Catholic Activity: Fourteen Holy Helpers
During medieval times, particularly during the Black Plague, devotion arose for the Fourteen Holy Helpers or Auxiliary Saints. This lists the saints and their patronage.
The Fourteen "Auxiliary Saints" or "Holy Helpers" are a group of saints invoked because they have been efficacious in assisting in trials and sufferings. Each saint has a separate feast or memorial day, and the group was collectively venerated on August 8, until the 1969 reform of the Roman calendar, when the feast was dropped. These saints were often represented together. Popular devotion to these saints often began in some monastery that held their relics. All of the saints except Giles were martyrs. Devotion to some of the saints, such as St. George, St. Margaret, St. Christopher, St. Barbara and St. Catherine became so widespread that customs and festivals still are popular today.
The Fourteen Holy Helpers are invoked as a group mainly because of the Black Plague which devastated Europe from 1346 to 1349. Among its symptoms were the black tongue, a parched throat, violent headache, fever, and boils on the abdomen. The victims were attacked without warning, robbing them of their reason, and killed within a few hours; many died without the last Sacraments. No one was immune, and the disease wreaked havoc in villages and family circles. The epidemic appeared incurable. The pious turned to Heaven, begging the intervention of the saints, praying to be spared or cured. Each of these fourteen saints had been efficacious in interceding in some aspect for the stricken during the Black Plague. The dates are the traditional feast days; not all the saints are on the Universal Roman Calendar.
(1) St. George (April 23rd), soldier-martyr. Invoked for protection for domestic animals and against herpetic diseases. Also patron of soldiers, England, Portugal, Germany, Aragon, Genoa and Venice. He is pictured striking down a dragon.
St. George is venerated by the Eastern Church among her "great martyrs" and "standard-bearers." He belonged to the Roman army; he was arrested and, probably, beheaded under Diocletian, c. 304. The Latin Church as well as the Greek honors him as patron of armies. He is the patron of England, since 800. Many legends are attached to Saint George. The most famous is the one in The Golden Legend. There was a dragon that lived in a lake near Silena, Libya. Not even armies could defeat this creature, and he terrorized flocks and the people. St. George was passing through and upon hearing about a princess was about to be eaten, he went to battle against the serpent, and killed it with one blow with his lance. Then with his great preaching, George converted the people. He distributed his reward to the poor, then left the area.
(2) St. Blaise (also Blase and Blasius) (February 3rd), bishop and martyr. He is invoked against diseases of the throat. Blessing of the throats takes place on his feast day. St. Blaise is pictured with two crossed candles.
St. Blaise was a native of Sebaste in Armenia. It is thought he was a physician and later was ordained and priest and became bishop of his native city. He had to go into hiding to escape continual persecution, but was finally arrested, atrociously tortured and put to death, under Licinius, in 316. His cult spread rapidly in both East and West, and many cures were attributed to him, notably that of a child who was suffocating through a fish bone being caught in his throat. According to legend, he was a healer of men and animals. He is invoked for all throat afflictions, and on his feast two candles are blessed with a prayer that God will free from all such afflictions and every ill all those who receive this blessing.
(3) St. Erasmus (also St. Elmo) (June 2nd), bishop and martyr. He is invoked against diseases of the stomach and intestine, protection for domestic animals and patron of sailors. He is pictured with his entrails wound around a windlass.
St. Erasmus was a bishop of Asia Minor. He fled to Mount Lebanon during the persecution of Diocletian and was miraculously fed by a raven while in hiding. Eventually he was captured and martyred at Formiae, Campagna, Italy c. 303. He is invoked for intestinal diseases, for his legend asserts that he was tortured by winding his entrails round a windlass. He is also called St. Elmo, and the static electricity on ships at seas, Saint Elmo's Fire, is named after him.
(4) St. Pantaleon (July 27th), martyr. Invoked against consumption, protection for domestic animals and patron of physicians and midwives. He is pictured with his hands nailed together.
St. Pantaleon was a doctor, devoted to the spiritual and temporal welfare of his patients. He was captured and tortured extensively. He was nailed to a tree and then beheaded at Nicomedia, c. 303, under Diocletian.
(5) St. Vitus (also St. Guy) (June 15th), martyr. Invoked in epilepsy, chorea ("St. Vitus' dance"), lethargy, and the bites of poisonous or mad animals and against storms. Also protection for domestic animals. Patron of dancer and actors. St. Vitus is pictured with his cross.
According to legend, St. Vitus, also called St. Guy, was a Sicilian nobleman's son, who was baptized against his father's wishes and martyred in 303 Modestus and Crescentia, Christian members of his household. He is invoked to cure epilepsy, or "St. Vitus' dance."
(6) St. Christopher (also Christophorus) (July 25th), martyr. Invoked against the plague and sudden death. He is the patron of travelers, especially motorists, and is also invoked in storms. Usually pictured carrying the Child Jesus on his shoulder.
