints de Glaces are big in this country, they even get a mention on the weather forecast although Evelyn (France 1’s weather reporter) was quick to say that they are not a meterological phenomenun, but still this year the news is full of them.

The old wives tale goes that you should not plant out non-hardy plants until after the Ice Saints name days: St. Mamertus – 11th May; St. Pancras – 12th May; St. Servatius – 13th May; Bonifatius – 14th May and St Sophia (Cold Sophie) – 15th May. It is said that these days always produce a dip in temperature, bad for the settling in and growth of new plantlets and it is also said that after these days there will be no more night frost. But is it true? Actually it isn’t true. There is a dip in temperature that can be seen in the middle of May, but it is in fact around the 20th.

Rome changes the saint name days every so often to reflect the changes in society, different names and to try and eliminate the influence that paganism and superstition still rife in many areas of the church. Just take the date of Christmas, this date has nothing to do with the birthday of Christ, the date was chosen to coincide with the old mid-winter festival, trying to woo over the pagans in early Christian times. That is how the Ice Saints got their nick-name, they just happened to be saints allocated to the cold days in May. Many farmers prayed to these saints to protect their crops and in the 1960s name changes, the Ice Saints were eliminated to stop this idol worship and superstition. St Estelle has replaced St Mamertus, St Achille replaced St Pancras, St Roland replaced St Bonifatius, St Matthew replaced St Servius and even Cold Sophie has had the chop, being replaced by St Denise. It doesn’t stop this period being called “Saints de Glaces” though.

I myself grew up with “Ne'er cast a clout till May is out”. Clout meaning (winter) clothing and May refering to the May flower (hawthorn blossom). So it is saying summer has not arrived until the may flowers are in full bloom. Around here, that is usually around the 20th May. Ah ha, back to that date again.

 So it appears that the saints have got it wrong. A little more searching and the mystery is solved. The Ice Saints had it right all along, it is all down to the fiddling of dates by the Catholic church again. Pope Gregory VIII rearranged the calendar in 1582. Cold Sophie was 15th May in the Julian calendar, that date stayed with her, but her day was effectively moved in time. If we were to put Sophie back to her real day (not date) she would have her day on 22nd May, which means that the Saints de Glace are in fact 19th – 22nd May in today's calendar system, corresponding exactly with the meteorological phenomenon of the temperature dip and my Mum’s favourite “clout” warning.

So I shouldn’t be planting today at all, but in 5 days time. Looks like my little plants will have to wait a couple more days until Cold Sophie has gone.

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