15 Unusual Patron Saints

L-R: St. Januarius, St Bernardino of Siena, St Giles
L-R: St. Januarius, St Bernardino of Siena, St Giles
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 13, Pope Francis canonized the two most recent saints in the Catholic Church at a special ceremony in Portugal. Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta Marto, a young brother and sister from the Portuguese parish of Fatima, are said to have witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary exactly 100 years ago this year, and Pope Francis’s canonization marked the centenary of their first miraculous vision.

Because the locals at the time first refused to believe the Marto siblings’ story—and because they both succumbed to the great flu epidemic that swept Europe just two years later—Saints Franciso and Jacinta of Fatima are already considered patron saints of the sick, of chronic bodily illnesses, and of those ridiculed for their piety. But what if you have other problems or interests that would require the divine assistance of an even more specific saint? Well …

1. ST. ADJUTOR

St. Adjutor is said to have either escaped Muslim captors during the First Crusade and escaped by swimming (according to various stories, he either swam to Crusader territory, swam all the way to France, or was recaptured and then transported back to France by Mary Magdalene), or else calmed a whirlpool that had emerged beside a boat he was traveling on. Either way, he’s now considered the patron saint of swimmers and those at danger from drowning.

2. ST. BALTHASAR

Medieval tradition held that the three kings who visited Jesus in the stable came from all corners of the Medieval world; Balthazar hailed from Africa—frequently Egypt. At the time, Romani card sharps and sideshow sleight-of-hand merchants were popular entertainers across Europe. Because it was mistakenly believed they came from Egypt (hence the name Gypsies) the Egyptian king—St. Balthasar—became the patron saint of playing card manufacturers.

3. ST. BERNARDINO OF SIENA

St. Bernardino of Siena was so well known for his crowd-pleasing public preaching in the early 15th century that he’s now considered the patron saint of advertising and public relations.

4. ST. COLUMBANUS

St. Columbanus spent much of the 6th and 7th century roaming around Europe—and that love of the open road has led to him being considered the patron saint of motorcyclists.

5. ST. DROGO

St. Drogo was so afflicted by a mystery ailment that made him physically repulsive that he’s now considered the patron saint of unattractive people. Entirely unrelatedly, he’s also the patron saint of coffeehouses.

6. ST. ERASMUS

St. Erasmus, Bishop of Formia in modern-day Italy, went through quite an ordeal during the Roman Empire’s persecution of the Christians in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Initially captured and imprisoned sometime in the late 200s, Erasmus is said to have been freed by an angel and fled to Turkey to continue his preaching. Arrested a second time, however, Erasmus’ undying faith so angered the Emperor Maximian that he had him beaten, whipped, placed in a barrel of spikes and rolled down a hill, covered in pitch and set alight, and finally—after he had somehow miraculously survived—his stomach cut open and his intestines wound around a winch. It’s for that latter torture that Erasmus is now considered the patron saint of stomach ailments, colic, and appendicitis.

7. ST. GILES

St. Giles is said to have lived as a hermit in the south of France in the later 7th century, nourishing himself only with the milk of a female deer. Because of that—as well as being the patron saint of the city of Edinburgh—St. Giles is also the patron saint of breastfeeding.

8. ST. GUMMARUS

St. Gummarus of Belgium was an 8th century figure whose wife, a local noblewoman named Guinmarie, was known for her shrewish and abusive behavior. Despite Gummarus’s attempts to salvage their relationship, they separated—and after he went on to found an abbey at Lier, he became the patron saint of difficult marriages.

9. ST. JANUARIUS

A vial of blood belonging to St. Januarius, a 3rd century Bishop of Naples, was saved after his death in 305. The blood is the subject of a longstanding miracle that claims, despite its age, that it liquefies on three dates in the year: September 19, December 16, and the Saturday before the first Sunday in May. For that reason, Januarius is the patron saint of blood banks.

10. ST. JULIAN THE HOSPITALLER

St. Julian the Hospitaller's name refers to the fact that he opened a hostel for travelers and dedicated his life to providing hospitality for the sick and needy—but only after he’d killed his parents in a twist on the story of Oedipus. For that reason, he’s the patron saint of murderers, should you ever need one.

11. ST. LIDWINA

St. Lidwina fell while ice skating at the age of 15 and never fully recovered from her injuries. After a life of piety, her grave became a site of pilgrimage; after her canonization, she became the patron saint of ice skaters.

