One distinctive phenomenon in which Christianity differs from all other religions is the custom of naming and honoring those considered blessed and saints. Generally, they are real people, whose lives were characterized by Christian virtues and who “died in sanctity,” and also the people who, in the course of their lives and after their deaths, performed miracles. Consequently, specific protective capabilities are attributed to most of them and they are thus considered to be patrons by certain groups. One hundred and fifty of them are established as patrons of certain diseases or as aids in certain critical situations.
The reasons why the pious people accepted individual saints as patrons of certain diseases are multifarious. With regard to the oldest saints and martyrs, the most common association is the one involving a part of the body being tortured, i.e. the way they were killed. St. Apollonia became the patroness of dentistry because her torturers pulled her teeth out; the breasts of St. Agatha were amputated and she is therefore called upon by nursing mothers and women with breast cancer; the intestines of St. Erasmus were plucked out and consequently he became the patron of intestinal ailments and diseases; the skin of St. Barthol was flayed; St. Lawrence was grilled to death …
There are numerous examples of diseases the future saints had and fought against successfully and examples of saints helping those afflicted with various illnesses (St. Roch and the plague). Some overcame their calamities: St. John [End Page 313] the apostle and St. Benedict of Nursia recovered from poisoning and St. Paul from viper bite. There are also other associations like the ones deriving from the saints’ names, as is the case with St. Lucia and eye disorders (lux = lat. light) or accompanying iconographical symbols, such as the pig and the dog by the side of St. Anthony Abad, which provided this saint his patronage against the diseases of domestic animals and zoonotic diseases …1
Of the groups most saints were identified from are those who are believed to have successfully practiced medicine, or who were physicians such as Luke the Apostle, Alexander of Lyon, Zenobius of Sidon, Dionysus, Panteleon, Cosmas and Damian, Emilian ... to our contemporaries, like Giuseppe Moscati, Jacques-Desiré Laval and Riccardo Pampuri.2 The second most numerous are orders of friars among which the followers of St. Francis of Assisi lead the way, and this portrayal is dedicated to them on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan Order.
Research Objective and Methods
The objective of this portrayal is to select the patron saints of diseases from the Franciscan orders and to explain their connection to various diseases, accompanied by a brief hagiographic presentation, and also to contemplate their meaning in traditional ethnomedicine of Christian, notably Croatian people.
As is the case with previous works of similar topics3 identical methods have been applied this time as well. The data [End Page 314] has been gathered from general and encyclopaedic publications with religious content,4 general hagiographic literature5 and special bibliographic works on patron saints6 as well as St. Francis and the Franciscan Order.7
Upon surveying available literature and materials gathered for this occasion, fifteen saints have been registered and selected, and their basic hagiographic data with medical reminiscences shall be illustrated below.
Francis of Assisi (1182–1260) suffered from gastric disorders, oedema, persistent headaches, and vision impairments. This is why people suffering from similar conditions would turn to him for help. For a while he was also appreciated for protecting against the plague, as he used to help the unfortunate during the epidemics.
Clare of Assisi (1194–1253). Her main specialisation, protecting the eyes and vision, is associated with the meaning of her name. She is also invoked by persons who stutter and who suffer from oedema. [End Page 315]
Anthony of Padua (1195–1232). Because in iconography he is most often presented with the Baby Jesus, St. Anthony is considered the patron of infants, mothers, pregnant, and barren women. He also protects against fever and oedema, as he too...