Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of the Fourteen Holy Helpers

In 1346, the most fatal epidemic in human history began to ravage Europe. For the next seven years, people would become dreadfully ill -- first feverish and nauseated, then tormented by the great "buboes" -- swellings of the lymph glands -- that give us the name for what ailed them: bubonic plague. These buboes would become as large as apples and would sometimes burst open, oozing fetid gore. Worse than that, they would sometimes turn black, as would the afflicted's fingers and toes as flesh turned gangrenous and died. Then the fevers would worsen, and blood would gush from the stomach through the mouth. Within about a week, 80% of those who contracted the plague would be dead.

Agnolo di Tura, a shoemaker of Siena, described the horror:

The mortality began in Siena in May 1348. It was a cruel and horrible thing and I do not know where to
begin to tell of the cruelty and the pitiless ways. It seemed to almost everyone that one became stupified by seeing the pain. And it was impossible for the human tongue to recount the awful thing. Indeed one who did not see such horribleness can be called blessed. And the victims died almost immediately. They would swell beneath their armpits and in their groins, and all over dead while talking. Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother a brother; for this illness seemed to strike through the breath and sight. And so they died. And none could be found to bury the dead for money or  friendship. Members of a household brought their dead to a ditch as best they could, without priest, without divine offices. Nor did the death bell sound. And in many places in Siena great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead. And they died by the hundreds both day and night, and all were thrown in those ditches and covered over with earth. And as soon as those ditches were filled more were dug.

And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands. And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city.

There was no one who wept for any death, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed that it was the end of the world...

And those that survived were like persons distraught and almost without feeling. And many walls and other things were abandoned, and all the mines of silver and gold and copper that existed in Sienese territory were abandoned as is seen; for in the countryside many more people died, many lands and villages were abandoned, and no one remained there. I will not write of the cruelty that there was in the countryside, of the wolves and wild beasts that ate the poorly buried corpses, and of other cruelties that would be too painful to those who read of them...

By the time the disease ran its course, between 75 million and 200 million people perished from the "Black Death."

It was against this great evil that Christians turned in desperation to fourteen Saints who became known together as the "Fourteen Holy Helpers" or "Auxiliary Saints," all but one of whom (St. Giles) being martyrs. In German, they're known as die Vierzehn Nothelfer or Vierzehnheiligen; in Italian, as i Quattordici Santi Ausiliari or i Santi  Ausiliatori; in French, as les Quatorze Saints Auxiliateurs or les Quatorze Secourables; and in Spanish as los Catorce Santos auxiliadores. They've been invoked by those in need all over the world, but seem to be especially beloved in Spanish and German-speaking lands. Maria Von Trapp writes that "[i]n the old country, a picture of the Fourteen Holy Helpers is to be found in many a little wayside shrine..."

Each is a Saint in his own right and has his own place in the martyrology, but they are honored collectively with a votive Mass on August 8. This isn't and never was a universal Church practice, but it is a good practice, and one we can make use of, just as we can honor these great Saints together in our homes on that date, and any time "one is in great illness or anguish or sadness, or in whatsoever tribulation a man shall be," as the late 15th century Missal of Bamberg says about their feast.

A brief look at each of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, how they're depicted in art, links to brief biographies as recounted in "Mary, Help of Christians and the Fourteen Saints Invoked as the Holy Helpers" by Father Bonaventure Hammer, their stories in Jacobus de Voragine's 15th century "Golden Legend" (when available), links to novenas for each, and any links to pages about their individual feast day customs:

St. Achathius
May 8

Also known as Acathius, Achathius, Agathius, and Acacius.

German name: Achatius
Italian name: Acacio
French name: Acace
Spanish name: Acacio
Latin Name: Achatius

Patronage: soldiers; against headache

Depiction: a man, often dressed as a Roman centurion or in armor with standard and shield, holding a bunch of thorns or wearing a crown of thorns, holding a cross or the palm of martyrdom; being crucified on a cross; accompanied by Theodore of Amasea

Novena to St. Achathius

St. Barbara
December 4

German name: Barbara
Italian name: Barbara
French name: Barbe
Spanish name: Bárbara
Latin name: Barbara

Patronage: against lightning and storms, fire, explosions, and sudden and unprovided death; artillerymen; builders; miners

