In the 14th century the Black Plague, also known as the Black Death, devastated the population of Europe.
During that time, devotion to a specific group of saints began in Germany for protection against the plague.
The group was called Nothelfer, which means “Helpers in Need” in German.
The group consists of fourteen saints who are known to greatly assist those who call upon them.
I believe it’s wise for every Catholic to know these saints and have them in one’s spiritual arsenal!
This Saint Spotlight is dedicated to: The Fourteen Holy Helpers.
Below is an alphabetical list of the 14 saints.
The list includes:
- A short biography
- How the Saint is pictured in art
- What the Saint is invoked against/for
- Feast Day
The Fourteen “Auxiliary Saints” or “Holy Helpers” are a group of saints invoked because they have been efficacious in assisting in trials and sufferings. Each saint has a separate feast or memorial day, and the group was collectively venerated on August 8, until the 1969 reform of the Roman calendar, when the feast was dropped. These saints were often represented together. Popular devotion to these saints often began in some monastery that held their relics. All of the saints except Giles were martyrs. Devotion to some of the saints, such as St. George, St. Margaret, St. Christopher, St. Barbara and St. Catherine became so widespread that customs and festivals still are popular today.
The Fourteen Holy Helpers are invoked as a group mainly because of the Black Plague which devastated Europe from 1346 to 1349. Among its symptoms were the black tongue, a parched throat, violent headache, fever, and boils on the abdomen. The victims were attacked without warning, robbing them of their reason, and killed within a few hours; many died without the last Sacraments. No one was immune, and the disease wreaked havoc in villages and family circles. The epidemic appeared incurable. The pious turned to Heaven, begging the intervention of the saints, praying to be spared or cured. Each of these fourteen saints had been efficacious in interceding in some aspect for the stricken during the Black Plague. The dates [below] are the traditional feast days; not all the saints are on the Universal Roman Calendar.
St. Acathius (aka Acacius)
- Bio: A native of Cappadocia and as a youth was a centurion in the Roman army under Emperor Hadrian. He was tortured and beheaded in the persecution of Diocletian.
- Pictured: with a crown of thorns
- Invoked: against headaches; at the time of death’s agony
- Feast Day: May 8th
- Bio: Her legend was immensely popular, but all we know about her is that was martyred, probably in Asian Minor in the 3rd or 4th century. Her legend had that she was a beautiful [virgin] maiden, and her father isolated her in a high tower. While there, she was tutored by philosophers, orators and poets and converted to Christianity. Her father Dioscorus was furious and denounced her to the authorities. They ordered him to kill her. She tried to escape, but he caught her, dragged her home by her hair and then beheaded her. He was immediately struck by lightning, or according to some sources, fire from heaven.
- Pictured: with a tower and a ciborium with a Host above it
- Patronage: builders, artillerymen and miners
- Invoked: against fever, lightning, fire, and sudden death
- Feast Day: December 4th
St. Blaise (aka Blasé, Blasius)
- Bio: A native of Sebaste in Armenia. It is thought he was a physician and later was ordained and priest and became bishop of his native city. He had to go into hiding to escape continual persecution, but was finally arrested, atrociously tortured and put to death, under Licinius, in 316. His cult spread rapidly in both East and West, and many cures were attributed to him, notably that of a child who was suffocating through a fish bone being caught in his throat. According to legend, he was a healer of men and animals. He is invoked for all throat afflictions, and on his feast two candles are blessed with a prayer that God will free from all such afflictions and every ill all those who receive this blessing.
- Pictured: with two crossed candles
- Patronage: animals, wool combers and wool trading
- Invoked: against diseases of the throat
- Feast Day: February 3rd
St. Catherine of Alexandria
- Bio: Born at Alexandria and martyred under Maximinus Daia c. 310. Ancient accounts relate that when she was eighteen years old [and a virgin] the emperor gathered together a group of philosophers to persuade her to deny Christ and worship idols. She instead convinced them of their error and converted them to Christianity. She is often pictured with a broken wheel, because she was scourged and bound to wheels on which knives were fixed, but the instrument broke. She was finally beheaded.
- Pictured: with a broken wheel
- Patronage: Christian philosophers, maidens, preachers, wheelwrights, mechanics, librarians, students, and orators
- Invoked: against diseases of the tongue and a sudden, unprovided death
- Feast Day: November 25th
St. Christopher (aka Christophorus)
- Bio: Martyred in Asia Minor around 250. His name, Greek for “Christ-bearer” is the origin of the legend that he was a giant who carried the Christ Child across a river. He is still considered a saint by the Church, although his feast day was removed from the General Roman Calendar due to lack of historical evidence.
- Pictured: holding The Child Jesus on his shoulder
- Patronage: travelers, especially motorists
- Invoked: against storms
- Feast Day: July 25th
St. Cyriacus (aka Cyriac)
- Bio: A deacon who was martyred at Rome in 303 during the persecution of Diocletian. He was buried on the Ostian Way.
