In these uncertain times of Coronavirus, it is comforting to reflect on saints and martyrs honored for their kindness and compassion. The 14th century Italian Saint Roch (Rocco) is remembered as the patron saint of canines, epidemics and those falsely accused. Born into nobility, he became a devote Catholic. In his twenties, his parents died. Immediately, he distributed all his worldly goods to the poor and set out on a pilgrimage to Rome. When he arrived, the plague ravaged Italy. He cared for the sick and worked in public hospitals. Legend is that he cured many by the sign of the cross, prayers or the touch of his hand. During his ministry, he contracted the plague and was expelled from town. When he retreated to the forest, a spring of water miraculously appeared. Near starvation, a nobleman’s dog brought him a loaf of bread. The dog licked his wounds healing them. The Count, following his hunting dog carrying bread to St. Roch, immediately became his acolyte.
He returned to town and refused to reveal his identity to avoid worldly glory. He was arrested as a spy and imprisoned for five years. Before he died, legend is that an Angel placed a tablet of gold letters under his head which read “those who meekly call to St. Roch will not be hurt by any pestulence”. His feast day around the world is August 15th (the date of his death) and on September 9 (in Italy).
In art, St. Roch is depicted with an upper thigh “bubo”, a classic sign of the plague, and a dog carrying a loaf of bread.