Depiction: with or near a tower, holding a chalice or sword, cannon

Golden Legend
Novena to St. Barbara
Feast Day of St. Barbara

St. Blaise
February 3

German name: Blasius
Italian name: Biagio
French name: Blaise de Sébaste
Spanish name: Blas
Latin name: Blasius

Patronage: against throat diseases; domestic animals; the wool trade

Depiction: a Bishop holding a candle or two candles

Golden Legend
Novena to St. Blaise
Feast Day of St. Blaise

St. Catherine of Alexandria
November 25

German name: Katharina von Alexandrien
Italian name: Caterina d'Alessandria
French name: Catherine d'Alexandrie
Spanish name: Catalina de Alejandría
Latin name: Catharina

Patronage: against sudden and unprovided death; women seeking husbands; students; philosophers; librarians

Depiction: holding a wheel or sword

Note: St. Catherine of Alexandria was one of the Saints, along with St. Margaret of Antioch (another Holy Helper) and St. Michael the Archangel, who appeared to St. Joan of Arc.

Golden Legend
Novena to St. Catherine of Alexandria
Feast Day of St. Catherine of Alexandria

St. Christopher
July 25

German name: Christophorus
Italian name: Cristoforo
French name: Christophe
Spanish name: Cristóbal
Latin Name: Christophorus

Patronage: travellers; against sudden and unprovided death; against storms

Depiction: carrying the Christ Child. In the East, he is sometimes shown as having the head of a dog, likely because the race of people whence he came were believed to have been dog-headed.

Golden Legend
Novena to St. Christopher

St. Cyriacus
August 8

German name: Cyriacus
Italian name: Ciriaco
French name: Cyriaque
Spanish name: Ciriaco
Latin name: Cyriaco

Patronge: against demonic possession and eye disease; against temptation at death

Depiction: a deacon with a book or palm of martyrdom, sometimes accompanied by Artemia, sometimes shown with a bound dragon

Golden Legend
Novena to St. Cyriacus

St. Dionysius
October 9

German name: Dionysius
Italian name: Dionigi
French name: Denis
Spanish name: Dionisio
Latin name: Dionysius

Patronage: against headaches, strife, and demonic posssession

Depiction: a Bishop carrying his own head

Golden Legend
Novena to St. Denis (Dionysius)

St. Erasmus
June 2

Also known as St. Elmo.

German name: Erasmus
Italian name: Erasmo
French name: Érasme
Spanish name: Erasmo
Latin name: Erasmus

Patronage: against abdominal diseases; sailors; domestic animals

Depiction: a Bishop holding a winch or windlass, sometimes with his entrails wrapped around it

Note that "St. Elmo's Fire" -- the blue or violet glowing light of plasma emitted by a corona discharge when air is ionized in an electrically charged atmosphere, such as during a thunderstorm -- is named for St. Erasmus. Sailors, who sometimes see the weather phenomenon on ships at sea, named the glowing light after their patron saint.

Golden Legend
Novena to St. Erasmus (Elmo)

St. Eustace
September 20

German name: Eustachius
Italian name: Eustachio
French name: Eustache
Spanish name: Eustaquio
Latin name: Eustachius

Patronage: firefighters; hunters; Madrid, Spain; invoked against fire, both temporal and the fires of Hell

Depiction: with a stag or crucifix (often the crucifix will appear between the stag's horns). Note that Eustace is shown with a stag -- a male deer with antlers -- while Giles is shown with a female deer (hind or doe).

Golden Legend
Novena to St. Eustace

St. George
April 23

German name: Georg
Italian name: Giorgio
French name: Georges
Spanish name: Jorge
Latin name: Georgius

Patronage: many places, including England and Portugal; soldiers; invoked against the devil

Depicted: a young man, often shown as a knight, slaying a dragon

Golden Legend
Novena to St. George
Feast Day of St. George

St. Giles
September 1

German name: Ägidius
Italian name: Egidio
French name: Égide or Gilles
Spanish name: Gil
Latin name: Aegidius

Patronage: against epilepsy, insanity, nightmares, and sterility; cripples; beggars

Depicted: an abbot in a Benedictine habit, accompanied by a female deer (doe, hind). Note that he is shown with a female deer while Eustace is shown with a male deer with antlers.

