Saint Roch is one, among many other saints, whose actual history is crowded with legend and therefore it is almost impossible to deduce whether legend is historically accurate or completely off base. However, Saint Roch was historically a French noble. Legend claims that he was marked from birth by a red cross on his chest which grew as he did. Furthermore, as an infant he fasted when his mother fasted which usually meant fasting at least once a week and on those days only feeding once.
Clearly Saint Roch began his holy life at a very young age. Unfortunately both his parents died by the time he was twenty and therefore he sold all of his possessions and traveled to Rome where he cared for plague victims in Italy. He was known for miraculous cures either by touch or the Sign of the Cross. Eventually he contracted the plague himself and therefore ran off to the woods to die.
Saint Roch was surprised by Count Gothard’s hunting dog which brought him food and licked his wounds which began to heal. Furthermore, a spring arose out of the ground where he lay which gave him a constant supply of clean water, certainly a rarity in Rome at the time. After returning to health, he ventured back to his home in Montpellier where was accussed of being a spy and was imprisoned by his uncle who failed to recognize him. He then lived in prison for 5 years with an angel caring for him until he died in 1327.
Cult of St. Roch
After his death, miracles taking place by his intercession became increasingly more popular which resulted in a cult becoming developed around him. The Church of San Rocco was built in Venice, Italy quickly after his death and today holds many of his relics. Intercession to Saint Roch increased ten-fold after the Fathers of the Council of Constance of 1414 ordered public prayers and processions for the saint which immediately ended a plague in Constance. Saint Roch’s feast day is August 16th and typically involves a procession of a Saint Roch statue.
Fun St. Roch Facts
- St. Roch is the patron against plague, cholera, and skin rashes.
- He is the patron of dogs, and 15 cities/towns in Italy.
- St. Roch is typically presented with a dog feeding him and a nasty knee wound.
- St. Roch never revealed that he had noble blood while he was in prison because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. After his death, people discovered who he was by the birth mark cross on his chest.
- A powerful archconfraternity of Saint Roch still exists today and flourishes.