Over the last two thousand years, more than 10,000 saints have been canonized in the Catholic faith, as well as some unofficial saints that are venerated by many. It should come as no surprise then that there are some unconventional holy people in the mix. From small happenings such as toothaches or ice-skating with friends, to big life events such as landing your first marketing job, this list contains ten of the most bizarre patron saints in the Catholic canon.
10. Saint Rita: Patron Saint of Impossible Feats
At the age of twelve, most of us didn’t know what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. This was not the case with Rita. Little Rita was dead-set on devoting her life to Christ and becoming a nun. Her noble parents, however, did not agree, and instead married her off to an ill-tempered man. Using her Christian morals, Rita spent the next 18 years of her life trying to make her husband a better man, and she succeeded to some extent. She talked him down from feuding with another family, and he became more agreeable. The rival family had other ideas, however, and murdered him.
Inspired by this event, and influenced by their uncle, her two sons started to plot revenge. Not wanting them to spend an eternity in Hell, Rita prayed that they be removed from this vicious cycle and they died of dysentery the following year.
This finally seemed like the opportune time for Rita to fulfill her life-long dream of joining a convent. There was one major setback though: Rita was not a virgin, which is the most important pre-requisite for becoming a nun. Despite this, the convent proposed a challenge after seeing how pious Rita was. If she was able to end the feud that caused the death of her family, she would be accepted into the convent. Rita was up for the challenge and after a few years, she successfully ended the family feud. She spent the rest of her life in the convent, and performed miracles, and displayed partial stigmata on her forehead. After death, she became known as the patron saint of mothers, abuse, and impossible causes.
9. Saint Julian: Murderer Turned Saint
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When we think of saints, murderers don’t usually come to mind. Julian the hospitaller overcame this paradox and was labeled as both. Born a cursed child, he was supposedly destined by pagan witches to murder both his parents. Learning of his curse at the age of ten, he decided to leave his family home to escape his destiny.
After moving away and marrying, his parents decided to look for him and stumbled upon his wife in a village they were traveling through. After offering them refuge, food and water, she explained that her husband Julian was away hunting. Realizing their connection, they were overjoyed. Seeing an opportunity, the devil went to Julian and told him that his wife was in bed with another man. Enraged, Julian immediately went home, and upon seeing a man in bed with a woman he assumed to be his wife, murdered them.
After realizing that he had fulfilled the prophecy, he vowed to spend the rest of his life trying to make up for his mistake. He traveled to Rome on a pilgrimage along with his wife, and they eventually established a hostel at a river crossing that would take in weary travelers and the sick. After his death, he was eventually canonized and became known as the patron saint of murderers, hospitality, ferrymen, hunters and travelers.
8. Saint Lidwina: The Ice-Skater
Born in a small town in Holland, Lidwina was destined to live a life of pain and suffering. At the age of 15, she went ice skating with friends and while on the ice, fell and broke a rib. She also sustained a head injury, which led to the progressive paralysis of her whole body. After falling into a deep depression, a local priest inspired her to model her life after Jesus.
Finding purpose in adversity, Lidwina went on to become a notable healer and holy woman. She was able to live without eating or sleeping and reportedly shed skin, bones, and other body parts. After a life-long battle with illness, Lidwina died at the age of 53. Some modern scholars believe her illness to be one of the first documented cases of multiple sclerosis, and today she is venerated as the patron saint of chronic illnesses and ice-skaters.
7. Saint Elmo’s Fire
While most people know Saint Elmo’s Fire as the famous 1985 Brat Pack film, it is actually a scientific phenomenon named after a Catholic saint. The saint in question, bishop Erasmus of Formia, was martyred during the persecution of Christians under the rule of emperors Diocletian and Maximian. After his first arrest, he was tortured and chained in prison, but an angel helped him escape. While traveling he performed many baptisms, which drew the attention of the Roman authorities, and the emperor had him rolled down a hill in a barrel full of spikes, which he survived. Angered, the emperor tortured him further by having him whipped, coated in pitch, and set alight, which he also survived.
After escaping yet again, Erasmus was recaptured and tortured. He died after having his abdomen slit open and his intestines wound around a windlass. Iconography depicting him with a windlass also signifies his patronage of sailors. Electrical charges at the mastheads of ships (as well as other tall, pole-like structures) became known as St Elmo’s Fire and were seen as a sign of protection. Erasmus also fittingly became known as the patron saint of stomachaches, stomach ailments, and labor pains.
6. Saint Denis: A Splitting Headache
Saint Denis was a bishop in 3rd century Paris, and along with two helpers he actively converted pagans to Christianity. Pagan leaders were not happy that the number of pagan followers was dropping, and alerted the Roman authorities. Denis and his fellow missionaries were imprisoned for a long period of time, before being beheaded on the hill that is now known as Montmartre.