Golden Legend
Novena to St. Giles (Aegidius)

St. Margaret of Antioch
July 20

German name: Margareta von Antiochia
Italian name: Margherita d'Antiochia
French name: Marguerite d'Antioche
Spanish name: Margarita de Antioquía
Latin name: Margaritae

Patronage: for help during pregnancy and childbirth; against back pain

Depicted: with a dragon

Note: St. Margaret was one of the Saints, along with St. Catherine of Alexandria (another Holy Helper) and St. Michael the Archangel, who appeared to St. Joan of Arc.

Golden Legend
Novena to St. Margaret of Antioch

St. Pantaleon
July 27

German name: Pantaleon
Italian name: Pantaleone
French name: Pantaléon
Spanish name: Pantaleón
Latin name: Pantal

Patronage: against tuberculosis; doctors; midwives

Depiction: with his hands nailed above his head (or to his head); being crucified, carrying a medicine box, martyr's cross or palm of martyrdom

Novena to St. Pantaleon

St. Vitus
June 15

Also known as Guy.

German name: Vitus
Italian name: Vito
French name: Guy or Vite
Spanish name: Vito
Latin name: Vitus

Patronage: against chorea (St. Vitus' Dance), venomous animals, and epilepsy; dancers; actors

Depiction: a young man in a cauldron or carrying the palm of martyrdom, or a rooster on top of a book; often accompanied by a dog

Note: St. Vitus's Dance is an expression of mass hysteria (and/or, possibly, ergot poisoning) by which people (usually women) would suddenly start dancing compulsively. They would be joined by others -- perhaps hundreds of others -- and move frenziedly to the point of exhaustion, behaving as if in a trance, sometimes dancing until they lost consciousness. St. Vitus was prayed to as the cure. The involuntary movements made by people with chorea caused the disease to also have been called "St. Vitus's Dance." See also the tarantism associated with the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul in Taranto, Apulia, Italy to this day.

Golden Legend
Novena to St. Vitus

From the above, you can see that per the graphic at the top of this page, if Our lady is at Noon, then: St. Margaret and St. Barbara are at 12:30; St. Erasmus is at 1:00; St. Dionysius is at 2:00; St. Vitus is at 3:00; St. Cyriacus is at 4:00; St. Giles is at 5:00; St. Christopher is at 6:00; St. George is at 7:00; St. Achatius is at 8:00; St. Pantaleon and St. Catherine are at 9:00; St. Eustace is at 10:00; and St. Blase is at 11:00.

Can you name them in the painting below? (click to enlarge) I think one of them has been swapped for a different Saint; that sometimes happened in old depictions of our Saints: priests or artists from places with devotions to a particular Saint might replace one of the Holy Fourteen with a local favorite.

This prayer to the Fourteen Holy Helpers -- the collect for the Helpers' votive Mass, from a 15th century Cracow Missal -- would be a good prayer for the day ---

Almighty and merciful God, Who didst adorn Thy Saints George, Blase, Erasmus, Pantaleon, Vitus, Christopher, Denis, Cyriacus, Acacius, Eustace, Giles, Margaret, Barbara and Catherine with special privileges above all others, so that all who in their necessities implore their help, according to the grace of Thy promise, may attain the salutary effect of their pleading, grant to us, we beseech Thee, forgiveness of our sins, and with their merits interceding, deliver us from all adversities, and kindly hear our prayers.

-- as would this prayer by St. Alphonsus Liguori:

Great princes of heaven, Holy Helpers, who sacrificed to God all your earthly possessions, wealth, preferment and even life and who now are crowned in heaven in the secure enjoyment of eternal bliss and glory; have compassion on me, a poor sinner in this vale of tears and obtain for me from God, for Whom you gave up all things and Who loves you as His servants, the strength to bear patiently all the trials of this life, to overcome all temptations and to persevere in God’s service to the end, that one day I too may be received into your company, to praise and glorify Him, the supreme Lord, Whose beatific vision you enjoy and Whom you praise and glorify forever. Amen

The Litany of the Holy Helpers, also written by St. Alphonsus Liguori, could also be prayed today or any time you are in great trouble.

To prepare for this feast (by starting on July 30 and ending on August 7) or, as always, in times of trouble, you can pray the Novena to All the Fourteen Holy Helpers, also written by St. Alphonsus Liguori, and whence the prayer and litany above come.

As for music, we are blessed: Engelbert Humperdinck -- not the British singer famous in the 1970s, but the German composer who was born in 1854 -- includes mention of the Fourteen Holy Helpers in his opera "Hänsel und Gretel." The second act includes a beautiful duet called "Abendsegen" (Evening Prayer) which refers to our Auxiliary Saints as "fourteen angels" (when the opera is staged, the Fourteen are dressed as angels, too, alas1). Here is this beautiful song in both German and English.

