On the Kalendar: Saint Peter in Chains and Lammas

“On the Kalendar” is a series examining some of the lesser known feast days on the Kalendar.

Benjamin West St. Peter Released from Prison

St. Peter Released from Prison, by Benjamin West (1738–1820). From Wikimedia.

We start off On the Kalendar with a two-fer: There are two interesting feast days celebrated on August 1st. The first is Saint Peter in Chains, also known by its Latin name, Saint Peter ad Vincula. (It is also more rarely referred to as the Liberation of Saint Peter.) This feast commemorates an event described in Acts 12:3–19. Herod has arrested Peter and imprisoned him, intending to execute him in a few days. During the night, while Peter is chained up between two guards, an angel appears and breaks his chains. He tells Peter to follow him out of the prison, and they leave without waking any of the guards. Peter goes to the home of some disciples to let them know that he has been delivered by an angel. (The guards don’t fare so well: when Herod learns of Peter’s escape, he has the guards put to death.)

Ellis Peters’ medieval detective series featuring Brother Cadfael takes place in Shrewsbury, where the abbey church is dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul. (The two are commonly celebrated together as a political solution for not wanting to favor one saint over the other.) But the major fair held every year is the Saint Peter’s Fair commemorating Peter’s deliverance from prison, and the novel Saint Peter’s Fair begins shortly before the three–day festival.

The second feast is Lammas, which is more a pagan festival with a Christian veneer. Lammas celebrates the first harvest of grain, and has its origins in the cross-quarter day festival of Lughnasadh (prounounced “loo-na-sah”), held in honor of the ancient celtic god Lugh. The early British church appropriated the festival as a thanksgiving service, and the name Lammas is derived from the Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, “loaf mass, harvest festival”. (It’s likely that the festival being celebrated in Peters’ Saint Peter’s Fair is as much a Lammas festival as an observance of Saint Peter ad Vincula.)

Lammas loaves are often wreaths or plaits, but they can also be in the shape of a human figure (representing the god of the harvest), or in the shapes of animals.

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