Piper Saint?

As I predicted, my Porta Ceili picture idea has found favor in the eyes of The Inn at the End of the World. Yes, there’s a real lack of pictures of angels merrily making music to the Lord, and particularly with folk instruments.

As for musician saints, I would add the missionary, composer, and violin/fiddle player St. Francisco Solano, who was Ven. Solanus Casey’s namesake. He was also a polyglot and a prophet, in his copious spare time. :)

There are a good number of known saints from Irish poet families, partly because there was a graceful overlap between the poet’s religious and secular functions and the work and education expected of an Irish monk. I’m not really too knowledgeable on saintly bards, harpers, or other professional musicians. However, the vast majority of Irish monks apparently knew and played tiny portable harps, because it was a good way to pass time when walking or singing psalms.

Bagpipes go across a lot of cultures, so logically there’d be some piper saints! I wonder who the McCrimmons had as a patron saint….

However, Sabine Baring-Gould’s Lives of the Saints (the volume on March) notes the story of St. Philemon and St. Apollonius, set in the city of Antinoe in Egypt, during Diocletian’s persecution. (Yes, Egyptians play bagpipes!) It seems that Deacon Apollonius was deathly afraid of torture. So during the persecutions, he went to a local piper, actor, and dancer named Philemon — a guy from the governor’s household — and hired this pagan guy to go sacrifice to the Emperor and claim to be named Apollonius. That way, Apollonius could have his papers saying he’d done his imperial duty, but wouldn’t actually have to lie or apostasize himself. (St. Cyprian wasn’t too hep on this tactic, of course!)

So Philemon said, “Okay,” and went to see the local magistrate, all muffled up in a cloak. And, claiming to be Apollonius the deacon, he refused to sacrifice.

Just then, Philemon’s brother Theonas showed up and recognized him. He told the judge that it was just his brother, playing a joke, and Philemon was decloaked to much laughter. But Philemon insisted that he was serious about not sacrificing, and that he was Christian even though he hadn’t been baptized. He prayed that Christ would baptize him, and a miraculous cloud appeared and sprinkled him.

Unsatisfactorily for pipers, the story then relates that he proved his conversion by breaking his pipes and throwing them away.

(Did I mention that bagpipes and flutes were associated with lasciviousness in the classical world? I get that impression, anyway, from all those flute girls and satyrs….)

At this point, Deacon Apollonius was hauled in, and directly challenged by the magistrate. The deacon, impressed by the Christian bravery of Philemon, said that he now knew better and would die before sacrificing. So the deacon and the retired piper were martyred together, and eventually the evil judge was converted by a miraculous healing and martyred, too. Feast day in the West: March 8.

St. Philemon the Piper on a Greek Orthodox bishopric’s page which describes him as a flute-player. Feast day in the East: Dec. 14.

However, bagpipes did get a better reputation in Christendom. Apparently, bagpipes (and shawms) were regarded as very merry instruments, and thus particularly suitable for keeping up people’s spirits on long pilgrim journeys. Bagpipes were good instruments for weddings. (Still are.) They were an instrument of war also, like trumpets and drums. Also, their reputation was enhanced by an epistle by a Pseudo-Jerome, which claimed that the “chorus” (bagpipe) was used as a liturgical instrument by the Jews in the Temple.
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So logically, angelic and human angels were depicted often in and on churches, particularly on pilgrimage churches like Compostela’s.

Now, of course there are tons of named angel lists and named angel choir lists, so I’m sure your medieval scholar could easily deduce the choir to which angelic bagpipers belong. And there you’ll find a very satisfyingly large group of patron saints for pipers. :)

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