Although It Be St Anthony’s Face

In my post last month, I discussed an online course in which students contributed their transcriptions of Lady Frances Catchmay’s recipe book to the Textual Communities site.  Two of these students from Fall 2013 continued their work in the spring, and this is the second post showcasing of some of their research.  – Rebecca Laroche

By Katrina Rutz
UCCS

While transcribing recipes from Lady Francis Catchmay‘s manuscript, I became captivated with the phrase, although it be St. anthonys face. Introduced among her recipes on fevers, from “An other medicen to destroy aheate in the face,” I discovered the phrase St. anthonys  face alludes to a disease distinguished by a raging fever—St. Anthony’s Fire (OED), named erysipelas today—with symptoms often having started in the face (Horsfall, 533).

Catchmay 184aWellcome Library MS 184a, fol. 26v.

St. Anthony the Abbot (c. 251 – 356) was considered the father of Christian monasticism. He was known for fasting over long intervals in isolation, rebuking the devil’s temptations for twenty years. However, St Anthony’s name was not given to St. Anthony’s Fire due to any encounter he had, but was appropriated by Antonian monks, who were credited with many cures, popularizing St. Anthony’s name and life story. This Order of Hospitallers gave the disease its name—St. Anthony’s Fire (De Costa, 1768).[1]

The fever itself continually resulted in mortality; however, the patient could survive often at the cost of mentality or extremity. After enduring nerve tingling in the hands and feet, the patients would experience a loss in their sense of touch before the setting in of gangrene, leading to potential amputation (Horsfall, 533). The patient experiencing St Anthony’s Fire (known also as Holy Fire) would encounter intense burning pain and gangrene of feet, hands, and whole limbs.  In severe cases, affected appendages were dry and black, mummified limbs dropped off without loss of blood, and afflicted patients could attract both the gangrenous and convulsive forms of ergotism. Ergotism had chronic (gangrene) and acute (convulsions) manifestations. The first was St Anthony’s Fire (De Costa, 1768).

Nevertheless, the intercession of St. Anthony was believed to have the healing power to cure St. Anthony’s Fire through prayer, meditation, and the monks’ dedication. With gratitude, the extremities of amputee survivors were repeatedly offered up to the shrines of St Anthony as evidence of the saint’s healing power (De Costa, 1768).

After learning about the history of St. anthonys face, I returned to the actual recipe. I compared my transcription with seven more recipes on St. Anthony’s Fire. I found six recipes entirely divergent in ingredients, but similar in demulcent qualities, which implies no shared ingredients or methods, but an overall focus on cooling ingredients. Compared to six entirely divergent recipes, finding one nearly identical recipe from Elizabeth Jacob’s collection (1654-1685) (below), seemingly a succedent for the recipe in Catchmay’s manuscript compiled in 1625, was a significance not lost on me.

MS3009_0026_Jacob, Elizabeth (& others)Wellcome Library MS 3009, fol. 26v.

In comparison, Catchmay’s recipe is shorter and vaguer in the application of the solution for her patient in relation to Jacob’s recipe. In Jacob’s, the patient is instructed to wash their sore place before bed then continue the treatment for five to six times. To me, the development of Jacob’s recipe brings up the question of how this recipe was passed on and what it means for women to be sharing recipes. Jacob’s recipe (or its source) develops the aspects of Catchmay’s recipe (or its analog) that needed clarification, improving upon the aspects that already worked.

[1] Lara Artemis has blogged on this related topic at Recipes Project in her submission of “The Reformation and a Recipe Book.”

Works Cited

De Costa, Caroline. “St. Anthony’s Fire And Living Ligatures: A Short History Of Ergometrine.” Lancet. Vol. 359, Issue 9319 (May 2002): pp. 1768-70.

“erysipelas.” Oxford English Dictionary. October 2, 2014. Web.

Horsfall, James G.. “The Fight with the Fungi or the Rusts and Rots that Rob Us, the Blasts and the Blights that Beset Us.” American Journal of Botany. Vol. 43, No. 7 (July 1956): pp. 532-36.

“St. Anthony’s Fire.” Oxford English Dictionary. October 3, 2014. Web.


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