San Pasqual - The Patron Saint of Cooks & Kitchens
Walk into any kitchen across the southwestern United States and while at first you may be mesmerized by the delicious smells of something cooking, your eye may wander to the curious image or wood carving of a robed man holding a loaf of bread hanging on the wall. Who is this monk, and why is he holding a loaf of bread?
San Pasqual is widely recognized as the Patron Saint of Cooks & Kitchens. He’s easily recognizable because he’s wearing the brown robes of the Franciscan order, has a tonsure (friar’s cut) hairstyle, and is holding some kind of food, often bread, fish, or wine. He is depicted in the kitchen with an old fashioned stove, a wood-fired oven, or mixing bowls. Each artist will add their own touch, whether that’s adding in a house cat or a string of ristra chiles.
San Pasqual was an actual Franciscan friar that lived in Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain. Paschal Baylón was named after the day he was born, Pentecost Sunday. Born in 1540 to a shepherding family, he spent the first decades of his life herding sheep, but was devout in his religious practices. At the tender age of 24, he was accepted into the friary at Orito (Alicante) in 1565.
Pasqual was known for how happily he went about the simple household tasks that might be dreary to some, including cooking. He often prayed while doing his daily chores, especially those in the kitchen, and his fellow friars believed the angels helped him with his tasks. Devoted to prayer, he gained a reputation as a mystic and was visited by many for his advice. After his death, visitors to his grave reported miraculous cures and he gained a devoted following in Spain, Southern Italy, and in what were at the time Spanish colonies that are now Mexico and the southwestern United States.
Part of Pasqual’s duties included feeding the poor but also devotion to the eucharist, the body and blood of Christ that is symbolically consumed at mass. Christ’s words to his disciples at his final meal instructed them to practice the eucharist ritual as an act of remembrance. The ritual acts as a way to deliver the soul and divinity of Christ through eating bread and drinking wine.
As any cook knows, food often nourishes much more than the body. The pleasure of having a home cooked meal made with love fills the soul and inspires the spirit. Many could view cooking as a chore, but a retablo of a saint who elevated even the most mundane tasks into acts of prayer may act as a gentle reminder of the blessing of having food on the table and of cooking as an act of love for another.