Monday, March 23, 2009

Hastings has a new fire engine, which should be enough news for one day. But there is more: this new fire engine (a Seagrave Custom Pumper) has the seal of Hastings applied to both doors with gold leaf. And this gold leaf was applied by a fellow from Pennsylvania whose only job is to apply gold leaf to fire engines. Each fire engine takes two weeks, so we can assume he completes 25 each year, and then takes a 2-week vacation.
The question I ask myself is, does this professional applier of gold leaf know the patron saints of goldsmiths, and does he care? Of course you all know of Saint Eligius, famous for his metalworking skill as portrayed in the painting by Petrus Christus.
But what about Saint Anastasius the Persian? What is his connection to gold? I can only surmise his patronage is a result of the fact that he was lodging with a Persian Christian silversmith when he was converted. The wood of the ‘True Cross’ was plundered from Jerusalem in 614 by Chosroes of Persia, and Anastasius was a young soldier much affected by the devotion of the early Christians to this bit of wood. He converted and became a monk, and was horribly, gruesomely martyred, of which his end -death by strangulation and then beheading – is the mildest part of the story. Apparently his head is still to be found at the Church of SS. Vincent and Anastasius in Rome.
Then we have Saint Dunstan, the great English monk (10th century) and manuscript illuminator. His most famous attribute is thanks to Dickens’ ditty (and I ask myself if this could be called a Clerihew):
St Dunstan, as the story goes,
Once pull'd the devil by the nose
With red-hot tongs, which made him roar,
That he was heard three miles or more

In this manuscript illustration, could this be a self-portrait of Saint Dunstan? I knew he is meant to be prostrate before the cross, but to me he simply looks tired from those long hours poring over the small print.

And will the gold leaf enhance the fire quenching capacity of our new custom pumper?


pond said...

If strangulation and beheading were the "mildest" parts, what in heaven's name did they do to him beforehand? Or do I not want to know?

Christine Lehner said...

You don't want to know. Thanks for asking.