The Ice Saints

by MJ Wayland

“The Others are as dead as the children of the forest , gone eight thousand years. Maester Luwin will tell you they never lived at all. No living man has ever seen one.” Eddard Stark, Game of Thrones

From an early age I have been interested in the “Ice Saints” – several canonized folk across Europe.  As a young child I read that the “Ice Saints” included St Matthias (celebration day 24th February), St Prisca and St Agnes (18th and 21st January).  My interest is the Ice Saints relates to some of the weather lore attached to them, the most well known being “What Agnes and Paul don’t bring, (21st and 25th Jan), Mildred and Matthias (20th and 24th February) will.”

This year, with its coldest March in fifty years seems to back up this quaint weather saying, on the 25th January we had a very warm day (and weekend) and for the last three weeks we have had unusually single figure temperatures. Maybe the Ice Saints are correct!

The Ice Saints on the European continent relate to a different set of saints mainly St. Mamertus, St. Pancras, and St. Servatius, they are named “Ice Saints” as their days fall on May 11, May 12, and May 13 respectively. In Flanders St. Boniface of Tarsus is counted amongst the Ice Saints as well; St. Boniface’s feast day falling on May 14.

It was noted that there was often a brief spell of colder weather from May 12th to 15th, including the last frosts of spring under the Julian Calendar. However since the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in the 1580s the equivalent days are not May 22nd to 25th.

In Poland and the Czech Republic, the Ice Saints are known as the zimni ogrodnicy (cold gardeners), and are followed by zimna Zośka (cold Sophias) on the feast day of St. Sophia which falls on May 15.

In Sweden the legend of the Ice Saints resulted in the belief of “Iron Nights”, which in turn is probably a mistranslation. “The term “iron nights” (järnnätter) has probably arisen through a mistranslation of German sources, where the term “Eismänner” (ice men) was read as “Eisenmänner” (iron men)”.

There is no doubt that my earliest explorations into folklore set my tastes to come.  The TV Show “Game of Thrones” really resonates with me when you see Winterfell and especially the White Walkers that live beyond the wall. The Ice Saints may not live on with me religiously, but the idea that four “superpowered” people can manipulate the weather still excites.

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