St. Christopher was martyred in Asia Minor around 250. His name, Greek for "Christ-bearer" is the origin of the legend that he was a giant who carried the Christ Child across a river. He is still considered a saint by the Church, although his feastday was removed from the General Roman Calendar due to lack of historical evidence.
(7) St. Denis (also Dionysius) (October 9th), bishop and martyr. Invoked against diabolical possession and headaches. Pictured carrying his head in his hands.
St. Denis was the first bishop of Paris and was one of the six bishops sent to France in the middle of the 3rd century by Pope Fabian. He was beheaded at Catulliacum, now Saint-Denis.
(8) St. Cyriacus (also Cyriac) (August 8th), deacon and martyr. Invoked against diseases of the eye and diabolical possession. Also interceded for those in temptation, especially at the time of death. He is usually pictured as vested as a deacon.
St. Cyriacus, a deacon, was martyred at Rome in 303 during the persecution of Diocletian. He was buried on the Ostian Way.
(9) St. Acathius (also Acacius) (May 8th), martyr. Invoked against headaches and at the time of death's agony. He is pictured with a crown of thorns.
Achatius was a native of Cappadocia and as a youth was a centurion in the Roman army under Emperor Hadrian. He was tortured and beheaded in the persecution of Diocletian.
(10) St. Eustace (also Eustachius, Eustathius) (September 20th), martyr. Invoked against fire — temporal and eternal. Patron of hunters. Patron in all kinds of difficulties, and invoked in family troubles. Pictured with a stag and hunting equipment.
Not much is known about St. Eustace (or more properly Eustathius). He was a pagan Roman general who converted after seeing a glowing cross between a stag's antlers. He and his family were martyred together by being burned inside a bronze bull.
(11) St. Giles (also Aegidius) (September 1st), hermit and abbot. Invoked against the plague, panic, epilepsy, madness, and nightmares and for a good confession. Patron of cripples, beggars, and breastfeeding mothers. He is pictured in a monastic cowl with a hind (deer).
According to tradition, St. Giles was born at Athens, Greece, and was of noble extraction. After his parents died, he fled from his fatherland to avoid followers and fame. He went to France, and in a cave in a forest near the mouth of the Rhone he was able to lead the life of a hermit. Legend has a hind came everyday to his cell and furnished him with milk. One day the King's hunters chased the hind and discovered St. Giles and his secret hermitage. The hunters shot at the hind, but missed and hit Giles' leg with an arrow, which kept him crippled the rest of his life. He then consented to King Theodoric's request by building a monastery (known later as "Saint Gilles du Gard") and he became its first Abbot. He died some eight years later towards 712.
(12) St. Margaret of Antioch (July 20th), virgin and martyr. Invoked against backache. Patron for women in childbirth. She is pictured holding a dragon in chains.
Beheaded at Antioch in Pisidia c. 257. Not much is known about her. One of the legends attached to St. Margaret is that she met the devil, who was in the shape of a dragon. She was swallowed by the dragon, but then escaped safely when the cross she carried irritated the dragon's innards. This is why she is associated with pregnancy, labor, and childbirth although she was a virgin. She was one of the saints who talked to Saint Joan of Arc.
(13) St. Catherine of Alexandria (also Catharine) (November 25th), virgin and martyr. Invoked against diseases of the tongue, protection against a sudden and unprovided death. Patroness of Christian philosophers, of maidens, preachers, wheelwrights, and mechanics. She is also invoked by students, orators, and barristers as "the wise counselor." She is pictured with a broken wheel.
St. Catherine was born at Alexandria and martyred under Maximinus Daia c. 310. Ancient accounts relate that when she was eighteen years old the emperor gathered together a group of philosophers to persuade her to deny Christ and worship idols. She instead convinced them of their error and converted them to Christianity. She is often pictured with a broken wheel, because she was scourged and bound to wheels on which knives were fixed, but the instrument broke. She was finally beheaded.
(14) St. Barbara (December 4th), virgin and martyr. Invoked against fever, lightning, fire and sudden death. Patron of builders, artillerymen and miners. St. Barbara is pictured with a tower and ciborium with a host above it.
St. Barbara's legend was immensely popular, but all we know about her is that was martyred, probably in Asian Minor in the 3rd or 4th century. Her legend had that she was a beautiful maiden, and her father isolated her in a high tower. While there, she was tutored by philosophers, orators and poets and converted to Christianity.
Her father Dioscorus was furious and denounced her to the authorities. They ordered him to kill her. She tried to escape, but he caught her, dragged her home by her hair and then beheaded her. He was immediately struck by lightning, or according to some sources, fire from heaven.
See also August 8 for more information about the Holy Helpers.
Activity Source: Original Text (JGM) by Jennifer Gregory Miller, © Copyright 2003-2023 by Jennifer Gregory Miller