- Pictured: vested as a deacon
- Invoked: against diseases of the eye, diabolical possession and temptation, especially at the time of death
- Feast Day: August 8th
St. Denis (aka Dionysius)
- Bio: He was the first bishop of Paris and one of the six bishops sent to France in the middle of the 3rd century by Pope Fabian. He was beheaded at Catulliacum, now Saint-Denis.
- Patronage: Paris and France
- Pictured: holding his head in his hands
- Invoked: against headaches, diabolical possession, frenzy, and strife
- Feast Day: October 9th
St. Erasmus (aka Elmo)
- Bio: A bishop of Asia Minor. He fled to Mount Lebanon during the persecution of Diocletian and was miraculously fed by a raven while in hiding. Eventually he was captured and martyred at Formiae, Campagna, Italy c. 303. He is invoked for intestinal diseases, for his legend asserts that he was tortured by winding his entrails (intestines) round a windlass. He is also called St. Elmo, and the static electricity on ships at seas, Saint Elmo’s Fire, is named after him.
- Pictured: with his entrails wound around a windlass
- Patronage: sailors
- Invoked: against diseases of the stomach and intestine; for protection of domestic animals
- Feast Day: June 2nd
St. Eustace (aka Eustachius, Eustathius)
- Bio: Not much is known about him. He was a pagan Roman general who converted after seeing a glowing cross between a stag’s antlers. He and his family were martyred together by being burned inside a bronze bull.
- Pictured: with a stag and hunting equipment
- Patronage: hunters, firefighters, trappers, and Madrid
- Invoked: against fire (temporal and eternal) and family troubles
- Feast Day: September 20th
- Bio: Venerated by the Eastern Church among her “great martyrs” and “standard-bearers.” He belonged to the Roman army; he was arrested and, probably, beheaded under Diocletian, c. 304. The Latin Church as well as the Greek honors him as patron of armies. He is the patron of England, since 800. Many legends are attached to Saint George. The most famous is the one in The Golden Legend. There was a dragon that lived in a lake near Silena, Libya. Not even armies could defeat this creature, and he terrorized flocks and the people. St. George was passing through and upon hearing about a princess was about to be eaten, he went to battle against the serpent, and killed it with one blow with his lance. Then with his great preaching, George converted the people. He distributed his reward to the poor, then left the area.
- Pictured: striking down a dragon
- Patronage: soldiers, England, Portugal, Germany, Aragon, Genoa, and Venice
- Invoked: against herpetic diseases; for protection of domestic animals
- Feast Day: April 23rd
St. Giles (aka Aegidius)
- Bio: According to tradition, he was born at Athens, Greece, and was of noble extraction. After his parents died, he fled from his fatherland to avoid followers and fame. He went to France, and in a cave in a forest near the mouth of the Rhone he was able to lead the life of a hermit. Legend has a hind came everyday to his cell and furnished him with milk. One day the King’s hunters chased the hind and discovered St. Giles and his secret hermitage. The hunters shot at the hind, but missed and hit Giles’ leg with an arrow, which kept him crippled the rest of his life. He then consented to King Theodoric’s request by building a monastery (known later as “Saint Gilles du Gard”) and he became its first Abbot. He died some eight years later towards 712.
- Pictured: in a monastic cowl with a deer hind
- Patronage: cripples, beggars and breastfeeding mothers
- Invoked: against the plague, panic, epilepsy, madness, and nightmares; for a good confession
- Feast Day: September 1st
- Bio: He was a doctor, devoted to the spiritual and temporal welfare of his patients. He was captured and tortured extensively. He was nailed to a tree and then beheaded at Nicomedia, c. 303, under Diocletian.
- Pictured: with his hands nailed together
- Patronage: physicians and midwives
- Invoked: against consumption; for protection of domestic animals
- Feast Day: July 27th
St. Margaret of Antioch
- Bio: Beheaded at Antioch in Pisidia c. 257. Not much is known about her. One of the legends attached to St. Margaret is that she met the devil, who was in the shape of a dragon. She was swallowed by the dragon, but then escaped safely when the cross she carried irritated the dragon’s innards. This is why she is associated with pregnancy, labor and childbirth although she was a virgin. She was one of the saints who talked to Saint Joan of Arc.
- Pictured: holding a dragon in chains
- Patronage: women in childbirth
- Invoked: against backache and pain in the loins
- Feast Day: July 20th
St. Vitus (aka Guy)
- Bio: According to legend, he was a Sicilian nobleman’s son, who was baptized against his father’s wishes and martyred in 303 Modestus and Crescentia, Christian members of his household.
- Pictured: with his cross
- Patronage: dancers and actors
- Invoked: against neurological disorders, epilepsy, chorea (aka St. Vitus’ dance), lethargy, bites of poisonous or mad animals, and storms; for protection of domestic animals
- Feast Day: June 15th
The Fourteen Holy Helpers, pray for us!