English: Evening Prayer (When At Night I Go to Sleep)
Abends, will ich schlafen gehn,
Vierzehn Engel um mich stehn:
Zwei zu meinen Häupten,
Zwei zu meinen Füßen,
Zwei zu meiner Rechten,
Zwei zu meiner Linken,
Zwei die mich decken,
Zwei, die mich wecken,
Zwei, die mich weisen
Zu Himmels Paradeisen.
When at night I go to sleep,
Fourteen angels watch do keep,
Two my head are guarding,
Two my feet are guiding;
Two upon my right hand,
Two upon my left hand.
Two who warmly cover
Two who o'er me hover,
Two to whom 'tis given
To guide my steps to heaven.

If you want to learn to sing this song in English (you'll need two voices -- one for Hansel and one for Gretel, both parts being usually sung by sopranos), download the sheet music: Abendsegen (Evening Prayer) (pdf)

Bavarian Church Built in Honor of The Fourteen Holy Helpers

In Bamberg, Bavaria, Germany, you can visit the very Baroque-Rococo Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (Basilika Vierzehnheiligen). Situated on a hillside facing the River Main, it was built in response to a vision: in the autumn of 1445, a young shepherd named Hermann Leicht saw a Child crying in a field near the Cistercian monastery. He walked over to the Child and bent down to pick Him up -- but the Child disappeared. The shepherd returned to his sheep, puzzled, but when he looked back, he saw the Child again, this time with the light of two candles burning near Him. Then the Child again disappeared.

The next year, on the eve of the Feast of SS Peter and Paul, the shepherd saw the Child once more, this time with a red cross on His chest, and not only with the lights overhead, but accompanied by other children, all enveloped in a golden halo. The Child said that they were the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and that they wanted a church built on the site.

The shepherd told the Bishop about what happened, but was ignored -- until others learned of the visions, went to the field where the apparitions took place, and received miracles. So a church was built. At its very center is a plaque marking the spot where the Child and His Fourteen Holy Helpers appeared. It reads, In Medio XIV Auxiliatorum Jesus Christus Hic Apparuit 1446 ("Here appeared amid the Fourteen Helpers Jesus Christ in 1446"). The altar of the church is adorned with life-sized white and gold statues of each of the Holy Helpers.

Between May and October, pilgrimages are made to this beautiful church, and you can take a virtual tour any time here:

Speaking of Bavaria, the Germans have a mnemonic to learn the names and patronages of the die Vierzehn Nothelfer:

S. Blasius bringt wegen Halsweh Fürbitt dar
S. Georgius ist anzurufen in Kriegs-Gefahr
S. Erasmus für Darm und Leibesschmerzen
S. Vitus ein großer Freund der Kinder-Herzen
S. Pantaleon Patron der Ärzten, bei Gott mächtig
S. Christoph für Hagel und Wetter beschützt er kräftig
S. Dionysus in Hauptweh wird gerufen an
S. Cyriacus von Teufel Beseßnen helfen kann
S. Achatius dem christlichen Kriegsvolk hilft er behend
S. Eustachius Betrübniß in der Ehe abwendt
S. Ägidius hilft zu Erkenntniß heimlicher Sünd
S. Margaretha wo Teufelslist ein Zugang findt
S. Katharina wenn Weisheit im Studiren mangelt
S. Barbara im Tod die Sackrament erlangt
St. Blaise is for when your throat is sore
St. George is invoked in times of war
Erasmus is good when your belly hurts
St. Vitus is a friend of children's hearts
St. Pantaleon prays for those who heal
St. Christopher's a help when the weather's surreal
Dionysius is for when your head is bad aching
Cyriacus is a friend when the devil's soul-shaking
Acathius helps those who defend
Eustachius helps the married stay friends
St. Giles lets us know the times we are flagging
St. Margaret is good when there there be dragons
St. Catherine helps us our studies embrace
St. Barbara helps us to die in good grace


1 I have to laugh at the reality that many Protestant church choirs sing Humperdinck's "Evening Song (When at Night I Go to Sleep)" not realizing that the "angels" are actually Catholic Saints. Let's pray they all formally enter into the Church Christ built on the rock of St. Peter!

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