12. ST. MÉDARD OF PICARDY

St. Médard of Picardy is the patron saint of protection against bad weather, supposedly due to the fact that when he was an infant an eagle flew above him during a storm to shelter him from the rain. According to folklore, whatever the weather on St. Médard’s Day—June 8—you can expect the weather to remain the same for the next 40 days.

13. ST. RITA

Despite wanting to be a nun, St. Rita's parents forced her to marry when she was 12. Through her husband she became embroiled in a bitter feud between two local families; the feud eventually led to her husband’s murder, and the deaths of both her sons. Because of her lifetime of disappointments, difficulty and setbacks, Rita is now considered the patron saint of the impossible.

14. ST. SERVATIUS

St. Servatius was a 4th century Armenian priest who died in Maastricht in the Netherlands of an infection to a leg wound in 384. Not only is Servatius now the patron saint of the city of Maastricht, he’s also responsible for foot and leg disorders, rheumatism, and protection against rats and mice.

15. ST. VEDAST

St. Vedast, or Vaast as he’s also known, is the patron saint of children who are late in learning to walk.

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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Instant Pot/Amazon

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7 Overlooked Thanksgiving Rituals, According to Sociologists

Even what the dog eats takes on a special significance on Thanksgiving.
Even what the dog eats takes on a special significance on Thanksgiving.
JasonOndreicka/iStock

The carving of the turkey, the saying of the grace, the watching of the football. If a Martian anthropology student asked us to name some cultural rites of Thanksgiving, those would be the first few to come to mind. But students of anthropology know that a society is not always the best judge of its own customs.

The first major sociological study of Thanksgiving appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research in 1991. The authors, Melanie Wallendorf and Eric J. Arnould, conducted in-depth interviews with people about their experiences of the holiday. They also had 100 students take detailed field notes on their Thanksgiving celebrations, supplemented by photographs. The data analysis revealed some common events in the field notes that people rarely remarked on in the interviews. Here are some common Thanksgiving rituals you might not realize qualify as such.

1. Giving Job Advice

Teenagers are given a ritual status shift to the adult part of the family, not only through the move from the kids' table to the grownup table, but also through the career counseling spontaneously offered by aunts, uncles, and anyone else with wisdom to share.

2. Forgetting an Ingredient

Oh no! Someone forgot to put the evaporated milk in the pumpkin pie! As the authors of the Thanksgiving study state, "since there is no written liturgy to insure exact replication each year, sometimes things are forgotten." In the ritual pattern, the forgetting is followed by lamentation, reassurance, acceptance, and the restoration of comfortable stability. It reinforces the themes of abundance (we've got plenty even if not everything works out) and family togetherness (we can overcome obstacles).

3. Telling Disaster Stories of Thanksgivings Past

One day she'll laugh about this.cookelma/iStock

Remember that time we fried a turkey and burned the house down? Another way to reinforce the theme of family togetherness is to retell the stories of things that have gone wrong at Thanksgiving and then laugh about them. This ritual can turn ugly, however, if not everyone has gotten to the point where they find the disaster stories funny.

4. The Reappropriation of Store-Bought Items

Transfer a store-bought pie crust to a bigger pan, filling out the extra space with pieces of another store-bought pie crust, and it's not quite so pre-manufactured anymore. Put pineapple chunks in the Jello, and it becomes something done "our way." The theme of the importance of the "homemade" emerges in the ritual of slightly changing the convenience foods to make them less convenient.

5. The Pet’s Meal

The pet is fed special food while everyone looks on and takes photos. This ritual enacts the theme of inclusion also involved in the inviting of those with "nowhere else to go."

6. Putting Away the Leftovers

These leftovers will make delicious soup.smartstock/iStock

In some cultures, feasts are followed by a ritual destruction of the surplus. At Thanksgiving, the Puritan value of frugality is embodied in the wrapping and packing up of all the leftovers. Even in households in which cooking from scratch is rare, the turkey carcass may be saved for soup. No such concern for waste is exhibited toward the packaging, which does not come from "a labor of love" and is simply thrown away.

7. Taking a Walk

After the eating and the groaning and the belly patting, someone will suggest a walk and a group will form to take a stroll. Sometimes the walkers will simply do laps around the house, but they often head out into the world to get some air. There is usually no destination involved, just a desire to move and feel the satisfied quietness of abundance—and to make some room for dessert.