Most Popular Saints

Veronica (First century)

The legend of Veronica tells how this pious woman stopped to wipe the anguished
face of Christ as he stumbled beneath his Cross on the way to Calvary; the very
features of his face were left imprinted on the cloth which she used for her act
of simple charity. A cloth known as St. Veronica’s veil has been kept at St. Peters
in Rome from the eighth century.

Cecilia (Second
or Third century)

According to the legend, Cecilia was born into a Christian patrician family in Rome
and early consecrated her virginity to God. Against her will she was betrothed to
one Valerian, and on her wedding night told him of her vow and persuaded him to
respect it. Valerian and his brother Tiburtius were converted by her example, and
devoted themselves to charity.

Cecilia was apprehended burying the bodies of some Christians and she in her return was brought before the perfect, Almachius. Almachius tried to overthrow her faith by debate; when this failed he gave orders that she was to be suffocated in her own bathroom. Although the furnaces below the house were stoked to an insufferable heat, Cecilia was miraculously unharmed and Almachius sent a soldier to despatch her by beheading. Unfortunately for Cecilia, the soldier proved to be a an incompetent executioner; three blows failed to kill her and she lingered on for three agonized days, still singing to God as the legend records, before finally dying. After her death her house became a church- possibly the Sta Cecilia in Rome’s Trastevere quarter-
and her body was buried in the cemetery Callistus. Her status as patron of music
and musicians appears to date from the 16th century, and is based on
the account of her wedding day when, instead of listening to the festive music,
Cecilia sat apart and sang in her heart to the Lord. She is usually represented
with an organ, lute or other musical instrument.

Valentine (d. c. 269)

The present popularity of Valentines day has little to do with the historical saint
Valentine. It was a commonly held belief that birds began to choose their mates
on Valentine’s feast-day, the very beginning of Spring, and this is thought by many
to be the origin of the tradition of choosing one’s object of love as a Valentine.

Valentine was  a Roman priest who became bishop of Turni. He was condemned
to death and brought to Rome for the execution of his sentence.


Sebastian (Narbonne Rome c. 288)

Sebastian was born in Gaul. He enlisted in the Roman army in about 283. As a Christian
in Rome he encouraged persecuted believers such as Mark and Marcellian who were
in prison before their martyrdom, and as his faith was unknown to Diocletian he
was appointed captain of the Praetorian Guard.

When Diocletian finally discovered Sebastian’s faith he was furious, accusing him of disloyalty and ingratitude, and he ordered him to be shot to death with arrows. The sentence was carried out and Sebastian was left for dead, but he had not been killed outright; his wounds were tended and healed by Irene, widow of the martyred Castulus. On his recovery he refused to flee the city to safety; instead, he deliberately confronted Diocletian, reproaching his cruelty. The emperor was naturally taken
aback at the unexpected apparition, but he rallied to condemn Sebastian to brutal
death by beating with cudgels. His body was thought to have been secretly buried
by believers in a grave now marked by the Basilica St. Sebastian.

Christopher (Third

Christopher’s martyrdom, traditionally held to have taken place at Lycia in Asia
Minor during the persecutions of Decius, is the only fact known about him. The early
classical legends associated with his name developed through the Middle Ages into
the story popularized by the Golden Legend, and based on the saints name, meaning
Christ-bearer, according to which Christopher was a fearsome-looking giant who,
being so powerful himself, vowed only to serve the most powerful of masters.

Searching how best to serve his new master, he met a hermit who instructed him to perform Christian service by living alone by a ford and carrying travelers across the river on his massive back. One of his passengers, a small child, grew so heavy
that half way across the river Christopher feared they would both be drowned, despite
his great strength. The child then revealed himself as Christ, and explained to
the exhausted giant that he had just carried the creator of the world and all the
weight of its sin on his back. To verify these words, he told Christopher to plant
his staff in the ground where the next day it would sprout leaves and flowers.

After this experience, Christopher is believed to have preached in Lycia with great
success until his imprisonment. While in prison, two women went to seduce him but
rather than weakening he is supposed to have converted his temptresses. He underwent
various tortures, including being shot by arrows. Finally he was beheaded, and his
enormous body dragged through the city’s streets.

