The art of shoemaking is deeply rooted in history. In fact, the trade has had official representation since as far back as 1272 with the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers in London. According to a contemporary group of shoemakers and historians, the Honourable Cordwainer’s Company, “within the trade itself – among shoe and bootmakers – the legends, the traditions, and the history really begin with St. Crispin.”
Just as many trades have a patron saint, St. Crispin is the patron saint of shoemakers. His story finds its own roots deeply embedded in both England and France. For the legend that the French have come to call their own, St. Crispin emerged in the third century as the son of wealthy Roman parents. He was disinherited, however, for converting to Christianity, a risky choice at that time for a noble. As he forged out on his own to spread the gospel, he also learned to make shoes in his spare time.
“Sir Hugh, the English counterpart to St. Crispin lent his name to the shoemaker’s kit of tools,” the editor at the Honourable Cordwainer’s Company explains. “Born a Prince of Britain and son of Arviragus – King of Powisland (modern day Wales), St. Hugh married a Christian princess, Winifred of Flintshire. She quickly converted him to Christianity, with roughly the same results. Thrown into poverty after losing all his wealth in a shipwreck, Hugh became a shoemaker who preached the gospel by day and plied his craft by night. Both he and Winifred were put to death, ostensibly for rabble-rousing, about 300 A.D.”
The editor goes on to say that according to the legend of Sir Hugh, during his time of internment, his fellow shoemakers kept constant vigil over him. To thank them for their kindness, he offered them the only thing that he could – his body. “After his death, by poison and then by hanging, his friends pulled his body from the gibbet and dried his bones,” the editor said. “These were made into tools for making shoes. For many years, in fact, a shoemaker’s tool kit was called St. Hugh’s Bones.”
Although the stories of Sir Hugh and St. Crispin happened so very long ago, to this day, shoemakers around the world have closed their shops on Oct. 25th to commemorate their age-old advocate. So mark the date on your calendar, ladies, and we will truly consider it a day to celebrate.