Catholicism: We Have A Saint For That

Here is a fun game to play the next time you are bored and Google is available! It is called the Patron Saint Of Game. The way you play it is, you google “patron saint of [WEIRD THING OF YOUR CHOICE]” and learn something useless. It’s fun!

FUN FACT: The first three are all covered by my patron saint, Raphael; the last is Saint Jude.

There’s a Buzzfeed list and a Cracked article covering exactly this topic already, so I’m not treading new ground here. But here is a shorter list of a few of my favorites – made cooler than any previous article on the subject by personal experience! (Not actually.)

3. Saint Joseph of Cupertino: Patron Saint of Astronauts

I used to have this book of saints as a kid. I don’t remember what it was called, but I must have read the entire thing twenty thousand times between the ages of six and ten. All I remember about it was that it had cute cartoony pictures and made LIBERAL USE of CAPSLOCK and EXCLAMATION POINTS!! Sometimes the capslock was for EMPHASIS and sometimes it WASN’T; tiny Sarah found this an irritating stylistic choice, but apparently not enough to stop reading.

I remember Saint Joseph of Cupertino from this book, and it was to find his name that I googled “patron saint of astronauts” this morning. “Patron saints of weird things,” I thought. “Don’t we have one of astronauts?” And lo! A google did reveal that etc.

This guy was made the patron of astronauts because it was believed that he prayed with such fervor that, totally without his noticing, he would levitate off the ground several feet. For this he was apparently deemed “disruptive” by his superiors, which I think really says something about the medieval Church – namely, that claiming that this happened was not considered an unusual thing to do while praying, to the point that it was annoying. “Somebody pull Joe down before he hooks himself on the candelabra. For Christ’s sake.”

I personally consider this patronage to be a bit of a stretch; but until we land a Pope on the moon, I think we’re going to have to take what we can get. Thanks, Saint Joe.

2. Saint Liborius of Le Mans: Patron Saint against Gallstones

This guy gets on my list because he is also the patron saint of Paderborn, the city where I spent my year abroad in Germany. His bones are buried under the cathedral there; there are statues to him all around the city; the mall and movie theater are named after him; every July they have a week-long festival in his honor.

Honestly, I like this guy a lot. He was a peacemaker and a community developer. He forged bonds of brotherhood and took care of sick people. He’s always depicted hanging out with peacocks, and that shade of blue has come to be associated with him in the area. (His other symbol is three stones placed upon a Bible; the implication is that they are gallstones, which, if I’m honest, is kind of gross.)

The reason he makes this list is because of the reason he’s the patron saint against gallstones. Way back when, that particular region of Germany had water with unusually high limestone content (the legacy of which can still be seen in the monthly cleaning routines of the residents, who are forced to decalcify every water-bearing appliance in the house regularly to avoid destroying them – people tell me Germans are snobs for only drinking bottled water, to which I say, I won’t pray to Liborius for you when you reap the internal calcified consequences of your arrogance). It being, like, 1300, nobody knew why everybody in Paderborn was getting gallstones all the time; but evidently, some thousand years after Liborius’ death, praying at his shrine became a miraculous cure for them. After a few such healings were reported, it was decided that he must just take an interest in that kind of thing, and so gallstones became his prerogative.

I love this as an example of Catholic Problem-Solving. Epidemic of calcified organs? Hey, you! Up there! In eternal communion with the God of the universe! You got this!

1. Saint Anthony the Great: Patron Saint of Skin Diseases

There exists a saint for every single disease in existence. There are patron saints for specific cancers, and for unexplained aches in specific parts of the body. Plague has multiple patrons, as does mental illness of every description. …I have now been distracted ten minutes playing Patron Saint Of Game for various diseases, and have learned, for example, that Christina the Astonishing (what a name!) is the patron of mental disorders, and that Francis Xavier Cabrini is the patron against malaria, and Valentine AND Roch AND Natalia are patrons against bubonic plague, and Aspren against migraines and Pio against… New Years’ blues……? What…..?

….but! Saint Anthony! He is known for many things; he lived life as a hermit, mostly, performing miracles and having visions and living in a tomb. His greatest affliction in life, according to Wikipedia, was boredom; God cured him of this by sending an angel to teach him to weave palm branches into friendship bracelets. His patronage of skin diseases came about because of a hospital built in his name some seven hundred years later, where he supposedly assisted (as with Liborius and the gallstones) in the healing of many such diseases.

Despite this similarity to Liborius’ canonization situation, Anthony makes this list because of this account of his veneration. This one describes the confusion that has arisen in the past, due to the fact that Anthony’s symbol is the pig – one might believe, as a result, that he is the patron saint of pigs. This is not the case! Anthony, most people say, had nothing to do with pigs, ever, in his life. He is of no help to swineherds anywhere. He cannot pray on behalf of our delicious porky brethren. No, the account says, a common treatment for rashes and dry, itchy skin in his day was an application of pork fat, and thence springs the connection. But this must have been difficult to represent artistically, and so Anthony picked up the patronage of swineherds in some circles as the result of a misunderstanding. (Rest assured, however, that swineherds have by no means been left out to dry – they may also appeal to Saint Anthony of Padua or Saint Blaise in their time of need.)

I’m a Catholic. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a leg to stand on if I want to accuse anyone of being arbitrary. But this just seems– a little pedantic to me! What the hell do they mean, there was a misunderstanding? Look– this is a religion that continues to venerate multiple saints who do not exist. We have saints who have been allowed to hang around for no other reason than that their names are really funny. We have saints who are pagan gods with the serial numbers rubbed off. They retain their patronage and have churches built to them and no one feels any need to correct those misunderstandings! What goes on in Paradise when someone comes to Saint Anthony the Great for pig-related problems? “O Holy Saint Anthony,” the supplicant says, eyes squeezed shut, hands clasped, kneeling before the lit candle, “Let my sow deliver successfully; let her litter be large; may she roll on very few of her offspring and may they grow up, on the whole, delicious.” Saint Anthony sweats. He makes a helpless gesture. He opens his mouth to speak. He turns to Anthony of Padua and mouths, Can you take this one?

“Not really my area,” he’ll say apologetically later, over drinks. “Don’t know where they got that idea. Helped out with that nasty case of acne earlier, though. That was nice.”

I’m a Catholic. You don’t have to tell me my religion makes no sense. But this is why Anthony the Great makes this list – not because of anything he did, but because of what his presence in our canon says about our religion. This attempted disambiguation (disampiguation?) says, I think, less about the average Catholic’s ability to interpret medieval iconic symbolism and more about the fact that our religion is fucking confusing.

…The patron saint of confusion, by the way, is Dymphna.

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