Because of his role as protector, Christopher has become the patron of all travellers,
and motorists especially in modern times.

Nicholas (Fourth century)

He is thought by some to have been born at Patara in Lycia into a wealthy family, and
on becoming bishop of Myra (south-western Turkey), transformed it with his piety,
energy and miracles. His fame was secured after his relics were translated to Bari
in 1087, after a Muslim invasion of Myra, and a new church inaugurated by Pope Urban
II was built over them. The reputation of his shrine was increased by the emission
of some perfumed substance called Mana or Myrth which attracted countless pilgrims.

More influential than the biographical facts however have been the legends that have grown up surrounding his name. Perhaps the most famous is that of his intervention
to save the honor of three poverty-stricken sisters; their father could not afford
their dowries and in desperation was about to give them over to prostitution. Hearing
of this, Nicholas secretly came by the house at night and threw a bag of gold, sufficient
for one sister’s dowry, through the window on three different occasions. This is
the source of the traditional sign for pawnbrokers, three golden balls.

As patron of children, Nicholass feast-day became associated with the giving and
receiving of presents. Dutch settlers in North America created the modern figure
of Santa Claus by linking St. Klaes with the Scandinavian god Thor, figure of reward
and punishment whose chariot was driven by goats.

Francis of Assisi (1181 Assisi Assisi 1226)

While Pietro di Bernadone, a wealthy silk trader from Assisi,
was away from home on business in France his wife gave birth to a son whom she christened
Giovanni. On his return, the boys father insisted that he be renamed Francesco,
the French one, struck by the coincidence that he had been in France at the time
of the boys birth.

The young Francis followed his father into business, spending his spare time in hedonistic extravagance until his capture as a prisoner of war in 1202, when fighting against the Perugians. He was held for a year, and soon after his release underwent a long period of serious illness. In 1205 he returned to the wars, and on his return to Assisi the young man, entered the run-down church of San Damiano. As he prayed, he saw a vision of Christ speaking too him, saying Repair my home, which falling
into disrepair. Ever literally-minded Francis began to raise the money to pay for
the rebuilding of San Damiano by selling a bale of cloth from his fathers warehouse.
A fiery conflict ensued between father and son, which ended only when Francis dramatically
renounced his inheritance, throwing down even the clothes he was wearing, and left
empty-handed to espouse Lady-Poverty.

Begging around the town, he raised enough money to complete the rebuilding of San
Damiano, and lived otherwise as a homeless pilgrim, owning nothing, caring for the
sick and always preaching. Within a few years he had attracted several followers;
they settled at the Portincula chapel, near a leper colony in Assisi, forming a
community dedicated to poverty and upholding Catholic orthodoxy. From there they
preached throughout the area and gradually won favour. They were known as the Friars
Minor, an indication of their humility. The cathedral canon, Peter of Cattaneo,
heard Franciss vows on 16 April 1209, and the community became officially known
as the Franciscan order. Francis’ simple Rule was approved by Pope Innocent III
the next year.

In 1223, he preached before the Sultan in Egypt, who was so impressed that he promised
to improve the conditions of his Christian prisoners and granted Francis the privilege
of the Guardians of the Holy Sepulchre.

Many of Francis’ most famous doings belong to the last period of his life. He built
the first Christmas crib at Grecchia in 1223, beginning a custom still celebrated
across the Christian world. Even more famous was his experience of the stigmata
while praying on Mount La Verna in 1224, wounds on his body corresponding to those
inflicted on Christ in his passion; these were said to be visible until his death.
His last years were marked by blindness and by intense pain, both from illness and
from the attempts of doctors to cure him.

He died at the age of 45 at the Portincula, and was canonized two years later by
Pope Gregory IX. Francis’ relics were moved to the New Basilica especially
built for him in 1230. His remains now lie in a modest shrine, built in 1931, which
is a center for worldwide pilgrimage.

