Everyone’s familiar with Guy Fawkes night and all its surrounding traditions. However, there’s another fire-related saints’ day in November that’s often overlooked.
Saint Clement’s Day was celebrated on 23rd November - a welcome excuse for another knees-up between Halloween and Christmas.
It commemorated Pope Clement 1 – the patron saint of metalworkers and blacksmiths. Clement was banished from Rome during the reign of the Emperor Trajan in the 1stcentury and was set to work in a stone quarry. Finding his fellow prisoners sufering from dehydration, he knelt down in prayer. On looking up, he spotted a lamb on a hill and struck the ground where the lamb had been standing with his pickaxe, releasing a gushing stream of fresh water and resulted in large numbers of local pagans and his fellow prisoners converting to Christianity. As punishment, Saint Clement was martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown from a boat into the Black Sea.
Celebrations on Old Clem’s Night began with a bang, quite literally. Blacksmiths filled a small hole in their anvil with gunpowder. This was then struck with a hammer, creating a shower of sparks and a loud boom. The village blacksmiths would dress up in a wig, mask and cloak to represent Saint Clement and gather in the streets, singing loudly and staggering from tavern to tavern.
At the same time, children would go clementing – knocking on doors begging for apples, pear and nuts in exchange for reciting rhymes. Indeed, it is believed that is the origin of the nursery rhyme “Oranges & Lemons”.
Old Clem’s Night has all but died out in the 21st century, apart from a few places across the UK including Chatham in Kent, where the tradition continues.
So this 23rd November, why not sit around a roaring fire and, as you add another log using your cast iron tongs, spare a thought for old Saint Clem and the few remaining smithies out there.