Countries & Cultures - Saints



In Roman Catholic and Orthodox teaching, a man or woman recognized as being in heaven because of their special qualities. In the New Testament, all Christian believers are referred to as saints, but in the 2nd century, veneration of saints (often martyrs) began, and individual saints were eventually looked to for intercession and devotion.

The practice of veneration was forbidden by 16th century Reformers, but continued in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. An elaborate procedure is required before canonization may proceed.


St. George

23rd April

Patron of chivalry, and guardian saint of England and Portugal. He may have been tortured and put to death by Diocletian at Nicomedia, or he may have suffered (c.250) at Lydda in Palestine, where his alleged tomb is exhibited. His name was early obscured by fable, such as the story of his fight with a dragon to rescue a maiden. Feast day 23 April.

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How St George killed the dragon to save the life of a beautiful girl is a well-known legend that has had a significant influence on historical events.

Although it all happened in Libya, it was far-off England that made the hero her patron saint. English warriors adopted St George's name as their rallying call, and the banner of St George used to be carried into battle before the kings of England.

Hardly any facts are known about St George. Even the dates of his birth and of his martyr's death (in C. 303) are the subject of conjecture.

A soldier in the Roman army, and a pagan, George abandoned his military career when, in the pursuit of his duties, he was ordered to imprison converts to the Christian faith. He adopted Christianity and promised henceforth to dedicate his entire life to doing good and to spreading the Christian message wherever he went.

On his arrival in Silene, in Libya, he was told of a fearsome dragon that was terrorizing the city by demanding a daily offering of two sheep. When the town ran out

of animals, the monster insisted on a human sacrifice in their stead. Sadly, the people submitted, choosing by lot the daily victim.

On the day of George's visit, the king's daughter had been picked. Trembling and sobbing, the beautiful girl awaited the gruesome fate of being devoured by the beast. George fearlessly confronted the dragon. He badly wounded it with his lance and then used the princess' belt to lead the now powerless creature into the city!

After returning the girl to her royal father, he killed the dragon. He explained to the king and the people that his Christian faith had given him the supernatural strength needed to achieve the feat. As a result, the entire population, of well over 15,000 people, converted to Christianity.

George then continued on his travels till he was beheaded at the order of the Roman emperor Diocletian, at Lydda in Palestine on 23 April. His martyrdom was in punishment for having reprimanded Diocletian for his cruel and inhumane acts.

The story of George's life and heroic deeds grew in the telling. People were convinced, moreover, that, as well as his fabled exploits, he had performed many other good works that were "known only to God."

English Crusaders first heard of St George, his feats and his fate while they were in the Holy Land. Greatly inspired, they carried his story home to England, where it was soon to capture the imagination of their countrymen. The English came to feel St George's presence in their midst, so much so that eventually they made him their patron saint.

Mystery still surrounds the details of his adoption for this role. Officially, St George became England's patron saint during the reign of King Edward III when, in C. 1348, he founded the famous Most Noble Order of the Garter and placed it under the Saint's patronage. St George's badge - a red cross on white background - became the symbol of England. It was emblazoned on the standards of the army and on the English flag, and the date of his death was celebrated as St George's Day.

By a strange coincidence, Shakespeare, England's greatest dramatist, is believed to have been born (in 1564), and to have died (in 1616), on St George's Day.

St. Andrew

30th November

Patron of chivalry, and guardian saint of England and Portugal. He may have been tortured and put to death by Diocletian at Nicomedia, or he may have suffered (c.250) at Lydda in Palestine, where his alleged tomb is exhibited. His name was early obscured by fable, such as the story of his fight with a dragon to rescue a maiden. Feast day 23 April.

One of the 12 apostles, the brother of Simon Peter. A fisherman, he was converted by John the Baptist. Tradition says he preached the Gospel in Asia Minor and Scythia, and was crucified in Achaia (Greece) by order of the Roman governor. He is the patron saint of Scotland and of Russia. Feast day 30 November.