Anthony of Padua (1195 Lisbon Arcella 1231)

Son of a Portuguese knight, Anthony grew up in Lisbon and was
educated at the cathedral there. At 15 he enrolled with the nearby Canons Regular
of St. Augustine but left after only two years to finish his studies at Coimbra.
After ordination in c. 1220 he joined the Franciscans, wanting to emulate their
martyrs in North Africa, and took the name of Anthony in honor of the Egyptian
saint. But illness compelled him to quit Marocco and the evangelizing of the Moors,
and on the voyage back his ship was driven off course to Messina, Sicily. He travelled
from there to Assisi, where the Franciscan General Chapter of 1221 was taking place.

At the end of the Chapter, Anthony was assigned to the small hermitage of San Paolo
near Forli, and his enormous talent was first discovered when he was called on unexpectedly
to speak at an ordination in Forli. Amazed by the power of his preaching, his provincial
minister appointed him the first lector in theology of the Franciscans and commissioned
him to preach throughout Italy. Thousands flocked to hear this short man denouncing
sin and heresy with his resounding voice, crowds broke down in penitence, churches
were too small to contain the hordes and he was obliged to speak in market-places,
when the townsfolk would frequently close up their businesses to go and hear him.

He was recalled after the death of St. Francis to take on the position of minister
provincial in Emilia or Romagna, and at the Chapter General in 1226 he was elected
envoy to bring before Pope Gregory IX for settlement the questions that had arisen
in the assembly. Anthony took the opportunity to secure the Pope’s permission to
lay down his office and devote himself to preaching, primarily in Padua. Here he
energetically denounced all social and moral wrong until in 1231 he became very

He died at a Poor Clare convent on the outskirts of Padua, aged only 36, was canonized
within the year and in 1946 was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pius XII. His
shrine at Padua is notorious for miracles, and he is frequently known as the wonder-worker,
especially as the patron saint of lost objects; one legend tells how a novice who
secretly borrowed his Psalter returned it in terror after a warning apparition.
The 19th century devotion St. Anthony bread, alms given to the poor and
hungry, reflects his social concern and exists as a fund today.

Bridget (1303 Sweden 1373 Rome)

Daughter of Berger Persson, the governor of Upland, Bridget was
sent to an aunt in Aspen when her mother died in c. 1315. At the age of 14 she married
the 18year-old nobleman Ulf Gudmarsson; they lived happily for 28 years, producing
8 children. In 1335 Bridget was called to the court of King Magnus II as chief lady-in-waiting
to his new queen, Blanche of Namur. Bridget’s visions prompted her to rebuke the
royals for their dissipated lifestyle.

After a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Olof at Trondheim, Norway, in c. 1340 Bridget quit the court completely, leaving with her husband on another pilgrimage, to Compostela, Spain.  But Ulf died in 1344 at the Cistercian monastery at Alvastra, and Bridget spent some time as a penitent there in mourning for his death. In 1344 or 1346, with a generous endowment from Magnus, she founded the Order of the Most Holy Saviour, the Bridgittines, at Vadstena by Lake Vttern. The monastery was primarily for women
and it became a centre of Swedish spirituality, with its emphasis on simplicity
of lifestyle and the importance of study.

Bridget left for Rome in 1349 seeking approval for her Order and spent the rest
of her life away from Sweden. She was renowned for her devotion in visiting shrines
and for caring for pilgrims and the needy, and for the visions which continued throughout
her life.

Bridget died in Rome on 23 July, on her return from Jerusalem, and her relics were
moved to Sweden the next year.

Bridget was canonized in 1391. Her feast-day is on July 23.

Rita of Cascia (c. 1380 Roccaporena Cascia c. 1457)

Rita was born near Spoleto in Italy. As a young girl living in Umbria she wished
to become a nun, but bowing to the will of her elderly parents she was married at
the age of 12. Her husband, much given to drunkenness, violence and infidelity,
treated her appallingly. Although miserable, Rita lived with him for 18 years patiently enduring
the insults and ill treatment, and bore him two sons. One day he was brought
home dead, having been repeatedly and savagely stabbed in a violent brawl. His two
sons swore revenge, but they both died soon afterwards with this vengeance unfulfilled
and Rita was left alone.

