Saint of the Day – 16 August- St Roch – Confessor, Pilgrim, Hermit, Apostle of the Sick, Miracle Worker, (1295 at Montpelier, France – 1327 at Montpelier or Angleria, France of natural causes). His relics are in Venice, Italy in the church of San Rocco, in Rome, Italy and in Arles, France. Patronages – against cholera, against diseased cattle, against epidemics, against knee problems, against the plague, against skin diseases and rashes, bachelors, of dogs, falsely accused people, invalids, relief from pestilence, surgeons, tile makers, Tagbilaran, Philippines, diocese of, Constantinople, 24 other assorted cities around the world. Attributes – angel, bread, dog, pilgrim with staff, often displaying a plague wound on his leg, pilgrim with a dog, pilgrim with a dog licking the wound, pilgrim with a dog carrying a loaf of bread in its mouth.
According to his Acta and his vita in the Golden Legend, he was born at Montpellier, at that time “upon the border of France”, as the Golden Legend has it, the son of the noble governor of that city. Even his birth was accounted a miracle, for his noble mother had been barren until she prayed to the Virgin Mary. Miraculously marked from birth with a red cross on his breast that grew as he did, he early began to manifest strict asceticism and great devoutness; on days when his “devout mother fasted twice in the week and the blessed child Rocke abstained him twice also, when his mother fasted in the week, and would suck his mother but once that day”.
On the death of his parents in his twentieth year he distributed all his worldly goods among the poor like Francis of Assisi—though his father on his deathbed had ordained him governor of Montpellier—and set out as a mendicant pilgrim for Rome. Coming into Italy during an epidemic of plague, he was very diligent in tending the sick in the public hospitals at Acquapendente, Cesena, Rimini, Novara and Rome, and is said to have effected many miraculous cures by prayer and the sign of the cross and the touch of his hand. In In Rome, according to the Golden Legend he preserved the “cardinal of Angleria in Lombardy” by making the mark of the cross on his forehead, which miraculously remained. Ministering at Piacenza he himself finally fell ill. He was expelled from the town; and withdrew into the forest, where he made himself a hut of boughs and leaves, which was miraculously supplied with water by a spring that arose in the place; he would have perished had not a dog belonging to a nobleman named Gothard Palastrelli supplied him with bread and licked his wounds, healing them. Count Gothard, following his hunting dog that carried the bread, discovered Saint Roch and became his acolyte.
On his return incognito to Montpellier he was arrested as a spy (by orders of his own uncle) and thrown into prison, where he languished five years and died on 16 August 1327, without revealing his name, to avoid worldly glory. After his death, according to the Golden Legend;
“anon an angel brought from heaven a table divinely written with letters of gold into the prison, which he laid under the head of St Rocke. And in that table was written that God had granted to him his prayer, that is to wit, that who that calleth meekly to St Rocke he shall not be hurt with any hurt of pestilence.”
The townspeople recognised him as well by his birthmark; he was soon canonised in the popular mind and a great church erected in veneration.
The story that when the Council of Constance was threatened with plague in 1414, public processions and prayers for the intercession of Roch were ordered and the outbreak ceased, is provided by Francesco Diedo, the Venetian governor of Brescia, in his Vita Sancti Rochi, 1478. The cult of Roch gained momentum during the bubonic plague that passed through northern Italy in 1477–79.
His popularity, originally in central and northern Italy and at Montpellier, spread through Spain, France, Lebanon the Low Countries, Brazil and Germany, where he was often interpolated into the roster of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, whose veneration spread in the wake of the Black Death. The magnificent 16th-century Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the adjacent church of San Rocco were dedicated to him by a confraternity at Venice, where his body was said to have been surreptitiously translated and was triumphantly inaugurated in 1485; the Scuola Grande is famous for its sequence of paintings by Tintoretto, who painted St Roch visited by an angel, in a ceiling canvas (1564).
Tomb of St Roch in San Rocco in Venice
We know for certain that the body of St. Roch was carried from Voghera, instead of Montpellier as previously thought, to Venice in 1485. Pope Alexander VI (1492–1503) built a church and a hospital in his honour. Pope Paul III (1534–1549) instituted a confraternity of St Roch. This was raised to an arch-confraternity in 1556 by Pope Paul IV; it still thrives today. Saint Roch had not been officially recognised as a Saint as yet, however. In 1590 the Venetian ambassador at Rome reported back to the Serenissima that he had been repeatedly urged to present the witnesses and documentation of the life and miracles of San Rocco, already deeply entrenched in the Venetian life, because Pope Sixtus V “is strong in his opinion either to canonise him or else to remove him from the ranks of the saints”; the ambassador had warned a cardinal of the general scandal that would result if the widely venerated San Rocco were impugned as an impostor. Sixtus did not pursue the matter but left it to later popes to proceed with the canonisation process. His successor, Pope Gregory XIV (1590–1591), added Roch of Montpellier, who had already been memorialised in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for two centuries, to the Roman Catholic Church Martyrology, thereby fixing August 16 as his universal feast day.
Numerous brotherhoods have been instituted in his honour. He is usually represented in the garb of a pilgrim, often lifting his tunic to demonstrate the plague sore in his thigh, and accompanied by a dog carrying a loaf in its mouth. The Third Order of Saint Francis, by tradition, claims him as a member and includes his feast on its own calendar of saints, observing it on August 17.