After he was beheaded with a sword, it is said that his body picked up his head and walked for a few miles. While walking, the head preached a sermon the entire way before dropping dead at the site that developed into the present-day Basilica of Saint-Denis. His walk after death made him the most famous cephalophore in Christian legend and he became known as the patron saint of — you guessed it — headaches.
5. Wilgefortis: A Beard From God
Although Wilgefortis was not officially canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church, she is still venerated by a lot of Catholics, and for good reason. In another case of parents forcing their daughters to marry, Wilgefortis’ father promised her to a Moorish king. To escape the unwanted marriage, the teenage Wilgefortis took a vow of virginity and prayed to God to make her repulsive. As an answer to her prayers, she sprouted a full beard which ended the engagement. Enraged, her father crucified her. After death, she became venerated as a folk saint, especially by women seeking to be disencumbered from abusive husbands. She also became known as the patron saint of facial hair and gender-fluid people.
4. Saint Bernardino: The Marketing Whiz
Word of mouth has always been an effective form of marketing, especially in the case of Saint Bernardino of Siena. During the 15th century, the Christian faith in Italy was experiencing a slump. There was little interest in religion, and Bernardino took it upon himself to change this.
He traveled all over Italy and preached to the public instead of remaining cloistered and reading sermons in church. Even though he had a hoarse and weak voice, he became known as one of the greatest orators of his time, in large part due to his elegant colloquial Italian and apt use of imagery from daily life. He was captivating, and his creative use of language drew big crowds and led to the revival of Christianity in early 15th-century Italy. Unfortunately, his fiery sermons also included antisemitism, the brutal persecution of homosexuality, and the occasional labeling of women as witches. Despite this, Saint Bernardino was canonized as a saint, and his talent for preaching led him to be venerated as the saint of marketing, communications, and public relations.
3. Saint Lawrence: Rare, Medium, or Well Done?
Saint Lawrence was another Christian martyred during the Roman persecution of Christians. As was the norm at the time, Christian leaders were ordered to turn over all the riches of the church before being executed. When the prefect of Rome ordered Lawrence to do this very thing, he asked for three days to gather all the church’s material goods.
Instead, he distributed the riches among the poor, and after three days he presented the city’s poor as the treasures of the church, along with widows and consecrated virgins as the precious Crown. This angered the prefect, and he ordered Lawrence to be cooked to death on a gridiron. Saint Lawrence, after suffering for a long time, famously exclaimed “I’m well done on this side, turn me over!”. His humorous last words led to his veneration as the saint of cooks, chefs, and comedians.
2. Saint Apollonia: Open Wide
As we’ve seen with other saints on this list, their patronage sometimes stems from how they were martyred. The same can be said of Apollonia, who was tortured to death by Alexandrian mobs after a poet prophesized a calamity. Frenzied, the mobs turned on Christians after hearing of the possible disaster, and the authorities made no effort to protect them.
Apollonia, a virgin deaconess of the church, was seized and had all her teeth pulled out or shattered. When her chastity was threatened, she jumped into the fire that the mob had prepared for her death. Even though suicide is considered a sin, virgin martyrs of the time like Apollonia were honored for protecting their vows and staying true to the church. Apollonia thus became the patron saint of toothaches and dentists, as well as assuming the role of the tooth fairy in some parts of Italy.
1. Saint Isidore of Seville: The All-Knowing Patron Saint of Computers
Known as the last scholar of the ancient world, Saint Isidore lived during a time of violence, widespread illiteracy and cultural disintegration. When he served as archbishop of Seville, he was instrumental in the assimilation of the different barbarian cultures of the Visigothic kingdom.
It was his opinion that this assimilation and creation of a united kingdom would foster the spiritual and material welfare of the people. His strong religious leadership lead to the conversion of many Visigothic kings to Catholicism, and he fostered education among the people by introducing them to philosophers such as Aristotle. Isidore was also a prolific writer, and his most famous work, Etymologiae, was the first Christian attempt at a summa of universal knowledge. This encyclopedia holds extracts from ancient works that have otherwise become lost and also provides invaluable insight into the Visigothic culture of the time.
It comes as no surprise then that Saint Isidore is venerated as the patron of students, computer users, computer technicians, programmers, and the Internet (which is seen as a modern encyclopedia of universal knowledge), even though all electronic patronages are unofficial. Although he is viewed today as an archaic thinker with outdated methods and views, he nevertheless managed to preserve many lost books from antiquity through extracts and the standardized the use of the comma, period, and colon.