On 30 November, Scotsmen all over the world celebrate St Andrew's Day. According to tradition, it is the day on which, in A.D. 70, the saint suffered martyrdom. Lively parties, celebrated in typical Scottish fashion, honor his memory. The men wear kilts, haggis is eaten and plenty of drink enjoyed. Dancing reels and the stirring sounds of the bagpipes contribute further to the festive atmosphere.

Paradoxically, the saint so revered by the Scots had never been to Scotland. He never even knew of its existence! His only association with the country was the burial of his bones in Scottish soil.

Accounts of his life and death are indeed scant, though through the centuries they have been embroidered by many a legend. A Galilean fisherman and early follower of Jesus, Andrew had been one of the twelve Apostles. After the crucifixion, he left the Holy Land to travel abroad and spread the Christian message wherever he went. It was a dangerous task, and one frowned upon by the Romans who were then ruling that part of the world and who regarded Andrew's activities as undermining the authority and divinity of their emperor.

They arrested Andrew two days after his arrival in Patras in the Peloponnese and, after flogging him, put him to death. He was crucified on the X-shaped cross now known by his name.

Its choice has been explained in diverse ways. Andrew himself had requested it, one version tells. He is said to have asked for a cross of diagonal beams because he considered himself unworthy to die on an upright one, as Christ had done.

On the other hand, it has been suggested that it was the Romans who purposely and cruelly used this method of execution. It was bound to prolong his agony, and for this reason, too, they fixed him to the cross by cords instead of the usual nails. They had not reckoned on Andrew's extraordinary power of endurance, which enabled him to withstand even the worst of tortures. Indeed, he welcomed the extra time, which gave him the opportunity to go on preaching to the crowd that had gathered around him. He did so to the very last moment.

For almost 300 years the Saint's bones were kept in Patras. One night, in A.D. 368, the monk who was looking after his grave had a vision. An angel, appearing to him in a dream, told him to gather St Andrew's relics and take them by boat to an unknown destination. The monk did as instructed.

After many weeks of sailing, he was shipwrecked at Fife, on the eastern coast of Scotland. He interpreted this as an indication that God willed the saint's remains to be left there. He laid them to rest in a sanctuary he built for this purpose. It is the site of the present- day city and cathedral of St Andrew's.

The Scots, convinced that divine providence had brought St Andrew's bones to their country, made him their patron saint. They believed that he helped them in their battles and took good care of their country. As a Bible-loving people, they may have been influenced in their choice by the traditional representation of the Saint, in which he is shown holding a Bible in his right hand.

St. Patrick

17th March

Apostle of Ireland, born (perhaps) in South Wales. At 16 he was carried to Ireland by pirates, and sold to an Antrim chief. Six years later he escaped and became a monk in France. Ordained a bishop at 45, he then became a missionary to Ireland (432), travelling widely among the chiefs, and in 454 fixed his see at Armagh. He died at Saul (Saulpatrick), and was probably buried at Armagh. The only authentic literary remains of the saint are his Confession, and a letter addressed to a British chieftain, Coroticus.

Traditionally, 17 March is the date both of St Patrick's birth (in C. 385) and of his death (in C. 461). Though the patron saint of Ireland, he was not born on Irish soil. He was, most likely, of Scottish birth.

At the age of sixteen, he was captured by Gaelic raiders. Taking him to Ireland, they sold him there as a slave. Whilst working as a shepherd, Patrick began to ponder about God and came to feel his presence ever more strongly.

After six years, he escaped to the Continent where, possibly in Gaul, he studied religion. He then had a dream. It urged him to go back to Ireland to convert its pagan population to Christianity. He heeded the "call" and in C. 435, this time as a bishop, he returned to embark on his mission.

This was not an easy task. The well-established Druids tried everything in their power to stop him. They even threatened his life, but they never succeeded in carrying out their threat.

Indomitable in his zeal, he managed to convert ever more pagans. He displayed his courage by challenging the High King of Tara. More than anything else, however, it was the miracles attributed to him that attracted the crowds.

