By Larry Peterson
The following three saints are known as the Ice Saints. Their names are St. Mamertus, St. Pancras, and St. Servatius.
- Mamertus was the bishop who introduced us to the days of prayer and fasting known as Rogation Days. He died in 475 A.D.
- Pancras is a much-loved boy saint (especially in Europe) who was beheaded in the year 313 during the persecution of Christians under the emperor, Diocletian. He was only fourteen years of age yet refused to reject his Christianity. He paid the ultimate price.
- Lastly, there is St. Servatius who was Bishop of Tongeren (now the Netherlands). Early biographies of Servatius suggest he was born in Armenia and was a cousin to John the Baptist. It followed that made him a distant cousin of Jesus (This is not documented). He died in 384 A.D.
These three saints have their feast days on May 11, May 12, and May 13; respectively. So why are they known as the Ice Saints? The reason is as obvious as it seems; it is because of the weather. What follows may be true but more than likely it is documented folklore with millions of believers.
Most of this has to do with Northern Europe. In that part of the world, the month of April can have quite a few days that are warm and sunny. Then along comes the month of May. Slowly but surely, as the days move on, the temperatures begin to drop. There is an extra onslaught of biting cold, wind, and rain and people have to turn on their heat and start wearing sweaters again.
This ongoing weather anomaly in Europe has a long history and is called “Eisheligen.” This refers to the period in May when, according to the stories told by farmers, the weather is much too unstable to plant crops. Why would mid-May be too early to plant? Because of the danger of frost. Many folks thought this was a bit ridiculous, but most farmers did not. Planting did not start until after “Eisheligen.”
This whole business of the Ice Saints began when students of Galileo examined weather documents and realized that the days from May11 thru May 13 often brought a spell of cold weather. This weather invariably caused frost which would be the last frosts of spring.
In Germany, the legend of the Ice Saints led people to believe that there were special “iron nights” which was prone to frost but they confused them with dates ten days apart from the others. They believed the dates were from May 22 thru May 24. Their mistake was they failed to take into account the change from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar in 1582. The change caused ten days to be removed. Therefore the dates moved to May 11th thru the 13th.
So as it happens, Saints Mamertus, Pancras (aka Pancratius) and Servatius, are mostly known as the Ice Saints. Their individuality has been compromised by the legend. There is a proverb in England that says, “Ne’er cast a clout til May be out.” A “clout” was clothes, and the saying simply meant “don’t take your clothes off until the end of May.
Ironically, scientists have been unable to determine if the legendary weather patterns actually cause frost in May. No matter, even with all the kerfuffle over climate change, when the month of May comes around, most Europeans will still talk about the Ice Saints.
Saints Mamertus, Pancras (Pancratius), and Servatius were real people and are venerated saints. In fact, there is a Major Shrine dedicated to St. Pancras in Rome and a Major Shrine at the Basilica of St. Servatius, located in the Netherlands.
We humbly ask the Ice Saints to pray for us all.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2019