Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

St. Peter's Chains
and the Holy Machabees

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 throughout history, and we shouldn't wonder at their power: in Acts 5, we're told of the power of even St. Peter's shadow -- 

And the 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 us.

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 martyrdom.

The Seven Machabees

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,

began to 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 mother?

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 counsel 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 altar.

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:

No-Knead Bread

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 3 hours.

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 (Juliet's mother) and the Nurse that gives away that fact:

Lady Capulet: ...Thou know'st my daughter's of a pretty age.
Nurse: Faith, I can tell her age unto an hour.
Lady Capulet: She's not fourteen.
Nurse: I'll lay 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
To Lammas-tide?
Lady Capulet: A fortnight and odd days.
Nurse: 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:

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