Daily Blogging: Patron Saints

The idea of “patron saints” probably dates back to medieval times, when local superstitions, icons, and venerated “holy men” frequently got mixed up with the Catholic church’s doctrines.

There is one Patron Saint legend in particular, which I remember hearing about when I was in middle school. A lord of a castle owned a dog who was very loyal to him, and the lord cared for the dog very much. But soon, the lord had his first baby boy and the dog began to be neglected by its owner. One day, the lord went off to a neighboring town and left the dog and the baby alone, and while he was gone, a wolf got into the room where the baby’s crib was (do not ask me how a wolf got in there. Or it might have been a large rat. In any case, it was big and dangerous). The dog valiantly fought off the beast and managed to kill it, but when the owner came back, all he saw was blood all over the room (and splattered over the crib) and the dog’s muzzle bloody.

Well, as you can imagine, the lord immediately assumed the worst, accused the dog of killing his son, and promptly had the dog thrown into a nearby well. But just moments later, the baby woke up and started crying. Everyone realized the mistake they had made, but alas, it was too late…the dog had drowned to death.

But not to worry. The locals venerated the dog as a saint and the St. Bernard (or some such breed, as I recall) became the official Patron Saint of Small Children, forever remembered for its bravery…

I remember thinking, what?

First off, a dog became a patron saint. Am I the only one who feels there is something wrong about praying to a dead dog for the safety of your children?

Secondly, I feel sorry for the poor animal. He was drowned by his beloved owner after being falsely accused of killing his child, and now he is suddenly the patron saint for children – if you think about it, a child was the reason he got drowned in the first place. If a dog could reason, would he want to be the protector of the beings that caused his death?

Patron Saints have never been a Biblical concept – there is no mention of the doctrine of how to anoint patron saints, nor are there instructions on what kinds of people can be considered a saint after they die. The concept is based more in local folk tales, myths, and superstitions. The belief in the power of certain items of “holy men” who had died, or the power of their dead bodies to heal the sick…such and such things. Not to say I’m condemning those who created patron saints; not at all. Back then, I’m sure the people needed some source of hope or reassurance that miracles still existed. The tangible proof of divine powers through the existence of saints might have been enormously comforting to starving peasants with little agency over their lives.

But today, though there are still many, many people impoverished in this world, I believe it’s time we taught a more accurate portrayal of saints. They were holy men, yes, because they pursued a God who is holy. But that did not give them the exclusive power to intercede on behalf of the common people to God, nor did it imbue their belongings with the magical power to heal people, even after their deaths. Saints were certainly NOT meant to be dogs that showed an act of bravery . . . imagine Lassie becoming a Saint. Who in this day and age would think that’s a feasible idea?

No, saints were meant to be examples of men who follow God, rather than venerated by their followers. They are men who point to God, not men whose icons get pointed at. There is only one saint who was the holiest of them all: Jesus Christ. And He is no patron saint of this or that concept. He is THE one true saint, the saint, priest, and savior who indeed, has the authority to intercede in front of God for our wrongdoings. And no other mortal man deserves the same worship as He does.

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