St Nicolas et les trois petits enfants

July 7, 2011 at 4:51 am (Uncategorized)

This (rather lousy, sorry) photo comes from Salisbury Cathedral.  One of the Fun Games to Play as a Medievalist is “Name That Saint,” which trick must be accomplished via identification of the saint’s iconography.  A guy on a rock with a dog licking his knee? St. Roch.  A man with a baby on his shoulder? St. Christopher. A guy holding an infant in one arm?  Check the hair – if it’s a full head, it’s St Joseph, a tonsure, St. Anthony. A woman holding some eyes on a plate? St. Lucy.  Breasts?  St. Agatha.

This guy in bishop’s regalia (you can tell by the curvy staff thing) standing on a barrel with three infants around his feet?  That is St. Nicholas.  Legends we Americans may be in ignorance of are alive and well in many parts of Europe, and are often told to children in the form of stories and songs.  Last summer I traveled with my daughter, mother, and aunt to Salisbury where I took this photograph.  this week I’m on vacation on the Gulf Coast of Alabama with my daughter, mother, and aunt, and we sat down to look at our pictures from last summer and fill in missing labels.

When I pulled up this picture on my laptop, my aunt, who teaches French in a Louisiana public school, sang me a song that *her* French teacher had taught her and which she now teaches her students.  I was faintly horrified, having never heard it before, but it explains perfectly why St. Nicholas is portrayed with three infants around his feet.  Here’s a version on youtube.  If French isn’t one of your languages, you can read more about it here.

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