She now sought admission to the Augustinian convent Santa Maria Maddalena at Cascia
but was refused three times, as the foundations rule was to admit only virgins.
She persisted, and finally the superior relented; her enrolment was accepted in
1413. As a nun Rita became famous for her penance and prayerfulness, and in 1441,
after meditating so intensely on Christ’s Passion that she received a wound in her
forehead like that from a thorny crown, she was hailed as a mystic. This wound remained
with her for 15 years and could not be healed. She was also much involved in practical
care for the needy and in prayer for sinners, many of whom she converted.

On 22 May Rita died at Cascia of tuberculosis; several further miracles were attributed
to her after her death and her supposedly incorrupt body was translated into an
elaborate tomb along with the approbation of her cult by the bishop. Rita was beatified
in 1626 and canonized in 1900 and her cult is enormously popular today, especially
in Italy. She is frequently hailed as a patron of desperate cases, and especially
by women suffering in unhappy marriages. Because of the advanced age of her parents
when Rita was born, she is often invoked by women who long for children and by the

Joan of Arc (1412 Domrmy Rouen 1431)

Youngest of the five children of Jacques d’Arc, a peasant farmer, from her earliest
days Joan was exceptional for her piety. She was only 13 when she first heard her
famous voices, accompanied by brilliant light, which instructed her to serve the
Dauphin and save France. She identified them as messages from saints Michael, Catherine
of Alexandria and Margaret of Antioch, but despite her conviction her attempts to
join the French army were by skepticism and derision. She persisted, and after her
prophecies of defeat were fulfilled at the Battle of Herrings in 1429, Robert de
Baudricourt, commander at Vaucouleurs, sent her to the Dauphin, to whom she proved
herself by seeing through his disguise. A group of theologians at Poitiers cross-examined
her for three weeks and finally gave their approval to this remarkable girl and
her mission.

Joan’s first expedition was to relieve besieged Orlans; in April 1429, clad in a
suit of white armor, she led her troops and saved the city, capturing several English
forts, her men inspired by her visionary courage. In June of that year she secured
another important victory over the English troops, capturing Troyes. When the Dauphin
was crowned Charles VII at Rheims on 17 July 1429 Joan stood at his side, but even
at the pinnacle of her achievement she suffered mockery and suspicion among courtiers,
clergy and soldiers.

Still Joan continued to lead the army. A mission to recapture Paris in August failed
and the winter months enforced idleness, but in the following spring she set out
to relieve Compigne, besieged by Burgundy, the ally of the English. She was captured
there in May and handed over to the English, as Charles made no effort to save her.
In Rouen Joan was charged with witchcraft and heresy; although she defended herself
intelligently and steadfastly she was inevitably convicted. She was burnt at the
stake in the market-place of Rouen on 30 May. Her ashes were thrown onto the Seine.

Twenty years later the case was reopened by a commission of Callistus III. They
reached a verdict of innocent, but it was not until 1920 that Joan was canonized
by Benedict XV. She is venerated as a virgin rather than a martyr.

Jean-Baptiste Viannay (1786 Dardilly Ars 1859)

The son of a peasant farmer, Jean Baptiste spent his youth as a shepherd on his father’s
farm but from an early age felt a calling to the priesthood. He had little by way
of formal education, partly because of his situation and partly due to the outlawing
of clerics in the French Revolution. At the age of 20 he commenced his studies for
the priesthood, but although an ecclesiastical student he was mistakenly conscripted
into the French army in 1809. He deserted and managed to return secretly to his
studies, and was free to return home openly when Napoleon I granted an amnesty to
all deserters in 1810. The next year he received the tonsure and in 1813 entered
the seminary at Lyons. He encountered great difficulties in coping with the workload,
and struggled hopelessly with Latin. His progress was slow, but he was finally ordained
in 1815 as one of the most devout graduate of the seminary.

