Today about two hundred people will chase a ‘thief’ down a street in the Warrens, each person trying to get hold of a small bag of beads they are holding. This fairly violent element of the Festival of Saint Beleir is probably the closest depiction of the events that led up to the warlord’s canonisation that can be found in Buentoille, far closer in fact than most of the books you can read on the subject, closer even than the stories told in the churches today.
After the ‘thief’ has been apprehended and probably trampled by their assailants, and after those same assailants have, in an ahistorical twist, run off in the direction of the local Church of Saint Beleir and Martheus, each trying to be the person who presents the beads to the priest there (and thereby gain the blessing of the Saint, along with a great deal of good luck), things continue to break from the historical narrative. The ‘thief’, who volunteered for the position several weeks ago and has been training their running and dodging skills since, is scraped off the floor by several members of the Chastise Church who wear Saint Beleir’s sign (as it is understood in Buentoille this is a loaf of bread given to a reaching hand) stitched onto their robes, and also taken to the church, where they are fed a hearty meal of bread soup.
Why is the chasing and apprehension of the thief the most accurate part of today’s festival? Well, unlike pretty much every story about Saint Beleir you hear in Buentoille, the chasers actually catch their ‘thief’, rather than letting them go. That, however, wouldn’t be much fun, and in the process of making the festival more engaging, more of a competition, the organisers unwittingly made it closer to the truth.
According to the standard Buentoilliçan version of the tale of Saint Beleir, the saint was a rich man, but not an aristocrat, who had a bag of beads stolen from him one night. Running after the thief he turned through the winding streets in such a way that he suddenly became very dizzy, and then, as the fug of dizziness lifted, he attained a clear moment of Attunement (a religious experience of being totally in touch with the world around you), in which one realisation was very clear: this thief simply wanted to feed their family; their criminality was not some degenerate choice, but the result of unfortunate circumstances. He let the thief go, and then started up a soup kitchen to help those destitute Buentoillitants forced into a life of crime through poverty. Whilst there has been no need for any such charitable services within the City for many years now, today the Church will, in addition to the performative element of the festival, serve bread soup outside various churches in honour of their much-loved saint.
The issue with all of this, no matter how pleasant a story it is, is that none of it is true. There was a Saint Beleir, and they were robbed, but they most definitely caught the thief, and they even went so far as to ensure they were hanged for their crimes. Beleir, born Marsteg Drammer, never even came to Buentoille; they were born, lived the entirety of their life and died in Helmuud’s Hill. In 1989 the Helmounter Bervik Shaleboot, tired of Buentoille’s misappropriation of their home-grown saint, wrote a long and well-researched book entitled Saint Beleir Is Not Yours, which effectively took apart the familiar Buentoilliçan story and revealed the roots beneath. Unfortunately for Shaleboot, barely anyone read it, and the festival continues unhindered.
Shaleboot contested that whilst the historical Saint Beleir did allegedly find Attunement during the chase, the momentary higher state of consciousness merely enabled them to pre-empt the thief’s actions and thereby catch them. The branch of the Chastise Church which dwells in Helmuud’s Hill has its own Hierarchs, most of whom were either members of the ruling Helmounter families, or in their pockets. The Drammer family was one of the more influential of these families at the time, and it is likely that Marsteg Drammer gained his sainthood primarily through the prestige this afforded.
Quite how the tale came to be turned it to its (frankly much kinder) Buentoilliçan alternative is unclear, but it is probably liked to the radical preacher Berve Sapin, who regularly agitated for the Church to become more involved in helping the poor and downtrodden, and may have ‘retold’ the story of Saint Beleir in such a way that it supported her cause.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Moratorium of the Seven Day
- The Festival of Rephla Girim’s Golden Egg