“I will give you this but promise me you will write me a book about them.
It was Kristian (Cordero) talking. I looked at his “this” and it was a thick, large book; I checked his “them” and they were “saints.” One hundred of them.
I looked at Kristian again. He was serious about the book – not about the saints but the prospect of creating tales out of them.
I looked at Kristian once more. I did not see the face of a believer; I saw the sacred face of an entrepreneur. He meant business and business talk should always be coffee. And crepe.
Over tiramisu (his) and blueberry (mine), we started to peruse, not read, but peruse the voluminous book. I fell in love with the book immediately. As with all loves, mystery played a great role. Accessibility or its opposite added to the allure of the book.
I did not know the “saint” on the cover. Kristian seemed amuse. He had the glee of a savior on his face. I knew that he new that Cover saint. I knew also that he knew that I knew he knew.
She is St. Catherine of Alexandria, Kristian with the air of someone who used to walk in the hallowed halls of a seminary uttered the saint’s name. He said this while sectioning his crepe, separating the dark brown from the white layer. I thought that was a giveaway – a bittersweet appraisal of his departure from the Garden.
At this point, my crepe paled in allure to the woman on the cover. This Catherine (for there would be two more Catherines – Catherine of Laboure and Catherine of Siena) possessed a very earthly beauty. Indeed, the author said she was known for her beauty. But was that a smirk on her face?
Catherine of Alexandria, as painted by Lorenzo Lotto, whose work now hangs, it is written, in the National Gallery of Washington, wears a crown, or a diadem, from which flows a strand of pearls. As the story goes, the Emperor Maxentius, who is then persecuting Christians in 3rd century AD, summons Catherine. As the emperor cannot win the argument against Catherine, he commands fifty of his philosophers to confront her with their intellect. The said philosophers, however, are won over by Catherine to her side. Even the wife of the emperor is converted by the wise woman to Christianity.
In the painting, Catherine is holding a long quill. She is the Patron Saint of philosophers, preachers and students.
With the mysticism of ignorance stressed, I told Kristian I shall go over the table of contents and confront the Saints whose provenance and personalities I am most obscured about.
Alphabetically, they confronted me: Apollonia, Barnabas, Bernard, Bernardino of Siena, Blaise, Boris, Brendan, Brigid (not Bridget, for she was more known to me), Colmcille, Cosmas and Damian (I would soon find out they were brothers, as in kin), Dewi, Dionysius (I knew the Greek god), Dunstan, Eligius or Eloi, Gall, Giles (I knew a tony boutique hotel but not the saint), Louis of France (sounded like the name of a monarch and I was right!). The list went on an on until I reached an odd name – St. Rock or Roch.
I felt Kristian eased away from the book we were both inspecting. I glanced back at him. You know him. He was telling me this name that I find supremely odd could be the name of the saint I knew too well.
I flipped the page very quickly to see this saint with a wrestler’s alias could be. And there he was, standing: his hand holding the hem of his robe to show us his leg. Below, sniffing almost his other feet was a small dog. Without the wound that local carvers inflict on the iteration of this saint’s image, he announced to me his name: San Roque.
The saint, in the book, has the shortest dossier. He is said to belong to a wealthy family, and the son of the governor of 14th century-Montpellier, in France. Orphaned at a young age of twenty, he embarks on a pilgrimage to Rome. There he sees a place plagued by diseases. He starts caring for the sick. Exposed to all afflictions, he gets sick himself. Realizing he will be a burden to those that also need succor, he seeks refuge in a forest, all alone, to die. A dog feeds him and nurses him back to life.
With very few things written about St. Rock, it became apparent that other storytellers would create more narratives about him. There is a story how he did manage to return to his place of birth. Gaunt and dirty, he was not recognized by his own relatives and he was incarcerated. He would die in prison. When his body was taken out, the people recognized him to be the son of their former governor. It is said that it was after his death that miracles of people being healed took place and they were attributed to St. Rock.
There is, however, another story I find more seductive: St. Rock was caught as a spy and died in prison.
The name of St. Rock was very popular among the believers and was the one invoked against pestilence. He is thus known as the Patron Saint of Plague Victims and Invalids.
The presence of many local statues of San Roque/St. Rock/St. Roch in small, distant chapels in our country is enough to convince us that he once was the Saint people turned to in times of plagues and pestilences. In the hands of local carvers, San Roque is shown with a capelet, his left hand clutching his clothes up to show his knee, usually, with the wound. The dog beside him is holding with his mouth a piece of bread. In other books, St. Roch is the patron saint of dogs and bachelors (no correlation and pun intended) In the book I am using for this essay, St. Rock/Roch, as painted by Paolo Morando in 1518, displays his right leg. Why the shift in the positioning of the leg is another essay as I continue to follow the lives of these wondrously intriguing personalities.
And, Kristian, by the way, St. Rock or Saint Roque is also the Patron Saint of falsely accused people.