Being of German (and other East European descent) the Radtke Family has been aware of the legend of the Ice Saints for many years. It’s one of those Farmers Almanac, not well known but fun, tidbits we celebrate every year!
Have you ever noticed we seem to get a blast of cold around the middle of May almost every year? Often coinciding with the full moon. It’s like winter doesn’t quite want to let go. Its last hurrah. And a reminder…I’ll be back. Don’t get too comfortable!
You can blame it on the Ice Saints!
Who are the Ice Saints, you ask? Well, they are Saints Mamertus, Pancras, Servatius, Boniface and Sophia. And their feast days begin on May 11 with St. Mamertus and continue to May 15 with St. Sophia. These feast days are traditionally a time of colder weather in Northern Europe and this trend was even documented by the students of Galileo for something like 75 years. Anyone who planted their gardens ahead of the Ice Saints was thought to be a fool as the cold damp days would quickly undo all the work of any overly ambitious gardener with a harsh reminder of who exactly is in charge!
And a little history of each of our Ice Saints…
St. Mamertus (May 11) was a 5th century bishop in France. His diocese suffered many catastrophes at the time, ranging from fires to earthquakes. His practice of fasting and prayer was thought to have delivered the region from its calamities. St. Pancras (May 12) was a 4th century martyr of Rome, beheaded at the young age of 14. So, he became the patron saint of children. St. Sevatius (May 13) is the patron saint of Maastricht in the Netherlands. He died there as bishop in 384. And his relics reside there in the Basilica of St. Servatius. St. Boniface of Tarsus (May 14) was a 4th century Roman martyr, a slave thrown into a cauldron of boiling tar. He was dropped from the calendar of saints because they cannot prove he ever existed.
Finally, there is St. Sophia (May 15) and the only woman of the group. She was also a martyr of the early Christian movement. In Germany she is known as Cold Sophia. The Czechs call her Sophia the Ice Woman.
In 1582 the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar. It involved omitting 10 days of the calendar. This resulted in the saint days moving from May 22-25 (closer to our Memorial Day) to the middle of May instead.
So, if you should notice colder temps or even frost warnings in the middle of May, possibly accompanied by a full moon, we can thank the Ice Saints. They are the reason why, in Wisconsin anyway, we wait until Memorial Day to plant our tender annuals.