What saint do you immediately associate with February 14? If you are not Bulgarian the answer is most certainly St. Valentine. If you are Bulgarian another one might come to mind: Saint Trifon the Pruner, the patron saint of vine-growers and wine-producers whose pruning shears are the symbol of wine and fertility in Bulgaria. Trifon is also called “the drunkard” because of his excessive love of red wine and “the noseless” because of a little encounter he had with the Virgin Mary. According to popular legend, Trifon was pruning his humble vineyard one day when The Mother of God happened by. The future saint (hungover?) mocked and taunted her, saying she didn´t even know who the father of her son was. The Virgin took offense and ordered Trifon to cut off his nose with his pruning shears, which he promptly did. Two questions come to my mind: (1) Isn´t this an odd road to sainthood? (2) What would Dr. Freud think about having a man with a cut-off nose as a symbol of fertility?
Another rendition is this: Born of pious Christian parents in the third century Thrace, Trifon consolidated his reputation as a world-class miracle healer at the ripe young age of 17 by curing Roman Emperor Gordian´s daughter of a particularly hideous disease. Unfortunately, when Christian-persecuting Decius succeeded Gordian, Trifon was immediately arrested, tortured, and decapitated: a more run-of-the-mill ticket to sainthood. (Let the record show I prefer rendition 1.) In any case ethnographers say St. Trifon and his festival have their misty roots way back in time of old friend Dionysios, the Thracian god of wine and fertility.
What seems clear is that these three traditions have been trod, mashed, and blended together like so many different grape varieties in a fine Portuguese Port (or Bulgarian red) and that the result is the immensely popular blend, St. Trifon the Pruner. His day could legitimately be celebrated either on 14th along with St. Valentine, or on 1st of February which corresponds to the Gregorian calendar. The Bulgarians, practical people, cut the Gordian knot and raise hell on both days.
Many thanks to Janet Hose for bringing this singular saint to my attention and to Mariana Oller, a Bulgarian by birth, for clearing up some obscure theological points. Unfortunately, these revelations arrived a bit late for 2011, but I have already marked both February 1 and 14 on my 2012 Google calendar. So, in honor of St. Trifon please join me in drinking as much Bulgarian cabernet sauvignon, melnik, and mavrud as we can keep down on these two days. Wine should “flow like a river;” the more we put away on these holy days the more abundant next year´s Bulgarian grape crop will be. So, do your part and take the pledge!