On August 1 we recall two different things: the liberation of St. Peter
from his imprisonment in Jerusalem, and the Seven Holy Machabees.
Today's feast is known in Latin as “Sancti Petri ad Vincula," and in
English as both "St. Peter's Chains" and as "Lammas." On this day, we
commemorate the escape of St. Peter from the chains that imprisoned him
after he was arrested by Herod Agrippa I, a story recounted in the book
of Acts 12. We read that Herod had murdered St. James, the brother of
St. John the Evangelist, then:
And seeing that
it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to take up Peter also. Now it was in
the days of the Azymes. And when he had apprehended him, he cast him
into prison, delivering him to four files of soldiers to be kept,
intending, after the pasch, to bring him forth to the people.
Peter therefore was kept in prison. But prayer was made without ceasing
by the church unto God for him. And when Herod would have brought him
forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound
with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him: and a light shined in the
room: and he striking Peter on the side, raised him up, saying: Arise
quickly. And the chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said to
him: Gird thyself, and put on thy sandals. And he did so. And he said
to him: Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
The chains that bound St. Peter were given to the Emperor Valentinian
III's mother-in-law, by Iuvenalis, the Bishop of Jerusalem. The
mother-in-law gave them to her daughter, who gave them to Pope St. Leo
the Great. When Pope Leo brought the Jerusalem chains together with the
chains St. Peter was bound with in Rome, by Nero, before his martyrdom,
it's said that the two chains miraculously bound themselves together.
Many other miracles involving St. Peter's Chains are recounted
history, and we shouldn't wonder at their power: in Acts 5, we're told
of the power of even St. Peter's shadow --
multitude of men and women who believed in the Lord, was more
increased: Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets,
and laid them on beds and couches, that when Peter came, his shadow at
the least, might overshadow any of them, and they might be delivered
from their infirmities.
-- about which the Roman Breviary says “if the shadow of [St. Peter’s]
body could then bring help, how much more now the fullness of
power?...Rightly is that iron of the chains of punishment considered to
be more precious than gold throughout the churches of Christ.”
Pope St. Leo built a church to house these chains, a church known in
Rome as San Pietro in Vincoli.
Consecrated in A.D. 439 by Pope Sixtus III, it was the building of this
basilica that inspired the Feast celebrated today. But there are many
reasons to keep this feast and recall St. Peter's liberation; the
Golden Legend lists a few, and among them is this:
The fourth cause
of the institution of this feast may be assigned here in this wise. For
our Lord delivered S. Peter out of his chains by miracle, and gave him
power to bind and to unbind. For we be holden and bounden unto the bond
of sin and have need to be assoiled. Therefore we worship the solemnity
of the chains aforesaid. For as he deserved to be unbound of the bonds
of his chains, so received he power of our Lord Jesu Christ to assoil
One of the antiphons of today's Divine Office recounts what is said to
have happened when St. Peter escaped his imprisonment in Rome: he was
liberated by St. Processus and St. Martinian, and was told to leave
before he could be recaptured and killed. On his route down the Appian
Way to the port of Brindisi, where he wanted to get on a ship and head
back to the Middle East, he met Christ. Shocked, he asked Him, "Domine,
quo vadis?" ("Lord, where are you going?"). Jesus replied to him,
"Venio Romam iterum crucifigi. ("I'm going to Rome to be crucified
again.") At those words, St. Peter returned to Rome and embraced his
The day is also focused on the seven Holy Machabees, members of a
family whose story is recounted in the two Books of Machabees, which
cover the years between 175 and 135 B.C. The Machabees were a priestly
family who led Israel to keep the faith while under the yoke of
Seleucid Empire. They were a family of fighters -- their name,
which you'll also see spelled as "Maccabees," means "Hammer" -- and the
aspect of their story that's relevant to today's feast is the martyrdom
of seven particular Machabees -- the seven brothers and their mother.
The story begins when an old scribe named Eleazar was told he must eat
pork, in violation of the law. He refused. And those who stood by,
watching, took some pity on him and, so, tried to get him to merely
feign obedience to the king by eating meat that just looked like pork.
But Eleazar, as II Machabees 6:23-26 tells us,
consider the dignity of his age, and his ancient years, and the inbred
honour of his grey head, and his good life and conversation from a
child: and he answered without delay, according to the ordinances of
the holy law made by God, saying, that he would rather be sent into the
other world. For it doth not become our age, said he, to dissemble:
whereby many young persons might think that Eleazar, at the age of
fourscore and ten years, was gone over to the life of the heathens. And
so they, through my dissimulation, and for a little time of a
corruptible life, should be deceived, and hereby I should bring a stain
and a curse upon my old age. For though, for the present time, I should
be delivered from the punishments of men, yet should I not escape the
hand of the Almighty neither alive nor dead.
For his disobedience, Eleazar was put to death.
In the next chapter of II Machabees, we're told that King Antiochus IV
Epiphanes had a woman and her seven sons arrested and tried to get
them, too, to eat pork. Tortured by whips and scourges, the oldest boy
said, "What wouldst thou ask, or learn of us? we are ready to die
rather than to transgress the laws of God, received from our fathers."
