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St. Fiacre

08/27/05 12:00AM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) You might say that gardening is a pretty down-to-earth activity, but commentator Ron Krupp says that this coming Tuesday gardeners world-wide will observe a day that honors their patron saint.

(KRUPP) If I did a garden survey and asked folks who the patron saint of gardening was, they might answer, Saint Francis of Assisi. But that distinction goes to an Irish Monk by the name of Fiacre.

As we enter the time of the harvest, it might be well to pay hom- age to this patron saint of gardening. Born in Ireland and raised in a monastery, he was one of the most venerated saints of medieval France. Saint Fiacre, and a few followers, arrived around 626 in the French diocese of Meaux, where he built a hermitage. It is said that the bishop promised Fiacre as much land as he could dig in a day, so Fiacre spent the day using an ivory cane to draw a line in the dirt around a large plot of ground, and the ditch miraculously dug itself. The monas- tery that he built within this perimeter sheltered him until his death about 670.

The Roman Catholic Church deemed August 30 as the feast day of Saint Fiacre. Europeans have celebrated this day since the Middle Ages with special masses, floral processions and pilgrimages. In France, floats of elaborate floral design make their way down flower-petal-covered streets, and in Ireland citizens sing hymns written in Fiacre's honor. You won't hear much about him in the United States even though you'll find statues at many museums and gardens.

Travelers often brought seeds and plant material to the monastery and left them in the care and protection of Saint Fiacre. He taught everyone around him a deep love of silence and the joys of planting and harvesting.

Monks in those days were also regarded as physicians of the soul as well as the body. People flocked to Saint Fiacre for prayers, food and healing. He fed the hungry and healed the sick with herbs from his garden and prayed for all who came to the monastery.

Saint Fiacra remains the patron saint of gardeners, especially those who grow vegetables. The vegetables he grew around the monastery were said to be superb, even though florists consider him to be their patron saint as well. He blesses those who love springtime, planting, the smell of turned earth, and the joy of a flowering land.

In a book by Richard Marius, the author described how the statues of Fiacre depict a monk holding a spade at his side - dressed in the coarse clothing and shoes of the peasants. He often is seen to be look- ing at the ground where he will dig. He is the saint whose aid may be implored in clearing weeds and brush and stones from the garden. I'm sure he'd be welcome in Northern New England, where stones are one of our best crops. This is Ron Krupp, the Northern Gardener.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.
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