Useful Notes: Patron Saints

All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles look down as she sells her wares.
Although you can't see them, you know they are smiling each time someone shows that he cares.
Mary Poppins, from Mary Poppins, written by the Sherman Brothers.

Real Life saints who have been invoked as patrons in fiction.

Many such saints have many legends accrete about a bare kernel of fact, such as a name listed as a martyr. Real legends that help explain their patronage may also be included below. An important theological underpinning is that these saints are intercessors. Having died and been canonized, the Church tradition says that each of these saints is in heaven with God. Then, in their state of grace, these saints pray to God on behalf of the faithful who pray to them. Think of them as heavenly advocates who have some "insider perks" with the Almighty. Worshiping a saint is right out — also known as "putting other gods before God," which you might notice is not looked upon kindly. Anyway, saints aren't gods — they're just ordinary people who were extraordinarily holy.

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     Kinds of Sainthood 
Aside from the archangels, who are immortal by human standards and live outside of time, the first saints to exist are the evangelists and the apostles. These are two extremely exclusive groups: Evangelists wrote the Gospels, and there are exactly four of them: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (apocryphal writers don’t count). The apostles number twelve, all men, including the evangelists. They are the hand-picked among Jesus’ followers to be His closest students, and the leaders of His Church after His Ascension. (The Church doesn’t recognize any female apostles, but women were a part of Christ’s ministry at the very beginning, including Mary, His Mother, Mary of Magdala, and more.)

After Christ’s Ascension, as Christianity grew in numbers, they began to face persecution by the Roman Empire. This led to the second chronological body of saints: Martyrs. The Roman Empire got extremely creative in its punishment of those who failed to honor the Roman gods (though reports about being fed to lions seem to have been greatly exaggerated). Those who continued to profess their faith even unto the moment of death were said to have borne witness to the divinity of Christ, and thus Christians called them “martyrs,” the Greek word for “witness.”

History turned onward, Constantine had a vision, and with one thing and another Christianity became the dominant faith of the Roman Empire, and then of Western Europe. Obviously as Christians were in power, the martyrdoms stopped — unless you were trying to convert non-Christians to the faith, and died by the hand of said non-Christians. Then you could still be called a martyr.

Different models of holiness rose into prominence. Confessor then was the title given to those who “confessed” the word of God in their words and deeds. Abbots and Abbesses founded and ran monastic communities dedicated to contemplation, or learning, or helping the poor. Stylites decided to remove themselves from the world as much as possible, by climbing to the exposed tops of pillars and staying there for years at a time, not unlike other saints who self-flagellated and mortified their flesh. Women who pledged their chastity to God and protected it with their life were given the title Virgin. And, of course, Popes are always popular candidates for Sainthood.

     Feast Days 
Every day in the calendar, in the eyes of a strict Catholic, is the Feast Day of some saint or another (or a few). Some dates are the known anniversaries of births, deaths, or miracles. Others were older, pagan festivals of local deities that had been Hijacked by Jesus. And some days there doesn’t seem to have been any rhyme or reason, but there was an empty day and a Saint to spare, so just put them together, and you have another feast day to celebrate.

A baby born on a saint’s feast day might be named after that particular saint, and gender is no obstacle. A little girl born on March 19th, the feast day of St. Joseph, would be named Josephine, for instance. The patron saint then acts as a sort of guardian angel (though not strictly angelic) for their little namesake’s protection and guidance. Also frequently seen is that when Catholic churches are founded, they are named after the Saint on whose feast day the Church was consecrated, or founded, or when the first stone was laid, or so on. An icon or statue of that Saint will be placed prominently within the space, to remind the congregants who their patron is.

     So You Want to Be a Patron Saint… 
The first step in becoming a Catholic saint is... to be Christian. Be a baptized, practicing Christian, preferably one of the Catholic denominations (depending on which Pope you'd like to have canonize you). The second step is to live a good, virtuous life, to radiate God’s love and sanctity, and to be an inspiring example to others. The third step is to die.

Catholic tradition holds that the souls of the blessed reside even now in Heaven with the Almighty. We have precious few tropers editing this wiki in Heaven, so we have to stick with earthy matters of a process called ‘’canonization.’’ Canonization is lengthy and complicated, and takes years. The candidate’s life is thoroughly examined, and those who knew the candidate in life testify to their holiness, while a Devil's Advocate looks into the most sordid elements of the candidate’s life, and accounts for why they are not worthy (yes, this is where the term comes from – Devil’s Advocates are actually employees of the Vatican).