The best known of these was his alleged banishment of all snakes from Irish soil. There are two versions of how he did this. It had become his habit on his visits to the various parts of the country to announce his presence by beating a huge brass drum. One day, he promised, he would use this drum to rid Ireland of all its venomous creatures.

At the appointed time, he climbed Croagh Patrick, the mountain now called after him, which is situated just outside the present Westport in the county of Mayo. During his ascent, he beat his drum with such force that it burst! This made many in the crowd that was following him start to lose faith, especially when they saw a huge black snake suddenly appear. As it glided down the hillside its body was shaking with what the people interpreted as laughter. But suddenly an angel, sent from heaven, appeared and patched up Patrick's drum. When, with renewed vigor, he resumed beating it, the snakes began to vanish. Not one of them remained - or ever returned.

According to the second tradition, Patrick ascended the holy mountain ringing a handbell. On reaching the summit, he threw the bell over the precipice and, as it fell, hundreds of serpents cascaded into the depths with it! Time and again angels retrieved the bell, and Patrick repeated the wondrous act till no snake was left! Patrick's bell is now displayed in the National Museum in Dublin along with the shrine in which it had been kept reverently for centuries.

It is asserted that St Patrick's miraculous feat permanently endowed Irish soil and timber with a potent anti-venomous quality. The story goes that as King's college, Cambridge, was built of Irish wood, no spider ever comes near it. Irish soil was specially shipped to Sydney, Australia, to be deposited around the newly built Vaucluse House to protect its grounds against the intrusion of snakes!

When teaching the Irish the principles of the Christian faith, St Patrick experienced great difficulty in explaining to them the meaning of the Trinity. Ingeniously, he then used nature as an illustration. Picking a shamrock, the plant that grows in profusion in Irish fields, he pointed to one of its distinctive features the way its triple leaf grew out of one stem. Had not God thus implanted the Trinity in the soil of their country? His message was well understood. The Irish not only adopted the dogma, but made the shamrock their own.

The shamrock's green color, indeed, gave the Emerald Isle its special hue and name. The Irish wear the shamrock with pride, and particularly so on St Patrick's Day. The custom is known as "the wearing of the green."

St Patrick became one of the most beloved of saints, and every Irishman identifies himself by his nickname, "Paddy."

When he was about to die, the story goes, Patrick implored the people not to grieve overmuch for him. On the contrary, he urged them to celebrate his departure to celestial heights. As practical as in his use of the shamrock, he suggested that to alleviate their sorrow, Irishmen should take a small drop of "something."

In lasting obedience and reverence, the Irish continue to observe St Patrick's Day in the manner ordained by their saint. They do the rounds and, in convivial gatherings, "wet the shamrock." Some authorities trace Irish men's love of their whiskey to this practice.

Patrick has been given credit as well for the making of poteen, the strong, home-brewed drink distilled from potatoes. Even the name poteen, it was said, did not derive, as is generally thought, from the "little pot" in which it was made, but was a variation of St Patrick's name.

Many other customs commemorate the saint's birth and death. As, in the northern hemisphere, the date falls in March when the weather is often cold and windy, the celebration of St Patrick's Day includes the eating of hot Irish stew and the drinking of an abundance of Guinness beer, followed by strong Irish coffee.

Of the many parades held on St Patrick's Day in American cities, the largest and most renowned is the one in New York City, which proceeds along Fifth Avenue and passes St Patrick's Cathedral. Hundreds of thousands of people including numerous bands, join in it. Proud of the Irish ancestry of so many Americans, participants and onlookers alike display the shamrock.

St. David

1st March

Patron saint of Wales, born near St Bride's Bay, Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales, UK. He was Bishop of Moni Judeorum, or Menevia (afterwards St David's), presided over two Welsh Synods, at Brefi and Caerleon, and founded many churches in S Wales. He died at Menevia, which became a shrine in his honour.

The first of March is the anniversary of the death of St David, the patron saint of Wales, in about A.D. 588. On this day, Welshmen all over the world honor his memory. Proudly, they wear leeks or, at times, daffodils. A wealth of traditions, based both on fact and fiction, embellish the story of his life and wondrous achievements.

