Tag Archives: patron saint

Sfingi Donuts on St. Joseph’s Day

Background: N is an American of part Sicilian descent who remembers his family celebrating St. Joseph’s day by making traditional Sicilian donuts, or Sfingi, every year.

St. Joseph’s Day, the patron saint of Sicily, is celebrated on March 19th to celebrate the life and legacy of the Catholic saint. According to legend, Sicilians prayed to St. Joseph for relief during an extreme famine and drought. Once he provided them with bountiful crops and rainfall, they promised him a day of devotion in return for his good graces. The festivities usually revolve around a large meatless feast due to its occurrence during Lent.


Interviewer: “What are Sfingi and how do you make them?”

N: “Sfingi are uh fried dough balls made from flour, sugar, eggs and like ricotta cheese…usually topped with powdered sugar too… I’ve never actually made them, usually just my grandma or mom does…”

Interviewer: “Why did your family choose to make Sfingi for St. Joseph’s day as apposed to any other dessert?”

N: “I don’t know, I suppose because it’s a pretty traditional Sicilian dessert, as far as I know… St. Joseph’s is huge for Sicilians since he’s like the patron saint”

Interviewer: “Do you think they’re the best Sicilian dessert?”

N: “They’re a little too sweet for my taste… but I liked it a lot as a kid”


As reflected in N’s family, sweets like Sfingi are commonplace in St. Joseph’s day feasts and celebrations. The indulgence of a treat like Sfingi can reflect the indulgence that St. Joseph offered the Sicilians in their time of need. Sfingi are a celebration of Sicilian culture and a sign of gratitute to the sweet blessings granted from God and their beloved patron saint. Lent, broadly, is meant to be a time of fasting and abstinence from the luxuries of everyday life. In contrast, St. Joseph’s day stands apart from the rest of lent due to its celebratory festivities of feasting and indulgence. The holiday’s place on the liturgical calendar represents how God’s love can fulfill and serve his followers even in times of great despair and famine.

San Emeterius and Celedonius

“This is the legend of the patron saints of Calahorra, Spain, my home town and also of the city of Santander, a coastal city on the Bay of Bisay. The Roman poet Aurelius Prudentius, that was also from Calahorra, said that two brothers, Emeterius and Celedonius, who served as soldiers of the seventh legion called, Gemina were martyred at Calagurris (now known as Calahorra). But the exact time and place are unknown. The legend says they were martyred around the year 300 AD at the banks of the Cidacos River, which still today bears the same name and flows by the town. This was during the prosecutions of Christians by Emperor Diocletian and Emperor Valerian. They were imprisoned and forced to decide between renouncing their Christian faith or leaving the army. The legend says, they chose their faith and as a result were tortured and finally decapitated on banks of the river outside the city walls. When the soldiers were decapitated, they were kneeling on the bank and their severed heads rolled down into the water. Their heads floated away in the river and made their way onto a raft made of stone that was miraculously floating. But instead of floating downstream, south towards the Mediteranean where the river eventually discharges, they floated upstream. Eventually finding their way to the city of Santander where the heads also received veneration. In Santander, Alfonso, the 2nd of Aragon, built an abbey in honor of these two saints. In Calahorra, on the spot where they were martyred, the Christian cathedral was built, in the 4th century, in the late 300’s. The cathedral that exists in the town today was built on top of this original cathedral. It has been a puzzle as to why the cathedral was built outside the city walls and on the river bank and the legend explains this because this was the exact location of their decapitation. The coat of arms of the city of Calahorra features the names of the saints, two crossing swords and two half moons that represent the beheaded necks with dripping blood. August 30th is the major city holiday of the year, celebrating the patron saints. Relics of the two saints are taken out from the cathedral on procession through the town streets on this day. Even the main street in Calahorra is called “Calle de los Martires” (Street of the Martyrs) and martyrdom is a common theme in all the cities memorabilia, seals, and collective culture. There are elementary schools, businesses, bakeries, pastry shops, that use the saints names and/or “martyr.” The “fiestas patronales” (town festivals) are in their honor. The city is often referred to, even today as “The City of the Martyrs” just as New York City is called “The Big Apple.”



