Last week, Germany’s Aachen Cathedral announced it was polishing a gold, bronze, and ivory shrine of St. Corona to go on display when the public is once again allowed to congregate in the church. According to Reuters, the 16-year-old martyr doesn’t just share her name with the well-known coronavirus currently wreaking havoc across the continent—she also happens to be the patron saint of resisting epidemics.
While the uncanny coincidence has been echoed across the internet—with some linking her to pandemics, the plague, or infectious diseases in general—and corroborated by Catholic sites like Aleteia and Gloria.tv, other sources have refuted it. “Saint Corona has not been known as the patron saint of pandemics, at least not until someone (but who?) recently named her thus,” Catherine M. Mooney, president of Boston College’s Hagiography Society and associate professor of church history, told Snopes. University of Birmingham theology professor Candida Moss took to Twitter to express a similar message, explaining that St. Edmund is the actual patron saint of infectious diseases, and St. Corona’s name derives from a vision she once had of a crown.
As Snopes reports, accounts of St. Corona’s life and death vary, but none of them mention an affiliation with plagues, epidemics, or anything similar. She’s thought to have lived around 170 CE in Roman Syria during Marcus Aurelius’s reign. As the (possible) legend goes, after a Roman soldier named Victor was tortured at length for refusing to denounce his Christian faith, Corona—either his wife or the wife of a fellow soldier—prayed by his side. To punish her, she was bound to two palm trees that were tied to the ground; when the trees were untied, they sprang apart, wrenching Corona’s body in half. Victor was beheaded.
According to Catholic.org, St. Corona is sometimes “invoked in connection with superstitions involving money, such as gambling or treasure hunting.” Gregory the Great, Roch, and Sebastian are all listed in Catholic.org’s index as patron saints of plagues, Robert Bellarmine is the patron saint of contagious disease (along with Sebastian, again), and Godeberta is the patron saint of epidemics. That said, just because Corona hasn’t historically been considered a patron saint of disease doesn’t mean that she can’t be now. Unlike the highly formal process of becoming a saint in the first place, there’s no official protocol for being named a patron saint of any given subject.
“Recently, the popes have named patron saints, but patron saints can be chosen by other individuals or groups as well,” Catholic.org states. “Patron saints are often chosen today because an interest, talent, or event in their lives overlaps with the special area.”
There’s no time limit on choosing a new patronage for a saint, there’s no minimum number of people who need to agree on it, and there’s no statute against picking a subject that didn’t even exist while the saint was alive (for example, Pope Pius XII declared St. Clare the patron saint of television in 1958, even though Clare, born in 1194, would’ve been completely baffled by the word television alone).
In short, if you want to consider St. Corona the patron saint of epidemics or anything else, you’re not breaking any rules.