If your candidate passes this level, they are declared Venerable. The second threshold is passed when the candidate’s intercession (through prayer, or the use of a relic) brings about a miracle. After an investigation to be sure it was a miracle, and not a mistake, the Church then declares that the candidate is in heaven with God, and they are declared Blessed, or Beatified. Their recognition won’t extend beyond their home diocese. However, if the intercession of the candidate brings another miracle, then the candidate can be canonized, given the title of Saint, and recognized throughout the Catholic world. They might even get their own Feast Day.

     Imagery, Relics, and Holy Miscellany 
Pretty much wherever saints appear, they are designated by their particular iconography. Evangelists, for example, carry a scroll or book and a quill, and their symbolic companion stands or floats beside them. Martyrs traditionally hold a palm, and often are depicted holding the weapons that killed them, sometimes even their own dismembered body parts. It’s gruesome, but they stand triumphant, prevailing forever over the cruelty of the world. Saints whose patronage extends to entire nations will typically carry or wear national symbols. Separate saints have their own iconography, too much to get into here. The Other Wiki serves as an excellent resource, for the curious.

Several saints, including St. Francis of Assisi, are recognizable for bearing the stigmata. The stigmata is a Wound That Will Not Heal which mirrors the wounds of Christ's Passion, and it has five parts: the wounds from the nails driven into Christ's wrists and ankles, and the spear cut sliced into His side. Occasionally depictions include the punctures from the crown of thrones, and Maronite Catholicism recognizes an additional wound, the bruise on His shoulder from carrying the cross. God "blesses" sufficiently holy souls with the stigmata in recognition of their holiness and their desire to emulate Christ. Sometimes the stigmata causes great pain and stink, other times people report a saint's wounds as smelling sweet, with the "Odor of Sanctity." The wound can be partial; St. Rita of Cascia wore a thorn wound on her forehead, but nothing else. The Stigmata is frequently included in icons of Christ, and it's common for saint iconography, as well.

Relics are, in addition to frequent MacGuffins from old time Age of Empires campaigns, objects that are imbued with so much of the saint’s sanctity that they are themselves revered (not worshipped, mind – just revered). Different relics are credited with miraculous healings, or have served as omens or oracles. There are two kinds: items touched by the saint, such as clothing or objects for Mass, and actual body parts of the saint, preserved behind glass and on velvet cushions. Some saints’ bodies are even credited with “incorruptibility,” meaning they’ve been exhumed years post-mortem and their bodies are not decayed – sometimes even fresh. (Catholicism is hardcore, man.)

Note that Catholic Saints avert One Steve Limit hard — Saints are frequently given an extra title, such as their home town, to help distinguish them.

As a final note, although this page tries to talk about Christianity and saints with benevolence and very little irony, the communion of saints is not stainless, just like many other aspects of the Roman Catholic Church. While we can all agree that feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless are good things to do, other saints' legacies are contested. Let the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment apply, in case of controversies.

The Communion of Well-Known Patron Saints Includes:

  • The Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, Queen of All Saints. Mary bore and raised Jesus, assisted in His ministry, witnessed His Resurrection, and was (according to Catholic tradition) assumed bodily into heaven. That'd be miraculous enough for anyone, but Mary wasn't content with that. She's had an astonishingly active Biblical career, according to pious legend. She is, among other things, patroness of the United States (the US being hostile to Catholics until one became President, the American Church must have figured that they needed the biggest guns they could find), and of France (that's why the most prominent church in all of France — and many more besides — are called Notre Dame, "Our Lady"). She is also the patroness of Mexico. Known by a myriad of titles — you can find an "Our Lady of" just about anything. Beloved and revered in many ways all around the world.
  • Saint Agnes, patron saint of girls, chastity, and rape victims. She lived in Imperial Rome, and when she refused to worship the Roman gods she was publicly stripped, dragged to a brothel, and her persecutors attempted to rape her, but they were struck blind.
  • Saint Anthony (of Padua — there are others), known as the Saint of Miracles; patron saint of Portugal, the postal service, elderly people and the oppressed, among many other things. Best known as the finder of lost things due to his prodigious memory.
  • Saint Barbara, patron saint of those in dangerous occupations (including Russian rocketeers).
    • She is the patron saint of all occupations where imminent and violent death is ubiquitous, including miners, artillerymen, military engineers and steelworkers.
  • Saint Bernadette, patron saint of the sick and poverty-stricken.
  • Saint Catherine (of Siena — there are others), a great mystic and theological writer who is now one of the Doctors of the Church; she mortified herself greatly for her faith, and is most famous for having a vision of a holy marriage to the infant Jesus. Patron saint of those ridiculed for their piety, of protection in childbirth, of nurses, and against fire.
  • Saint Cecelia, patroness of musicians.
  • Saint Christopher, who carried Christ across a river, patron saint of travellers, and a medal of whom is usually featured in a car, is often the butt of car-related jokes.
  • Saint Dismas, the traditional name of the thief crucified to Jesus's right. Patron of thieves
  • Saint Dymphna. Historically, there is evidence of a martyr of this name. She picked up a legend of having repulsed her father's attempts to rape and murder her — like the Fairy Tale "All Kinds of Fur" Donkeyskin, and their variants — and is the patroness of the insane and emotionally disturbed.
  • Saint Francis of Assisi, a popular and recognizable saint. He cast aside his worldly riches to live in severe poverty, and was known to have a gift with animals, even preaching to birds and calming wolves. He was a humble lover of nature, and the first recorded Christian to receive the stigmata. He is the patron saint of animals and the environment (and those who care for the same, like veterinarians and conservationists), merchants, and the Cub Scouts, as well as the city of San Francisco, CA.
    • Interesting current events trivia, Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, when he was called to the Church's highest office, took the name Francis in emulation of the Saint, becoming Papa Francisco — and the first Pope to take that name. So far, he has won acclaim for his humility in dress and his emphasis on service and good works, rather than haggling over doctrine, so he is doing his namesake proud.
  • Saint George, the preacher, legionary, and dragon-slayer, patron saint of England, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Catalonia, Georgia, and...screw it, let's just say half of Europe; a ridiculous number of cities; armored units; and the Boy Scouts.
  • Saint Hedwig of Silesia, who reigned briefly as Duchess. She was tireless in her efforts to help the poor and the displaced refugees of the many wars of Central Europe in the thirteenth century (including the Mongol invasion of Poland!). Perhaps this is why she is the patron saint of orphans, which earned her a very famous avian namesake. Also a patroness of Berlin, Brandenberg, and Poland.
  • Saint Jerome, patron saint of translators - with good reason; that he translated the Bible (which, whatever one may think of it or the beliefs described therein, is an extremely complex, long and culturally detailed book) would already be quite a feat even WITH computers and translation memory software and so on; imagine WITHOUT, BY HAND. Considered to be one of the fathers of the Church for that precise reason.
  • Saint Joan of Arc, co-patron saint of France (Saint Denis is the original patron) and archetypal Action Girl, the Jeanne d'Archétype. She's also the patron saint of prisoners and, more famously, of military personnel, including soldiers, women who have served in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), and Women's Army Corps.
  • Saint John the Baptist, who was Jesus' slightly older cousin. He went out into the desert, wearing a camel-hair shirt and carrying a cross-shaped staff, and told people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. He began the practice of baptism for the forgiveness of sins and induction into a new faith, by immersing believers in the River Jordan. The highlight of his career was when Jesus Himself arrived. John baptized him, and the Holy Spirit made a rare on-Earth appearance to grace Jesus and signal the start of His ministry.
  • Saint Joseph, foster-father of Jesus. A humble carpenter of Galilee who happened to be a direct descendant of the great King David. He died before Jesus' public ministry began, and knew very well he was Jesus' foster-father, but loved Him just as much as if He was his own flesh and blood, and raised Him with virtue and goodness. Sometimes is shown as an aged, aged man, to indicate a chaste marriage with Mary. Is the patron of all manual laborers, of fathers, of immigrants (for guiding his family through the journey to Bethlehem and the Flight into Egypt), of Canada, Croatia, Korea, and Vietnam, and to ensure a happy death (because he passed away peacefully at an old age, with his wife and his son around him).
