Shortly after my Mom remarried, my new Grandmother, Margaret, gave me a book: The Lives of Saints. It was my first exposure to the mysteries of Catholicism and I was stunned. The stories captivated and inspired me: the drama and devotion of the men and women in those pages more fascinating than any cartoon super heroes. Though my own spiritual path would wind and branch, die off and reinvent itself time and again, the saints maintained quite a hold on my imagination. It was their passion I longed to emulate – their fearlessness in the face of adversity. So it was that, when pondering names for this blog, I stumbled upon the story of St. Rocco, patron of many things, but, most accordantly, patron saint of dogs.
Most bios of St. Rocco follow the same thread: born to noble parents in Montpellier, France, he grew, under the tutelage of his mother, into a devout servant of the Church. After his parents died, he surrendered all his worldly goods to the poor and took a vow of poverty. During the course of a pilgrimage to Rome, Rocco encountered many villages struck by the plague and set out healing people by making the sign of the cross on their foreheads. At some point along the way, he, too became stricken by the plague and isolated himself in the forest, building a small hut of boughs and leaves. It was at this time, Rocco was visited by a dog belonging to a local nobleman, reputedly Gothard Palastrelli. The dog appeared each day with bread for Rocco. Count Gothard, followed his dog, and, upon finding the convalescing man, took him into the castle to recover. It is believed that when Rocco returned to Montpellier after so many years of travel and suffering, he was unrecognizable and the townspeople tossed him in jail under suspicion of espionage. Not until his final moments of life, was his identity revealed: a cross-shaped mark on his chest, which had been there and grown with him since birth, was exposed and, according to the legends, the chamber was filled with blue light as Rocco died. It is said he continued to perform miracles after his death and he was venerated to sainthood by the people.
St. Rocco is noted as the patron saint of dogs, bachelors, second-hand dealers, the falsely accused and surgeons, to name a few.
There are churches dedicated to St. Rocco all across the globe. “VSR” can be found carved or painted in doorways around Europe – “Viva San Rocco” is thought to ward off the plague. “The Godfather II” features a processional for the Feast of St. Rocco, a tradition in standing since 1889. Though not celebrated with the same dedication as in years past, St. Roch’s Day on 16 August in Bolivia is considered the birthday of all dogs and celebrants dress up their pooches in colorful ribbons.
In a world so often stricken with the modern plague of ambivalence, where are the saints? I believe they are everywhere. Some of them have two legs and some of them have four. Maybe someday I’ll post a roster of my saints, but not tonight. I’ll leave you to ponder yours . . .