Jean-Baptiste was appointed cure at the small village of Ars-en-Dombes. Here he
proved himself an unexpectedly brilliant preacher and counselor, and he violently
attacked all manifestations of indifferent immorality. He was particularly famed
for his ability to read the hearts of those confessing to him. He regularly spent
whole days hearing confession and weeping for men’s sins.

Miracles were reported of him almost daily; word spread quickly and soon the road
to Ars was crammed with visitors seeking out this obscure parish priest.

Weakened by his austere lifestyle he died at Ars on 4 August, aged 73. He was canonized
in 1925 by Pope Pius XI who in 1929 declared him patron of all parish priests.

Bernadette (1844 Lourdes Nevers 1879)

Marie Bernadette Soubirous was born on 7 January, the first child
of poverty-stricken miller named Francois Soubirous and his young wife Louise. She suffered from asthma, poverty and a lack of education. Her health was tarnished
by a bout of cholera, contracted during the epidemic of 1854, and overall by
the insanitary conditions of the dark, damp basement she lived in. But at the age
of 14, on 11 February 1858, Bernadette experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary while
collecting firewood on the bank of the river Gave near Lourdes. Over the next six
months she saw a series of 18 visions, in which the Lady, who identified herself
as The Immaculate Conception, indicated a nearby spring from which she told Bernadette
to drink. She also directed Bernadette to erect a chapel on the site; beyond this
the content of the visions was mostly concerned with the importance of prayer and

Bernadette’s claim were subjected to enormous skepticism. She was questioned exhaustively
by church and state authorities but, in spite of her youth and her intellectual
simplicity, her story was unshakeable. The visions were ecclesiastically approved,
and work began to make the site of the visions one of the largest pilgrimage sites
the Christian world has ever known.

Bernadette herself retired to the convent of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers in
1866, wishing only to escape the unwanted publicity and the equal measures of suspicion,
curiosity and enthusiasm with which she was regarded. She  died at the age
of 35. She was beatified in 1925, and when she was canonized by Pope Pius XI in
1933 it was not so much for her visions as for the integrity and humility of her

Therèse of Lisieux (1873 Alencon Lisieux 1897)

Marie Francoise Martin was the youngest daughter of the watchmaker Louis Martin and his wife Zlie Gurin who died when Therèse was only four or five years old. She was brought up in a pious middle-class milieu, and when the family moved to Lisieux in 1877 was cared for by her aunt and her older sisters and educated by Benedictine nuns. Five of the sisters were eventually to join the Carmelite convent at Lisieux.
Although the youngest, Therèse was the third to enroll, at the age of only 15, taking the name of Therèse of the Child Jesus. For the next nine years Therèse lived quietly at the convent, serving for a time as assistant to the mistress of novices. Her aim was a simple, unselfconscious obedience, her little way as she called it. Her
tranquility was disturbed when her father suffered two paralytic strokes and was
subsequently confined to an asylum, where he lived for three years. Therèse referred
to this time as his martyrdom.

In 1895 Therèse suffered a hemorrhage; it was the first symptom of tuberculosis.
Her condition swiftly worsened and she died at the age of 24, after silently and
patiently suffering enormous pain. It is probable that nothing would have been known
of this self-effacing nun had she not written, under obedience to Mother Agnes (her
sister Pauline), a short spiritual biography.

After her death this biography was edited by her sisters and published as HISTOIRE
DUNE AME, the story of a soul. The sweetness and simplicity of this small book charmed
readers in every language into which it was translated, and suddenly the young unknown
nun was accredited with interceding in innumerable miracles, attracting almost universal
veneration. A great part of her popularity was her very simplicity; Therèse had
demonstrated that one need not accomplish great deeds or possess enormous talent
to attain sanctity.

In 1925 she was canonized by Pius XI and a large church was built in Lisieux for
the hordes of pilgrims visiting her shrine there. She was named patron of missions
(along with Francis Xavier) in 1927, and in 1944 was declared joint patron of France
with Joan of Arc. Therèse said that after her death she would let fall a shower
of roses, meaning the favours she would work by intercession.


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