Friday, March 10, 2017

Saint of the Month: Saint Blanchard!

St. Blanchard

AKA: St. Blancardus
Feast Day: March 10.

Really Existed? Well.... the name may or may not ultimately connect with a historical personage.
Timeframe: Difficult to specify.
Place: Northern France, kind of.

Credentials: Recognized locally in Northern France.
Martyrdom: None.

Patron Saint of: no patronage.
Symbolism: A single known representation.

I chose Saint Blanchard by going to a popular internet calendar of the saints and picking him at random out of the thirty or so entries for March 10th. This choice sent me to the distant outskirts of the concept of sainthood, far from the bustle of historical record, folk traditions, and sacred legend. Indeed, Blachard is so far out on the periphery of the roster of saints that it took me hours of searching to find anything beyond his name and the existence of a single shrine.

The website where I first found Saint Blachard indicated that there is “no biographical information on this person.” That's a little discouraging, but by no means unprecidented.  I was surprised, though, that he wasn't on any of the other lists of saints on the internet.  That's unusual.  Was it possible, I wondered, that this Saint Blanchard was nothing more than a typo? But no: there is the matter of the “fountain” – an enclosed statue atop a little mineral spring – on a forest road just south of the village of Nesle-le-Reposte, in France.  It's at 48.625 degrees North, 3.559 degree East. That one presence is not what you’d call a robust legacy, but it is certainly a real thing. Look, here’s a picture:

From this picturesque base of operations, and armed with the precision tool of machine translation, I began to crack the French-language internet. It took some poking around, but I was able to determine that this shrine, in at least one account, has a rudimentary narrative identity! Also, an alarming miraculous tradition:
The Saint-Blanchard fountain, also known as Saint-Alban, was built in 1878. The popular memory reports that the water flowing there is good for the kidneys, freshness of the complexion and to relieve rheumatism. The legend adds that every fertile woman who drinks this water, will find herself pregnant and will give birth to a boy.
There was a tip-off in that passage, but I missed it. Instead, I went off on a journey to find out if French calendars of the saints are kinder to the memory of Saint Blanchard than those in English. But again, I could only find a single example that included him.  Here's the record:
Confessor. Feasting at Nesle-la-Repose, in Brie, we know nothing about him except that he is also honored in the diocese of Auch and that a locality still preserves his memory.
Since Nesle-la-Reposte is in Auch, and the fountain is the only candidate for the “locality” that preserves his memory, we’ve gained only corroboration here -- no new information.

I was well into my second night of scraping the bottom of the internet when I finally struck paydirt on the website of La Association A Cloche Fontaine, a church restoration society an hour’s drive southeast of Nesle-le-Reposte. And here, at long last, is the deal:
BLANCHARD (Saint), Blancardus, [was a] confessor in Brie, where he is particularly honored on 10 March. Saint Alban was also revered under the name of Blanchard, interpretation of the Latin albanus, derivative of albus = white.
Boom! Once I got to that breakthrough, confirmation wasn’t hard to find – it was no further away than Anne Franco̧is Arnaud’s 1837 Voyage archéologique et pittoresque dans le département de l'Aube et dans l'ancien diocèse de Troyes, who wrote of something or other that:
It is in one of these chapels that one preserves the curious Byzantine shrine of St. Albun, vulgarly St. Blanchard, whom we have described in the article of the Abbey of Nesle, from which it is derived.
At last the truth comes out: Our “St. Blanchard” is St. Alban by another name!  A “vulgar” name, in the sense of rural and uneducated. You may have heard of St. Alban, who is actually quite a high-profile saint in Britain.  In Brie, which is basically north central France, someone must have figured at some point in the unrecoverable past that St. Alban meant “St. White” in Latin and could be reasonably translated from “St. White” into French. Viola! The elusive St. Blanchard came into being.

If St. Blanchard is just a local alias for St. Alban, shall I tell you about St. Alban? No, not today. The Feast of St. Alban isn't until June 22. Today is the Feast of St. Blanchard, and I've told you pretty much everything there is to know about him. May you pass his day in good health and spirits.


UnwiseOwl said...

Maybe the best saint yet.

mrs.5000 said...

Good sleuthing. "St. White dunnit in Nesle-la-Riposte with a fountain!" exclaimed the fertile young woman.

boonec1974 said...

If you search "saint blanchard" on the internet, your entry is already the third to come up.