Updated: Oct 25, 2021
The two saints were brothers and were born into a noble Roman family sometime during the 3rd century AD. Fleeing a rising tide of Anti-Christian persecution and hostility, the two brothers fled to Gaul and began to evangelize the Gaulish tribes there in the town of Noviodunum (Now called Soissons). By day the two brothers evangelized (and many Gaulish peoples converted) and by night the two made shoes for the poor.
When the success of their conversions reached the governor of Belgic Gaul, Rictus Varus, the two brothers were arrested and sentenced to death. They were given the opportunity to recant their faith and be spared, but both brothers refused. The Romans tied millstones around their necks and tossed them into the river Aisne. When they did not drown, the two were beheaded on November 8th, 286 AD on a plain outside the city now called Saint Crepin-en-Chaye.
In England their story became famous with another tradition. Legend tells that the two brothers were the sons of the Queen of Logia (Kent) and fled the Anti-Christian persecutions by dressing in commoner's clothes and feeling the town of Canterbury. They arrived in Faversham at the house of a man named Robards, a shoe maker. Robards took them in and began a seven year apprentice making shoes. Robards's quality of shoes was so famous that the associate Emperor, Maximinus took him in as his personal shoemaker. When the Emperor's daughter Ursula came to town, Saint Crispin fell in love with her and married her secretly. Her father Maximinus found out about the marriage and after initially being angered eventually reconciled the marriage and blessed his new grandson saying:
"A shoemaker's son is a prince born."
Legend holds that the marriage was confirmed on October 25th and has been a shoemaker's holiday ever since.
Due to the brother's association with shoes and shoe-making, a shoeshine kit is often referred to as a "Saint-Crispin", an awl a "Saint Crispin's lance" and if one's shoes are too tight they are "in Saint Crispin's prison". In addition to shoes, the Saints and their feast day are also often associated with famous battles. Most famously, the battle of Agincourt was fought in 1415 on Saint Crispin's day and made famous by Henry V's speech in the play by William Shakespeare :
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
Several other battles were also famously fought on Saint Crispin's day -
The Fall of Lisbon in 1147
The Battle of Balaclava (The Charge of the light brigade) in 1854
The Battle of Springfield Missouri (1861)
The Battle of Marais des Cygnes (1864)
The Battle of Shangani (1893)
The third day of the Second Battle of El Alamein (1942)
The Battle of Henderson Field at Guadalcanal (1942)
The Battle of Leyte Gulf (1944)
The Saint Crispin Street Fair is a fair held in Northampton, England every few years. The Daughters of Saint Crispin was an American Labor union of shoemakers founded on July 28th, 1869 and was the very first national women's labor union in the United States. The Daughters were inspired by the Order of the Knights of Saint Crispin, an American labor union of male shoe workers formed in 1867 in the state of Wisconsin.