This legend, it’s continuation and it being the basis for present-day businesses and festivals is exemplary of how the influence the Catholic church had on the country of Spain and continues to have. Although, many people no longer affiliate with the religion of Catholicism, most of Spain’s traditions are rooted in it and continue to be performed. Every town in Spain has its own patron saint(s) and the festivals of the town are based on those saints. One of the most well known examples of this is the festival of Sanfermines from the city of San Fermin. Their patron saint is Saint Fermin.

My father, the participant is from the town of Calahorra, Spain and I, myself have been there many times. I have partaken in the festivals (‘fiestas’) and been to the cathedral but never knew the story behind the patron saints of the town.

St. Clare of Assisi.

The informant (L) is a senior film major at California State University Los Angeles. L also nannies on the weekends. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and attended Catholic schools before coming to Los Angeles for college. Though her interpretation of Catholicism is more modern than those of the previous generation, she still calls herself Catholic. I asked her if she had any religious folklore and she responded by telling me about the patron saint of television. She said that it was something her friends told each other and she had read in a book when she was about 10 years old. Below is the paraphrased story that she gave as the explanation as to how Saint Clare became the patron saint of television.

Saint Clare of Assisi was a nun in Italy many centuries ago. She was a very devoted nun and never missed a day of mass, ever. One day, however, she got sick and even though she wanted to go to mass, she just could not physically get her body to take her to mass. It was then, in her bedroom, that the Holy Spirit “projected the mass on the wall” of the bedroom so that she could still experience the mass without physically being at the mass. Because this is like what a television does, she was made into the patron saint of television even though she lived a long time before TVs even existed.

Though she had read this in a book, she did not know until later that it was “real” and that Pope Pius XII had actually made her the patron saint of television in the 1950’s. St. Clare is especially important to L because her school and future work life is entirely based on television and film.

It is important to note that L used the word “projected” to describe how St. Clare saw the mass, whereas the more religious sources (like http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-clare-of-assisi/) use other words like display and “able to see.” I think L’s choice of words connects St. Clare to the idea of television (as film etc. used to be projected on to a screen). Additionally, the fact that L skipped a lot of the other important things St. Clare did, like follow St. Francis and other religiously significant things, and got right to the part that mattered: how a saint became connected to television. This says a lot about the way L sees the story: it is a connection between her religion and the way she grew up and the life she is now leading. She feels connected to her religion through St. Clare.


The Patron Saint of Mexico City

This is one of our saints, and the mini-story of how he became a saint…

He was named for Guadaloupe, kind of like the virgin Mary; she was a great virgin or something… but she’s different, not like any of the saints that we (Catholics) have, she’s more distinctly Native American, her symbol is these thorny thorny roses that only grow in the deserts in Mexico.

Anyway, the man left and she came to him, and when he came back he tried to tell everybody what had happened; what he had seen and what she had said to him. But he was an Indian so no one believed he’d seen a virgin, and he went to her and she told him as long as he had faith, everything would work out. So he returned to his people again, and told them that everything would be good, that they would be blessed by God if they were faithful…

After he spoke, on his poncho appeared an image of the virgin, and then out form under it fell roses––her special thorny symbolic roses––a sign that she was actually there. And then people believed him…

Now she’s like the patron saint of Mexico City and that’s what our nativity stories and stuff were based on afterwards.


How did you come across this folklore: “I refer to these as “sketchy stories from my (step)father”/sketchy things he did when I was a kid…”

Other information: “My dad has a lot of stories like these, but my mom was big on not sharing them, or letting us hear them—so I heard this in my teens, when were allowed (finally) to ask and he would actually answer… my mom said it would invite bad people/things to us or something…”

This shows the incorporation of religion into folk mythology, where eventually no one questions its truth, which is transcended by its meaning. If you remain faithful, things will work out. This story actually bears strong resemblance to a traditional biblical story (for example, Moses in the Old Testament). The way my informant found out about this piece of folklore also reflects the conflict between mainstream society and minority folk groups, in this case the folklore was hidden from the second generation to protect them from being stigmatized.