We have all heard the story – you know the one, about Saint Patrick driving the snakes from the emerald isle with his holy stick? My father (a Dubliner) took great enjoyment in embellishing the tale for his children, with Saint Pat ‘scaring the bejesus out of the little devils, herding them across the sea to settle on English shores’. Of course there never were any snakes in Ireland and it is more likely a symbolic reference to the ‘driving out’ of ancient druid beliefs from Ireland, but it does highlight the mystical powers and often odd connections associated with patron saints.
Have you ever heard of Saint Fiacre? Born in Ireland in the 6th century he is generally known as the patron saint of growing food and medicinal plants, but he also had a reputed aversion to women, hence the reason he is known as the patron saint of venereal disease sufferers. However, his most notable gift was his ability to heal haemorrhoids. ‘Saint Fiacre’s illness’ as it was so named during the medieval period, was very common and prayers were dedicated to Saint Fiacre who reputedly once sat upon a large rock to contemplate causing the stone to soften and melt away!
Faith brought hope to people in a period when a medicinal cure for many afflictions was unheard of or was unlikely, so it is hardly surprising that a saint could be evoked for just about any circumstance. Saint Roch, born about 1295 was venerated by many with the Black Death for he had reportedly both contracted the disease and survived and was able to cure others by marking them with the sign of the cross. Today Saint Roch is known as the patron saint of dogs as he was allegedly cured by his own pet who licked clean his open sores.
And the patron saint of writers? – Saint Francis de Sales, so named because of his books, the most famous of which was ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’. It was as unusual for the time as it was written particularly for laypeople and counselled charity over penance as a means of progressing in the spiritual life. Perhaps a lesson for us all?