Saints & Suffering
'Saint' is a Christian term that describes a person who has led an extraordinarily virtuous life, perhaps overcoming personal hardships and suffering, and who, as a result, has become closer to God. In the medieval period, saints were thought to hold a particularly high position in Heaven, and because of this they were seen as intercessors. It was believed that they could add their support to human prayers and could distribute God’s gifts to mankind. As such they played an important role in medieval Christian belief.
Saints, particularly female saints, were also venerated because of the pain or martyrdom they suffered during their lives. For people living in an age where what rudimentary medicine there was was as likely to kill as to cure you, saints, who had suffered themselves, were comforting figures and a focus for prayers for recovery.
Certain saints were associated with certain ailments, and became known as patron saints (specialist intercessors) for people suffering from those ailments. Saint Roch, for example, who suffered from the plague, became the patron saint of lepers and plague victims. Traditionally St Roch is said to have been born in Montpellier, France, in about 1295 and devoted his life to tending to the poor and the sick. At Piacenza, Italy, he himself contracted the plague and was expelled into the woods. There, ill and starving, he was saved when a hunting dog belonging to a local nobleman found him and brought him bread and healed his wounds by licking them.
You can listen to an audio description of the painted wooden statue of Saint Roch by clicking on the audio bar below. If you then click on the main image you can view a large version of the statue while listening to the description.