In the wake of Covid-19 the internet is abuzz with stories proclaiming that “Yes, there is in fact a Saint Corona, and she’s Patron of Pandemics.”
Though this makes for good clickbait, and it’s being shared throughout the internet, in truth there is zero precedence for Saint Corona being a remover of illness or disease. She has not in any way historically been the patron of epidemics or pandemics. Also, like many saints, she likely never existed. But one might argue, this makes her no less real.
According to legend Saint Carona was friend to and comforter of Saint Victor, a Roman Soldier and martyr, when he was tortured and killed for his faith. She too was later martyred by being tied between two bent palm trees which, when untied, tore her in half.
Saint Corona gets her name from a vision she had of two crowns. One which was meant for her and one meant for Saint Victor. Strangely, Saint Corona has more historically been viewed as a patron of treasure hunters which came as the result of a successful treasure hunter crediting her for his success.
Though, don’t mistake me here, I’m all for rebranding and resurrecting a folk saint to make her more relevant to the current moment. To be fair, most of the saints on the list which follows didn’t begin their careers associated with healing the plague but were only given that patronage hundreds of years after their deaths. I’ll admit there’s a certain beauty behind Corona being turned to and dusted off as our patron of healing and hope during this pandemic. So perhaps Saint Carona is having a moment. And if the Internet has it’s say, she’ll likely join this more formal list of patrons in years to come. Time will tell.
However, there are numerous other saints worth noting that have a long history of patronage over pandemics and plagues. The following is a collection of some of the more commonly venerated in times of disease and illness.
Saint Rosalie was born a noble but chose to live out her days as a hermit alone in a cave on Mount Pellegrino and spend her life in contemplative service to Christ. She died in that cave in 1166. It is said that on the wall of the cave she left an inscription reading “I, Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Roses, and Quisquina, have taken the resolution to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Nearly five hundred years later Rosalie appeared in visions to both an ill woman, and then a hunter during a plague which was upon the city of Palermo, Italy.
She told the hunter where he would find her bones, led him to her remains, and instructed him that they should be carried throughout the city in a precession.
After her bones were recovered and lead thought the city three times the plague lifted and a permanent shrine was erected to her. Since then she has not only been the patron of Palermo, but also one of plagues and pandemics.
Saint Sebastian was a twice martyred saint who died as a result of his fervent attempts at conversion. It is said that he was a Roman soldier who eventually became a captain of the Praetorian Guard and served under Emperor Diocletian. During his time in the service, while his superiors were unaware of his faith, he successfully converted many and played a role in freeing the martyred brothers Marcus and Marcellian.
When his faith was discovered by Diocletian it was ordered that Sebastian be executed. He was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. In some accounts he was shot so full of arrows as to resemble an urchin of the sea. After which he was left for dead.
Later, when Irene of Rome (the widow of the martyred St. Castulus and a Saint in her own right) went to wash and retrieve Sebastian’s body, she miraculously found that he was still alive. She tended to his wounds and nursed him back to health.
Once he’d healed from his wounds and regained his strength Sebastian confronted Diocletian and publicly chastised him for his treatment of Christians. As a result Diocletian ordered Sebastian to be clubbed to death and had his body thrown into the sewers. His body was later retrieved by a woman named Lucina and buried in the catacombs of Calixtus where his Basilica stands today.
Sebastian finds himself an odd but popular choice as Patron of plagues. It is believed that the arrows he was pierced by might be seen as an allegory for the arrows of illness, and the subsequent suffering and wounds which afflicted the bodies of those who were struck with the Black Plague. His ability to heal from his first martyrdom indicates his ability heal others from these correlated afflictions. He was prayed to for intercession during plagues in Rome (in 680), Milan (1575) and Lisbon (1599). And still today he is popularly turned to in the face of plagues and pandemic.
Born into wealth as the son of the governor of Montpellier France it is said that Saint Roche was a miraculous birth which was a result of his mother’s prayers to the Holy Virgin. He was born with the mark of a red cross upon his chest which was further seen as him having been touched by god. Upon the death of his parents he turned over control of Montpellier to his uncle, gave up his wealth, and donated his entire fortune to the poor.
He then went on pilgrimage throughout plague beset Italy, tending to and helping to heal the ill. Where he is said to have cured person after person in city after city of the plague. This was accomplished by his prayer, the sign of the cross, and his touch. He eventually fell prey to the plague himself, after which he went into seclusion deep in the woods. There he built a small hut and befriended a dog which brought him bread and licked his wounds to assist in their healing. Through this, Saint Roche also become a well known and beloved patron of dogs. With the aid of his canine companion he eventually recovered from the plague and lived.
He later returned to France, but not wanting to be known for his miraculous deeds in Italy, he humbly lived disguised and hid his identity. This led to him being accused of being a spy, arrested, and imprisoned where he later died. In some tellings is believed his uncle had him arrested. After his death his true identity was discovered and he was given a funeral befitting the miracles he performed in life. He has since been venerated and prayed to for intercession in times of plague and illness.
Saint Edmund was a King of East Anglia from roughly 855c.e.- 869c.e.
Much of what is know of his life is speculative, but according to legend he was a model king who met his end at the hands of the Danes who tried to force him to renounce his faith. When he refused they beat him, shot him with arrows, and beheaded him. It is said that his head was tossed into the forest. When his head was searched for it was later found when a spectral wolf lead way to it whilst exclaiming “here, here, here!”
During the Middle Ages Edmund was regarded as the patron saint of England. It was also during this time that he reached his popularity as a patron against pandemics and plague.
The Fourteen Holy Helpers
The Fourteen Holy Helpers are a group of saints venerated together which are believed to be particularly effective against various diseases. This grouping of saints originated in the 14th century in response to the Black Plague. Though there is no church sanctioned feast of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and many of these saints have their own individual feast days, the Fourteen Holy Helpers are often celebrated collectively on August 8th.
The fourteen holy helpers include the following saints: St. Agathius, St. Barbara, St. Blaise, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Christopher, St. Cyriacus, St. Denis, St. Erasmus, St. Eustace, St. George, St. Giles, St. Margaret of Antioch, St. Pantaleon, St. Vitus
Saint Christopher and Saint Giles were invoked against the plague itself. Saint Denis was prayed to for relief from headache, Saint Blaise for ills of the throat, Saint Elmo for abdominal maladies, Saint Barbara for fever, and Saint Vitus against epilepsy. Saint Pantaleon was the patron of physicians, Saint Cyriacus invoked against temptation on the deathbed, and Saints Christopher, Barbara, and Catherine for protection against a sudden and unprovided for death. Saint Giles was prayed to for a good confession and Saint Eustace as healer of family troubles. Domestic animals were also attacked by the plague, so Saints George, Elmo, Pantaleon, and Vitus were invoked for their protection. Saint Margaret of Antioch is the patron of safe childbirth.