The Catholic Church seems to have a patron saint, or defender, for just about every group of people. For farriers and blacksmiths, this is St. Eloy.
St. Eloy is known by many different names, including St. Eligus, St. Eloi, St. Eloie, St. Aloi, St. Alo, St. Lo, St. Loye, St. Loo and St. Euloge. He was born around 588 in France and died Dec. 1, 660.
Dec. 1 is considered the feast day for the saint. In fact, there are many French farriers today who still regard this day as a holiday and celebrate by not shoeing a single horse.
Patron Saint of Many Professions
While St. Eloy, whose emblem is the horseshoe, is perhaps best known as the patron saint of farriers and blacksmiths, he also is considered the patron saint of goldsmiths, taxi drivers and mechanics, which is not really that strange, as these other professions all deal with metal work and repairing and maintaining modes of transportation.
According to the Catholic Saints website, St. Eloy became the patron saint of taxi drivers and mechanics as technology evolved and the world progressed past horses and horse-drawn carriages as the popular modes of transportation.
St. Eloy was made the patron saint of farriers and blacksmiths, thanks to a popular legend about him shoeing the severed leg of a horse. The legend says that one day, St. Eloy was trying to shoe a particularly difficult horse, a horse that acted as if he had the devil in him.
To make the horse easier to shoe, St. Eloy cut the leg off of the horse and proceeded to shoe the detached leg. When he was finished, the saint reattached the leg to the horse by simply making the sign of the cross. Other versions of the story maintain that Jesus came to Saint Eloy and aided him in replacing the severed leg.
It is doubtful that St. Eloy would recommend that others try this horseshoeing feat. In some versions of the legend, St. Eloy is said to have been very proud and boastful of his skills at the forge and in shoeing, causing Christ to appear before him as a stranger and ask St. Eloy to accomplish a feat of horseshoeing that no man could accomplish. The stranger removed the leg of a horse, shod it and then replaced the leg without harming the horse.
St. Eloy was so confident in his skills that he tried to follow the stranger's example and chop the leg off a horse and then shoe it. His attempt was far less successful than the stranger's and Christ revealed himself to save the life of St. Eloy's horse, now bleeding to death from having its leg severed. In doing this, Christ is said to have taught St. Eloy to be more humble.
Though there is little doubt that St. Eloy did exist, it is doubtful that many of the stories relating him to farriery, horseshoes and blacksmithing are true. Both the saint's popularity and legends grew after his death, with his fame rising to an all-time high in the middle ages when, according to Henry Heymering in his book, On the Horse's Foot, Shoes and Shoeing, "farriery was so highly esteemed that at the court of the Dukes of Burgundy, on St. Eloy's day, a piece of silver plate was given to the individual who shod the ducal horses."
Heymering writes in his book that St. Eloy and his legendary shoeing often are depicted in art from the middle ages. "A 14th century work shows St. Eloy shoeing a horse whose leg he first removed, then restored unharmed. A 13th century stained glass window depicts St. Eloy holding the devil by the nose with a pair of pincers.
Many Saintly Virtues
There are many stories attesting to St. Eloy's virtues. He was known for his craftsmanship and honesty, which Heymering writes he illustrated when he was asked to make a golden saddle, and for the price and cost of one saddle, made two.
The saint also is known for his wealth and charity because, as Heymering writes, "It is often said that he wore only silk embroidered in gold, but that he also gave much money to the poor and fought for the rights of slaves."
Heymering writes, "St. Eloy w ould buy 20 to 100 or more slaves at a time only to set them free and then assist them with their choice of returning home; working with him; or becoming monks."
The next time you are shoeing a horse, remember St. Eloy and his honesty, charity and humility, and even though it may sound tempting, try not to rip off any legs in order to shoe a difficult horse.