Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Band of Brothers

Berner Nelkenmeister, Saints Crispin and Crispinian in their shop
German, ca. 1510
Zurich, Schweizerisches Landesmseum
In this image, one brother is giving alms to the poor, while the 
other is directing the poor to his twin.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act IV, Scene 3, 43-70


The battle of Agincourt, one of the most important of the Hundred Years War, was fought on October 25, 1415 between the French forces of King Charles VI and the invading (and greatly outnumbered) English forces of King Henry V.  Henry V won the battle, which proved to be a particularly crushing defeat for the French.  In the ensuing peace deal Henry gained a wife, Princess Katherine of Valois, Charles’ daughter, and, most importantly, the right to inherit the crown of France at her father’s death.  The deal disinherited Katherine’s brother, Charles.  Charles would, however, regain his father’s throne with the assistance of Saint Joan of Arc, eventually becoming Charles VII.   Meanwhile, Henry would die young, leaving his infant son, Henry VI, to lose France and to precipitate the Wars of the Roses within England.
 
Anonymous, Saints Crispin and Crispinian at work
ca.1600-1633
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Nearly 200 years after the battle William Shakespeare wrote a play about it and the young English king who won it.  The play, Henry V, has been a favorite of actors and audiences since its original performances around 1600.  In addition, it has been filmed several times, most notably in films starring Laurence Olivier (1944) and Kenneth Branagh (1989).  It has also been filmed for television, particularly in the Age of Kings series in 1960 and in the Hollow Crown series in 2012 with Robert Hardy and Tom Hiddleston respectively in the lead role. 

One of the highlights of the play is the speech which Shakespeare puts into the mouth of the king just before the battle.  In response to the wish for more men expressed by his cousin, the Early of Westmoreland, the king plays on the theme of valiant brotherhood that the small numbers of his troops imply.  Through this speech, the phrase “band of brothers” has entered common consciousness (used to good effect in the World War II series that uses the phrase as its title). 

What makes this speech highly interesting is that its play on the theme of brotherhood and its several references to the saint of the day point directly to the date, October 25.  This date happens to be the feast day of a pair of brothers, sometimes said to be twins, Saint Crispin and Saint Crispinian.  

According to the accounts passed down by tradition, the brothers lived in the late 3rd century and were Christian missionaries in Roman Gaul, choosing the town of Soissons for their base.  Like Saint Paul they worked for their living, in their case as shoemakers.  Their missionary activity attracted the attention of the Roman authorities during the persecution of Diocletian and they were tortured.  According to the tradition, strips of skin were removed from their backs and awls were driven under their fingernails (presumably as references to the processes of their trade).    In spite of the torture, they refused to renounce Christianity or to sacrifice to the Roman gods and so were condemned to death.  The first attempt at murder was to drown them.  So, they were thrown into the frozen river with millstones around their necks.  However, they were able to swim to the far side of the river and crawl out.  Then they were sentenced to be cast into burning oil.  They were unharmed, although the cauldron backfired and killed the magistrate who was their prosecutor.  Finally, they were beheaded.1
Cantique de Saint Crepin et de Saint Crepinien,
Patrons des Cordonniers
French, ca.1805-1821
Marseilles, Musee des civilisations
de l'Europe et de la Mediterranee



Their bodies were claimed by pious citizens and buried in Soissons.  At a later period, parts of their bodies were removed and sent to the church of San Lorenzo in Panisperna in Rome and to a cathedral dedicated to them in Osnabruck, Germany.2 They are the patron saints of shoemakers, saddlers, tanners and other leatherworkers.



I found myself feeling very curious about whether there would be any visual material concerning these two saints.  I fully expected that, due to the coincidence of their feast day being the date of a notable English victory/French defeat in the Hundred Years War, many of the images would be English.  I was wrong.  Instead, most of the images I found were French, Flemish or German in origin. 


The iconography of these saints almost always shows them together.  It falls into two forms.  The earliest and most frequent form shows scenes from their martyrdom.  The other form shows them working as shoemakers and as missionaries, prior to their martyrdom.


