St. Clement's Day & Old Clem's Night - November 23 Nov 23, 2019 19:09:23 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Nov 23, 2019 19:09:23 GMT -5
St. Clement’s Day & Old Clem’s Night - November 23
St. Clement’s Day and Old Clem’s Night honored Pope Clement I, the patron saint of metalworkers and blacksmiths, and later farriers (specialists in equine hoof care). According to legend, Saint Clement was the first man to refine iron from ore and shoe a horse. Of course, as with many old customs, the celebration likely has pagan origins and some scholars have suggested Saint Clement may have been confused with Wayland the Smith, a famous Saxon metalsmith.
It is generally believed Clement was a disciple of St. Peter the Apostle and early pope imprisoned by the Roman Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD), who banished him to Pontus to toil in the marble quarries. The closest spring was six miles away and one day when Clement saw a lamb pawing at the ground, he took it as a sign there was water near the surface, commenced digging and discovered a spring. His follow workers considered this a miracle and subsequently established a Christian community after which 75 churches were constructed in the area. Displeased, the Romans decided to arrest Clement and while fleeing the authorities, the holy man developed blisters and placed wool in his sandals to relieve the pain. Because of “perspiration, motion and pressure on the feet, the wool assumed a uniformly compact substance” and lo and behold, Clement had invented felt! In spite of, or perhaps because of, his blisters, the men giving chase managed to arrest Clement, after which they tied him to an anchor and tossed him from a ship into the Black Sea. It is because anchors are forged, as are the chains to which they are attached, that Saint Clement is linked to the anvil-centric trades.
Because he is credited with having invented felt, St. Clement is also the patron saint of hatters. Additionally, he is considered the patron saint of marble-workers and because of the manner in which he died, one of the saints revered by sailors.
The Church controlled, or attempted to control, all aspects of life during the medieval period and the only respite from the drudgery of the common man’s hand-to-mouth existence was the feast days and celebrations dedicated to the various saints and St. Clement’s Day was among them. Also, because it was celebrated in November, a bountiful month when produce from the fall harvest was plentiful, wine and cider were fermenting, and if it was sufficiently cold, fattened pigs could be slaughtered, people were in a festive mood.
It was during this bountiful time that rural villages and communities throughout the British Isles began Old Clem’s Night with a literal bang. In remembrance of their patron saint, blacksmiths would traditionally “fire” their anvils, which was both noisy and dangerous. They poured gunpowder into one of the holes in the anvil and plugged it with a fuse, causing a loud explosion that was, at times, of such magnitude that the anvil literally jumped off the ground and sometimes burst. Anvil firing served another purpose: it tested the anvil’s stability. If an anvil was weak and exploded, it would be melted down and recast at a later date.
Once the anvil was fired, a blacksmith or an apprentice would don a wig, mask and/or cloak and as “Old Clem,” led a procession of singing smithies through the streets, stopping at every tavern along the way. The rowdiness of the night could usually be gauged by the size of the community because it was assumed revelers in settlements with a single public house wouldn’t become as inebriated as those in villages boasting several pubs. As they proceeded through town, the celebrants made toasts and demanded money for beer or food for the Clem feast.
Apprentices also went door-to-door singing and requesting donations. One of their songs was:
St. Clement’s Day comes once a year
Give us some apples or give us some beer!
On Dartmoor, one of the traditional St. Clem’s Night songs was:
Come all you Vulcans stout and strong,
Unto St. Clem we do belong,
I know this house is well prepared
With plenty of money and good strong beer,
And we must drink before we part,
All for to cheer each merry heart.
Children also took part in the celebration, begging for fruits, nuts, other edibles and money as they marched through the dark streets singing:
Clementing, Clementlng once a year
Apples and Pears are very good cheer!
One for Peter and one for Paul
And One for Him who made us all!
But the celebration of St. Clement’s Day wasn’t restricted to the countryside. The horse was the primary mode of travel making blacksmiths one of the necessities of life and there were also smelters and foundries in larger cities. In northwestern Kent, for instance, apprentices a Woolwich Dockyard chose one of their number to play the role of Old Clem and wielding a hammer and tongs, he was hoisted into the air by his mates and carried through the streets. As the rambunctious throng made their way from one tavern to the next, they toasted his name, shouting, “To the memory of Old Clem and prosperity to all his descendants!”
There were also celebrations in London, although in 1541, King Henry VIII passed a law forbidding children to sing for treats in the churches of St. Clement, St. Catherine and St. Nicholas.
Oranges and lemons*
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
Both St. Clement Eastcheap and St. Clement Danes Church in Westminster claim to be the church referenced in this old nursery rhyme and to this day, children attending St. Clement Dane are given oranges on St. Clement’s Day.
St. Clement’s popularity didn’t wane through the centuries and continued well into the 1800s. According to reports, in 1802, a smithy in Southampton was severely injured when his anvil exploded, and in 1858, the “Knights of the Sledge and the Hammer” on the Isle of Wight fired anvils in honor of St. Clement from 5 a.m. until late in the evening.
Sadly, by the 20th century, the old blacksmith’s and metalworker’s celebration had become a thing of the past, though there are a few remnants of the once cacophonic revels in rural locations. In Burwash, East Sussex, an effigy of Old Clem is still mounted above the door of a historical inn on November 23. In Mayfield, also in East Sussex, Saints Clement and Dunstan, another blacksmith’s patron, who is said to have pulled off the devil’s nose with hot tongs, are honored, though the festivities primarily consist of charitable donations. In Okehampton, Devonshire, blacksmiths and other ironworkers from all over Britain gather at the old Finch Foundry to display decorative ironware as part of a national competition. Both the participants and those in attendance enjoy Morris dancing, mince pies and mulled wine.
Sources: Ben Johnson, Historic UK Traditions, Festivals and Celebrations around the UK; Kevin Gordon, Quirky Sussex History; The National Trust; Catholic Online; The Hoof Blog, November 22, 2017; and Sarah Peters Kernan, The Recipes Project, November 11, 2014.
*The “Oranges and lemons” rhyme was featured in the 2017 adaption of the Stephen King film It.