This only brought on more torture -- and stunning martrydom:
Then the king
being angry commanded fryingpans, and brazen caldrons to be made hot:
which forthwith being heated, He commanded to cut out the tongue
of him that had spoken first: and the skin of his head being drawn off,
to chop off also the extremities of his hands and feet, the rest of his
brethren, and his mother, looking on.
And when he was now maimed in all parts, he commanded him, being yet
alive, to be brought to the fire, and to be fried in the fryingpan: and
while he was suffering therein long torments, the rest, together with
the mother, exhorted one another to die manfully...
One after the other, six of the sons were slaughtered. And their
Now the mother
was to be admired above measure, and worthy to be remembered by good
men, who beheld seven sons slain in the space of one day, and bore it
with a good courage, for the hope that she had in God: And she bravely
exhorted every one of them in her own language, being filled with
wisdom: and joining a man's heart to a woman's thought, She said to
them: I know not how you were formed in my womb: for I neither gave you
breath, nor soul, nor life, neither did I frame the limbs of every one
of you. But the Creator of the world, that formed the nativity of man,
and that found out the origin of all, He will restore to you again in
His mercy, both breath and life, as now you despise yourselves for the
sake of His laws.
Antiochus then came up with the idea of promising the last boy that
he'd make him rich and happy if he'd just turn away from the laws of
his fathers. The King told this to the mother as well, telling her to
her last remaining son to take him up on his offer. But the mother
leaned over to her boy and said,
My son, have
pity upon me, that bore thee nine months in my womb, and gave thee suck
three years, and nourished thee, and brought thee up unto this age. I
beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven and earth, and all that is in
them: and consider that God made them out of nothing, and mankind also:
So thou shalt not fear this tormentor, but being made a worthy partner
with thy brethren, receive death, that in that mercy I may receive thee
again with thy brethren.
He, too, refused, and he was martyred along with his mother. Some of
their relics can be venerated today in the same basilica that holds St.
Peter's chains -- San Pietro in Vincoli, in Rome.
At a time when Christians are being persecuted all over the world, the
story of the Machabees is a deeply important one. Remember them always.
The second English name for this day -- Lammas -- stems from the Old
English hlaf, meaning "loaf,"
and męsse, meaning "Mass."
Breads were made and blessed on this day (a 9th c. martyrology refers
to August 1 as hlafsenunga,
or "'blessing of bread"), with some of them possibly being destined for
The baking of bread and having it blessed -- or, at least, marking it
with a Cross before eating it -- would be a lovely thing to do today. A
no-knead recipe you can try:
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour (+ a bit extra for later),
aerated before measuring (just stir so air is incorporated)
1/4 teaspoon yeast (active dry or instant)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups hot water, at about 125° F (no hotter than 140°!)
Mix well together flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl.
Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for at least
After at least 3 hours, when dough is dotted with bubbles,
transfer it to a well-floured surface and sprinkle with a little
flour. Fold dough over 10-12 times & shape into a rough ball, using
a scraper to include all the dough. Place in a parchment paper-lined
bowl, cover with a towel, and let stand for about 35 minutes.
Put a Dutch oven (one that's somewhere between 3 1/2 qt to 5
1/2 qt size should do) with an oven-safe lid in a cold oven and preheat
to 450° F. When the oven and Dutch oven are both hot, carefully remove
lid from the latter and place the dough inside along with the parchment
paper it's sitting on. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes,
remove lid and parchment, return uncovered to the oven, and bake 10 to
15 minutes more. Cool and eat.
And once you bake a loaf, you can use some of its crumbs and two
pieces of wood to keep mice away -- at least you can according to the
words of an 11th c. psalter found in a Winchester monastery 1:
[Take two] long
pieces of four-edged wood, and on each piece write a Pater Noster, on
each side down to the end. Lay one on the floor of the barn, and lay
the other across it, so that they form the sign of the cross. And take
four pieces of the hallowed bread which is blessed on Lammas day, and
crumble them at the four corners of the barn. This is the blessing for
that; so that mice do not harm these sheaves, say prayers over the
sheaves and do not cease from saying them. 'City of Jerusalem, where
mice do not live they cannot have power, and cannot gather the grain,
nor rejoice with the harvest.' This is the second blessing: 'Lord God
Almighty, Who made heaven and earth, bless these fruits in the Name of
the Father and the Holy Spirit.' Amen. And [then say] a Pater Noster.
As a side
note, Lammas Eve -- that is, July 31 -- is the birthday of Juliet
Capulet, the girl
who was in love with Romeo in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."
Act I, Scene III of the play includes a discussion between Lady Capulet
mother) and the Nurse that gives away that fact:
my daughter's of a pretty age.
||Faith, I can
tell her age unto an hour.
fourteen of my teeth,--
And yet, to my teeth be it spoken, I have but four--
She is not fourteen. How long is it now
||A fortnight and
||Even or odd, of
all days in the year,
Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen.
1 Quote from Karen Louise Jolly, "The
Place of the Cross in Anglo-Saxon England," ed. Catherine E. Karkov,
Sarah Larratt Keefer, and Karen Louise Jolly (Woodbridge: The Boydell
Press), p. 79; via a translation made by the author of the blog "A
Clerk of Oxford," URL: https://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com