The martyrdom images are the earliest and most frequent.  The focus is on the four forms in which they were martyred.  

Anonymous, Altarpiece of Saint Crispin and Saint Crispinian
French, ca.1415
Saint-Omer, Musee de l'Hotel Sandelin
This image indicates the work of the brothers and acts from their martyrdom in pictures that surround an image of the
Crucifixion of Christ, a reminder of what their witness entailed.

In the first stage, torture, the brothers were cruelly abused.  According to tradition, they were scourged, then strips were torn from the flesh of their backs and awls were driven under their nails.  
Pasquier Borman, Flagellation of Saints Crispin and Crispinian
German, 1510-1536
Herentals, Saint Waldetrude Church

























Berner Nelkenmeister, Saints Crispin and Crispinian Tortured
German, ca. 1510
Zurich, Schweizerisches Landesmseum


























Ambrosius_Francken, the Elder, Martyrdom of
Saints Crispin and Crispinian of Soissons
Flemish, ca.1600
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten




































In the second phase, millstones were placed around their necks and they were tossed into the frozen river, Aisne, which they survived.  
Martyrdom of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian
from Speculum historiale of Vincentius Bellavacensis
French (Paris), 1335
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 5080, fol. 272v
Here the brothers are being thrown into the river.
Flemish School, The Martyrdom
of Saints Crispin and Crispinian
Flemish, 18th Century
In this picture, the brothers are rescued by an angel.



























In the third phase, they were boiled in oil and pitch.  They also survived this, although their tormentor was killed by coming in contact with the burning matter.  

Aert van den Bossche
Sts. Crispin and Crispinian Are Boiled
and the Fire Catches the Magistrate
Flemish, ca. 1490-1505
Brussels, Musee de la Ville de Bruxelles
Left wing of the Altarpiece of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian
Aert van den Bossche
Beheading of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian
Flemish, c.1490
Brussels, Musee de la ville de Bruxelles
Right wing of the Altarpiece of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian




























Aeart van den Bossche, Torture  of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian
Flemish, ca. 1490-1505
Warsaw, Muzeum Narodwe
The focus in the central panel is on the earlier torments visited on the brothers.
Center of the Altarpiece of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian

Finally, they were beheaded and secretly buried by the faithful of Soissons.

 
Beheading of Saints Crispin and Crispinian
from Speculum historiale of Vincentius Bellavacensis
French (Paris), 1396
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 313, fol. 257v
Ghislain Vroyelinck, Beheading of
Saints Crispin and Crispinian
Flemish, 1613
Bruges, Groeninge Museum
































Often they are shown as triumphant martyrs. 

Saints Crispin and Crispinian
from a Book of Hours
French (Paris), ca.1490-1500
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 14, fol. 121r


Since there are two of them they are able to carry both the instruments of their martyrdom, like most martyrs, and the instruments and symbols of their trade.  So we see one of them carrying a martyr’s palm, or a book of Gospels, or a sword, while the other will carry a boot or shoe, or one of the specialized knives used by leatherworkers or that most specific tool of a shoemaker, the last (foot shaped form on which shoes are fitted). 








Anonymous Woodcut, Saints Crispin and Crispinian
German, 1490-1510
London, British Museum










Anonymous Southwestern German Painter
Saints Crispin and Crispinia
German, ca. 1850-1900
Unknown Location















Kerstken von Ringenberch, Saints Crispin and Crispinian
German, ca.1510
Kalkar, Catholic Parish Church of St. Nicholas
In these two statues from the altarpiece below, which includes scenes from their martyrdom,
the brother saints both carry the swords that killed them, while one carries the hammer 
of their trade and the other the Gospel Book for which they died.

Kerstken von Ringenberch and Collaborators, Altarpiece of Saints Crispin and Crispinian
German, ca.1510
Kalkar, Catholic Parish Church of St. Nicholas
Here the two brothers are shown in their original places, at the center of the altarpiece.  The wings record their sufferings.

