The Saint Behind St. Elmo’s Fire

8 June 08 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Saints

Saint Erasmus has long been associated with the natural phenomenon known as “St. Elmo’s Fire,” a bluish glow of light generated by the electrical field of thunderstorms, and frequently observed on the masts and riggings of ships (and in modern times – aircraft.)sef_myth.jpg

The mariners of Naples were the first to see this light as the outward sign of the intercessory protection of Saint Erasmus, and hence the name, “Saint Elmo’s Fire,” Elmo being a shortened, derivative version of the name Erasmus.

Saint Erasmus was a bishop of Formiae, Italy, who met a particularly grusome end during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. He was martryred by being disembowelled about 303.martyrdomofsterasmus_large.jpg

The manner of his death led to him being named the patron saint of sailors.  According to The Golden Legend, his stomach was slit open and his intestines wound around a windlass. This legend may have developed from an icon that showed him with a windlass, signifying his patronage of sailors.captstan.jpg It’s ironic how death and its artistic rendering combined to make a saint.

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