O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


The 11 Best Patron Saint Stories

posted by Jason Boyett

One of my favorite parts of Pocket Guide to Sainthood are the stories behind saints’ patronages. Patron saints are saints believed to have a special fondness or protective relationship with a certain geographical location, church, diocese, occupation, health problem, or individual sharing the saint’s name. The theological idea is that people’s prayers are more effective if delivered to God by a person’s patron saint, since that saint already has 1) an abiding interest in the subject matter and 2) being a saint, more spiritual clout than a standard-grade human.

So there are patron saints of just about everything. The stories about how certain saints got connected to certain occupations or types of people? Almost always entertaining. Occasionally surprising. In some instances, well-nigh hilarious.

Here are a few of my favorites from the book.

Airline Pilots
St. Joseph of Cupertino, who was known for miraculous feats of levitation. Almost anything would send him skyward, including singing hymns, praying at mass, or simply hearing the names of Jesus or Mary. Then he’d get all dazed-looking and float heavenward until a superior commanded him to come down. Unfortunately, he was also known for being a few jets short of a fleet.

Babies
St. Zeno of Verona, who was stolen at birth by the devil (!) and secretly replaced with a lookalike demon. Much to her dismay, Zeno’s mom then breastfed the demon for 18 years. That’s right: 18 years. Why? Because the pseudo-Zeno didn’t seem to be growing. Eventually the real Zeno, all grown-up, showed up to rescue his mom — who had to be getting pretty uncomfortable with the whole scenario — and he forced the demon child to vomit up all the consumed milk. There’s a slight possibility this story is only a legend.

Boaters
St. Francis of Paola, a Franciscan hermit who once wanted to cross the Strait of Messina on his way to Sicily, but was denied passage by a surly boatman. So Francis did what any wonder-working saint would do: he spread his cloak out on the water, plopped himself down on it, and motored right across the strait.

Breastfeeding
St. Giles, a hermit who lived with a deer as his only companion. And who, according to legend, was comforted and sustained by the milk of that deer following a terrible injury. Well now. And also: blech.

Charcoal-Burners
St. Alexander the Charcoal-Burner, a 3rd century bishop and martyr who was very handsome but wanted to live a chaste life, so he chose an occupation that left his face continually blemished with black charcoal dust, which was not so appealing to the ladies. (If you are currently asking yourself What is a charcoal-burner? you are not alone. The Pocket Guide has asked that same question, with unsatisfactory results.)

Dairy Workers
St. Brigid, who as a child in Ireland once gave away an entire pail of milk to help a poor person. This worried her, though. She was certain her pagan father would be furious about the missing milk, so she prayed that God would miraculously refill the pail. God was happy to oblige. For this reason, alcoholics have long lobbied to make Brigid the patron of beer.

Geese
St. Martin of Tours, who was about to be named bishop but didn’t think he’d do a very good job of it, so he tried to hide in a flock of geese. But the geese, sensing he was up to no good, honked and honked until Martin was discovered. So now, apparently, he protects them. You are not alone in thinking Geese? Since when does anyone ever require intercession on behalf of geese? You’re also not alone in wondering what kind of idiot tries to hide a flock of birds. This patronage? A big honking mystery.

Hunters
St. Eustace, a former Roman general who converted when he saw a vision of Jesus between the antlers of a stag. His newfound holiness, of course, prevented him from killing the stag. Either that, or the mystical glare from the vision screwed up his aim. Either way, it’s clear that Jesus is interested in the salvation of deer.

Oversleeping
St. Vitus, who was once accused of sorcery and tortured for it by being thrown into boiling oil. He was joined in the scalding oil bath by a rooster, thanks to a belief that sacrificial roosters combated sorcery. The connection to roosters led to a connection with early rising, and the early rising thing earned him a patronage of people who oversleep. Sounds like someone’s trying a little too hard to get a cool patronage.

Serial Killers
St. Caedwalla of Wessex, a Saxon king who kept expanding his influence by killing off other kings and forcibly taking their kingdoms. The historian Bede tells of Caedwalla going through the countryside “by merciless slaughter.” But then he went on a pilgrimage and presumably started to feel bad for all the slaughter. Then he got baptized. Then he died not long after. Which technically makes him the patron saint of remorseful serial killers experiencing deathbed conversions.

Ugly People
St. Drogo, who suffered some weird affliction while on a pilgrimage, which led to a physical deformity that was so bad he frightened all the townsfolk. “Don’t look at me! I’m hideous!” the Pocket Guide imagines him saying. So Drogo walled himself into a cell attached to his church and lived in solitude for the next 40 years, to protect the community from his repulsiveness. Feel better, unattractive people!

[from Pocket Guide to Sainthood: A Field Manual for the Super-Virtuous Life, by Jason Boyett (Jossey-Bass, 2009)]



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Comments read comments(5)
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Everett

posted September 2, 2009 at 10:19 am


I would rather not know how St. Giles got the deer milk.



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Jane G Meyer

posted September 3, 2009 at 4:56 pm


What a great post. I'm always partial to St. Brigid, but especially loved the story of St. Martin of Tours. I say that he was being very sensible. Hanging out with geese would be much easier than the all worries and headaches he'd have to face being a bishop. Poor fella.Can't wait to read some of your other finds and musings…



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Josh

posted September 4, 2009 at 12:56 pm


I was disappointed not to find Quality Footwear on this list, but the St. Zeno story more than made up for it.



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Dromedary Hump

posted September 6, 2009 at 8:06 pm


Re: St. Alexander the Cahrcoal Burner- here's what a charcoal burner is:"The craft of charcoal burning is a very ancient one, practised as early as 4,000 BC in Central Africa. The basic methods changed very little until the recent introduction of metal kilns.""Charcoal gives about twice the heat of an equivalent weight of wood, making it very important to the iron smelting industry. The craft of the charcoal burner lies in building a kiln which restricts the air supply while it is burning, and then watching the kiln continuously until the burn is complete."http://www.openairclassroom.org.uk/Further%20information/information-charcoal%20burning.htm



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Gina

posted March 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm


I think the woman who had to breast feed the demon for 18 years should get to be patron saint of breast feeding. :P



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