Frequently, however, they are shown simply as the shoemakers that they were, at work at their bench or in their shop.  Many of the images of these saints, especially those that were commissioned as church decorations, such as altarpieces or statues, would have been commissioned by the leatherworkers guilds in honor of their patron saints.

Saints Crispin and Crispinian at work
from Fleurs des histoires of Jean Mansel
Belgian (Bruges), ca.1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 298, fol. 106v


Saint Crispin at work
French, ca.1480-1500
Private Collection



























Ceramic Plaque, Saints Crispin and Crispinian at work
French, ca.1490
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Anonymous, Saint Crispin
French, ca. 1500
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art






















Francois Gentil, Arrest of Saints Crispin and Crispinian
French, ca. 1550
Troyes, Church of Saint-Pantaleon






Jan van de Venne, Saints Crispin and Crispinian at work
Flemish, ca.1640
Besancon, Musee des beaux-arts et d'archeologie


















Their feast day was removed from the calendar of the universal Church in the pruning of multiple saints’ days that followed the Second Vatican Council. Removal from the calendar does not mean, as I have seen it asserted, that the Church has decided that the saint never existed.  It does means that a deliberate choice has been made about which saints’ days should be celebrated universally, rather than in individual countries or dioceses.   There are thousands of Catholic saints and not all of them need to be celebrated by everyone all over the world.  However, the feast days of "removed" saints may be celebrated by the local areas that have a special connection to them, such as the areas where they lived and died, the countries that have a special devotion to them or the diocese, parish or religious community of which they may be the patron.3

P. Cayeul, Saints Crispin and Crispinian in prison
French, 1683
Chaudes Aigues, Church of Saint Martin
Saints, especially those from the time of the early centuries of the Church, may have few documentary sources to prove that they existed and, clearly, some of the stories of their sufferings may have been embroidered over time, but if does not follow that they did not live. It was not until much later in history that an elaborate procedure for canonizing individuals as saints was developed.  In the early centuries martyrs were remembered by their communities and their tombs were known and venerated.  The traditions that grew up around them and their graves was formed around the fact of an actual person’s life, or in this case the lives of two brothers.4   I have no doubt that two brothers, who may have been shoemakers, were tortured and put to death for the faith in the late third century in Soissons in Roman Gaul and that they probably did die on October 25th

Their lives and the traditions that grew around them remind us that anyone can be a witness to the faith of Christ in whatever profession one finds oneself, whether it be that of shoemaker or art historian.  The witness may be through how we live our lives, or explain the faith to others, or, possibly, sacrifice our lives as did this “band” of two brothers.

© M. Duffy, 2016


  1.  The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints. Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275.  First Edition Published 1470. Englished by William Caxton, First Edition 1483, Edited by F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, 1900 (Reprinted 1922, 1931.), p. 33. <http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/goldenlegend/GoldenLegend-Volume6.asp#Crisaunt>
  2.  Meier, Gabriel. "Sts. Crispin and Crispinian." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 24 Oct. 2016.      <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04491a.htm>
  3.  “The saints have been traditionally honored in the Church and their authentic relics and images held in veneration. For the feasts of the saints proclaim the wonderful works of Christ in His servants, and display to the faithful fitting examples for their imitation. 
 Lest the feasts of the saints should take precedence over the feasts which commemorate the  very mysteries of salvation, many of them should be left to be celebrated by a particular Church or nation or family of religious; only those should be extended to the universal Church which commemorate saints who are truly of universal importance.” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Solemnly Promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on December 4, 1963, Chapter IV, article 111. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html>

4.   See also, the Motu Proprio, Mysterii Paschalis (The Paschal Mystery) of Pope Paul VI, dated February 14, 1969, which implemented the changes, specifically Part II, paragraph 3.  <http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/motu_proprio/documents/hf_p-vi_motu-proprio_19690214_mysterii-paschalis.html>


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