Born of a noble family, David took up the priesthood. Soon he became renowned for his piety, missionary zeal and austere lifestyle. People came from far and wide to listen to his words and to ask for counsel and material help. Visiting many parts of Wales, he spread his message and established monasteries and churches at numerous places.

Legend tells that, whenever he preached, a snow-white dove sat on his shoulder. On one such occasion the crowd that had come to listen to him was so enormous that his voice could not be heard. Miraculously, the ground on which he stood rose ever higher, till eventually he was standing on top of a hill, where everyone could see and hear him!

David founded Menevia and became its first abbott-bishop. On his passing, it was called after him, St David's. Its cathedral treasures his bones, which were not discovered until 1866.

The association of the leek with the saint and its subsequent adoption as the Welsh national emblem has been variously explained. At the time, the Saxons were fighting the Welsh. In one of the decisive encounters, David advised his countrymen to wear leeks in their caps. Thus identified, they would be able to recognize each other, even in the heat of battle, and more easily pick out the enemy!

The Welsh achieved a resounding victory and were convinced that it was due in no small part to their following St David's suggestion. They therefore made the leek, which had ensured the survival of their nation, their cherished symbol.

Another tradition claims that the leek was a reminder of the saint's simple way of life. He had restricted his diet to water and wild leeks. No wonder that people referred to him as Aquaticus, the "water drinker."

The simple fact that daffodils bloom around the time of St David's Day may account for the wearing of this flower. Its choice may have been influenced as well by its being popularly known as a "daffy." Daffy, a shortened form of Dafydd, was St David's Welsh nickname.

AccountantsMatthewLibrariansJerome, Catherine of Alexandria
ActorsGenesius, Vitus MerchantsFrancis of Assisi
AdvertisersBernadino of Siena MessengersGabriel
ArchitectsThomas (Apostle) MetalworkersRaymond Nonnatus
ArtistsLuke, Angelico MinersAnne, Barbara
AstronautsJoseph (Cupertino)MotoristsChristopher
AstronomersDominicMusiciansCecilia, Gregory the Great
AthletesSebastianNursesCamillus de Lellis, John of God
AuthorsFrancis de Sales PhilosophersThomas Aquinas, Catherine of Alexandria
AviatorsOur Lady of Loreto PoetsCecilia, David
BankersBernardino (Feltre)Postal workers Gabriel
BarbersCosmas and Damian PriestsJean-Baptiste Vianney
BlacksmithsEligiusPrintersJohn of God
Book trade John of God Radio workers Gabriel
BrewersAmand, Wenceslaus SailorsChristopher, Erasmus, Francis of Paola
BuildersBarbara, Thomas (Apostle) ScholarsThomas Aquinas
ButchersLukeScientistsAlbert the Great
CarpentersJosephSculptorsLuke, Louis
ChemistsCosmas and Damian SecretariesGenesius
ComediansVitusServantsMartha, Zita
CooksLawrence, Martha ShoemakersCrispin, Crispinian
ComediansVitusSingersCecilia, Gregory
DancersVitusSoldiersGeorge, Joan of Arc, Martin of Tours, Sebastian
DentistsApolloniaStudentsThomas Aquinas
DoctorsCosmas and Damain, Luke SurgeonsLuke, Cosmas and Damian
EditorsFrancis de Sales TailorsHomobonus
FarmersIsidoreTax collectors Matthew
FiremenFlorianTaxi driversFiacre
FishermenAndrew, PeterTelevision workersGabriel
FloristsDorothy, Thérèse of LisieuxWaitersMartha
GardenersAdam, FiacreTeachersGregory the Great, John Baptist de la Salle
GlassworkersLuke, Lucy TheologiansAugustine, Alphonsus Liguori, Thomas Aquinas
GravediggersJoseph (Arimathea) UndertakersDismas, Joseph of Arimathea
HotelkeepersAmand, Julian the Hospitaler
JournalistsFrancis de Sales
LabourersJames, John Bosco
LawyersIvo, Thomas More