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Blaise and Merlin

6 November 2015

An interesting blog post by Bishop Seraphim Sigrist on Blaise the mentor of Merlin.

These notes, revised and added to a little, began a few years ago when I saw a survey asking the reader what character in an original nonEnglish book one would choose to be, my just about first thought was Blaise in Robert de Boron’s Story of Merlin. It is written in Old French even though the characters are somehow British and of course also allowing it to be fundamentally fictional. Well this got me to thinking a bit about Blaise, who sort of came to mind out of the blue (or maybe out of some inner cloudiness of course) and here I propose to gather what material I have and find about this figure, about the Blaise of the story of Merlin, who does indeed interest me and I think perhaps may interest you as well. Blaise was, Robert de Boron(c 1200) tells us, the confessor of Merlin’s mother from before the birth of Merlin whose father it seems was an aerial spirit. (Layamon’s account) –in appearance a handsome young man but of the sort that Apuleius tells us live between the earth and the moon and indeed she never saw him again.

Source: BLAISE: seraphimsigrist

If such things interest you, it’s worth going to his blog and reading it all.

At another point he notes:

John Matthews writes “Behind the figure of Merlin, shadowy and insubstantial as a ghost stands that of his ‘master’ Blaise, portrayed sometimes as a monk or hermit, but always as older and deeper sunk in the wells of time. Few have succeeded in making contact with him. Those who do are possessed of a potential access to the entire Grail corpus… See him as a monkish figure in a brown habit, seated in a whitewashed cell poring over a beautifully illuminated tome. What does that book have to tell?”

At first I wondered if there might be a link to St Blaise, though it seems not. They might have been contemporaries or near contemporaries, if we date Arthur (and thus Merlin) to the 4th or 5th centuries, but perhaps they lived too far apart.

It reminded me of my visit to the seminary at Shen Vlash (St Blaise) in Albania some years ago. They rebuilt the church, which had been destroyed by the atheist Hoxha regime, but after the church had been consecrated they noticed that people were lighting candles some distance from the church. On enquiring about this, the local people said that that was where the original church had stood. So a chapel was built there, and people come regularly to light candles, not only Christians, but Muslims too, who also venerate St Vlash. But he appears to have no links to the Merlin one.

Church at Shen Vlash (St Blaise), Albania, rebuilt after the previous one had been destroyed during the atheist period (1967-1991). To the right is the chapel where people come to light candles and venerate St Blaise.

Church at Shen Vlash (St Blaise), Albania, rebuilt after the previous one had been destroyed during the atheist period (1967-1991). To the right is the small chapel where people come to light candles and venerate St Blaise.

As Bishop Seraphim notes, however, Blaise the mentor of Merlin was probably a fictional figure, so one can imagine all sorts of things about him, so why not a connection with Shen Vlash?

And there seems to have been more than one saint named Blaise. There was St Blaise the Bishop of Sebaste, who is probably the better known one, and St Blaise the Shepherd. Which one is venerated at Shen Vlash? Who knows whether stories about the life of one have become attached to the other, and perhaps even to the third, the mentor of Merlin? Bishop Seraphim invites us to go on an imaginative journey, and who knows where it will end? As he points out, it can even end up with a comic strip heroine, Modesty Blaise.

 

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