  • Saint Jude, not to be confused with Judas Iscariot; might be the most unfortunate victim of the One Yehuda Limit. One of the twelve Apostles, sometimes called Thaddeus, who is credited with having brought Christianity to Armenia. He has a special designation as patron saint of Lost Causes, in fact, there's even a song dedicated to him. And he's the patron of police officers.
    • He is also the patron saint of St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. A young actor by the name of Danny Thomas prayed to Saint Jude to help him find an acting job, promising he would found a shrine in St. Jude's honor if he did. Danny got a job soon after, and the cancer fighting hospitals were born.
  • Saint Mark, the Evangelist, patron of Egypt, Venice, and barristers/litigators.
  • Saint Martha (of Bethany). Patron saint of housewives, because Jesus visited her frequently (along with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus), and when they did, Martha was always the generous hostess while her siblings listened and learned. Also legendarily attributed with having killed a dragon.
  • Saint Mary Magdalene, a close student of Jesus, and among the first to witness the Resurrection. The Gospel of Luke says that Jesus drove seven demons out of her. Later commentators decided that this meant that Mary Magdalene "must" have been a sinful woman who spent her entire post-Christ career in mournful repentance. If you see her as the prostitute who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and perfume, and then dried His feet with her hair, that's more like Biblical Fanon than Canon. Still, her Rapunzel Hair and perfume bottle are her most recognizable attributes, and she's the patron saint of prostitutes, converts, and those who live a contemplative life.
    • There is an apocryphal, fragmentary Gospel of Mary Magdalene, in which Mary of Magdala is an exalted mystic, and had a special (undefined) relationship with Jesus.
  • Saint Michael the Archangel, highly regarded for being a Knight In Shining Armour and general of God's army. Patron saint of police officers.
    • The Church also recognizes two other Archangels and designates them as saints along with Michael: Gabriel, the messenger angel who informed Mary that she was pregnant with the Messiah, and Raphael, featured in the Book of Tobit note , who is associated with healers and the protection of travelers.
  • Saint Nicholas, a.k.a. Santa Claus (a lot of Multilingual Memetic Mutation was involved), who surreptitiously gave gold to the poor, patron saint of children; also patron of (repentant) thieves and of bankers, moneylenders, and financiers (including pawnbrokers—hence the three golden orbs.) His Feast Day is December 6th, which used to be the day when children would receive presents (Christmas itself was reserved for liturgy and feasting).
    • The most famous legend is that a poor father had three daughters with no dowry, and therefore no marriage prospects, and a likely eventual fate as prostitutes. Nicholas the Bishop helped them under cover of night, by throwing bags of gold down their chimney, one for each daughter, saving their futures.
  • Saint Olaf, formerly a uniting King of Norway, now its patron saint. Legend credits him with converting his country to Christianity; modern historians are less certain, and speculate that he may have been a bit more pagan and bloodthirsty than sainthood usually warrants. History is silent on whether or not he liked warm hugs.
  • Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, said to have driven the snakes out of Ireland. As there are no snakes native to Ireland, this is taken to be symbolic of driving out the pagan influences (that, or he was very, very thorough).
  • Saint Peter, portrayed as standing at the Pearly Gates of heaven and acting as God's bouncer, as it were. Famously crucified upside-down (which is why if you wear an upside-down cross to be "Satanic," you are doing it wrongnote ). Patron of the Papacy, as he also has the distinction of being the first Pope.
    • He and Saint Paul tag-team as the patron saints of Rome and the Vatican.
  • Saint Thomas More, patron saint of politicians, statesmen, and lawyers.
  • Saint Veronica, patron saint of photography. During Christ's passion, Veronica wiped his face with a cloth, and the cloth miraculously bore Christ's image.
  • The Internet claims as patron saints Gabriel, Charles Borromeo, and (officially) Isidore, who began work on the Etymologiae, a Great Big Book of Everything, in the 7th century CE.
  • Should you ever need an intercessor fast while editing This Very Wiki, another saint who can help is Saint Clare of Assisi, the patron saint of television. The legend goes that one day she was lying too ill to attend Mass, but by a miracle was permitted to see and hear the service as if displayed on the wall of her room. She is also prayed to for help with telegraphs, telephones, and to ensure nice weather. And if you're wondering, yes, she knew St. Francis of Assisi, in fact they were close friends and colleagues.
  • ...and other saints with unusual patronage. There can be a lot of overlap in patronage, particularly in issues that cause people to pray a lot.
    • In a strange but ubiquitous bit of trivia, many martyrs ended up becoming patron saints related to their method of martyrdom. For example, Saint Lucy's eyes were gouged out, but restored miraculously. Now she's the patron saint of eye problems. And so on and so forth. This makes sense — if you have trouble with your health, you want an intercessor with first hand experience — but then this bleeds over into professions. St. Bartholomew, who legend says was skinned alive, is the patron saint of tanners and leatherworkers. And St. Lawrence, who was traditionally martyred by roasting alive on a grill (and made a joke about how he was done on one side and needed to be turned over) is the patron saint of cooks (and comedians). Odd... One wonders if some recorder on the way had a rather dark sense of humor.