Saint Roch Against the Plague

Saint Roch, by Francisco Franci, 1502, altarpiece. (wikipedia commons)

August 16th, besides the public memorial of King Stephen of Hungary, is also the feast of a very popular mediaeval Saint, Roch of Montpellier, also known as Rock, Rollox (in Scotland) and even Rocco, born around the year 1295, and who died, while held unjustly in prison, in 1327. Legends abound: His mother was barren, until she prayed fervently to the Blessed Virgin; that Roch was born with a red cross on his chest, that grew as he did; that the lad practised a strict asceticism, and when his parents died in his twentieth year, he gave all his goods to the poor, and embarked on a pilgrimage to Rome, with miracles of healing along the way, bestowed by his blessing. In Italy, he tended the sick during the plague – on the very eve of the looming Black Death – eventually retiring to live as a hermit in the woods, near a miraculous spring, with a nobleman’s dog bringing him food, and licking his wounds.

Roch, prompted by another inspiration, returned to his native Montpelleir as an anonymous pilgrim, was accused as a spy, and thrown into prison, where he died five years later. His reputation for holiness spread, not least for his protection against pandemics and plagues, much venerated during the Black Death, which hit Europe in 1348, two decades after his death. He also apparently spared the Council of Constance (1415) from the plague, and continues such miraculous intervention. Roch – equivalently canonized in 1590 by Pope Gregory XIV – is also the patron saint of bachelors, falsely accused people, and dogs, and we may discern some connection there.

For now, we should pray to Saint Roch for the end to our current woes, entrusting ourselves to the providence and mercy of the all-good God.