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

The Feast of St. Roch
(San Rocco)

St. Roch was born in 1295 in Montpellier, Hérault (formerly a part of the province of Languedoc) -- a large city in the south of France, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The city was one that was important to trade, especially the trade in spices, and St. Roch's parents, Jean and Libera, were of noble birth and well off. They were also older when he was born, so his birth was a great grace -- one granted in answer to his mother's pleas to the Virgin. Another grace was the red cross birthmark that the baby bore on the left side of his chest, a sign of his vocation, and one which grew as the child grew.

His parents were pious folk, and their piety rubbed off on Roch. In imitation of St. Francis, he devoted himself to caring for the poor, the sick, and orphans. When he was around 20 years old, his parents died within a very short time span, so he gave away everything he had, donned the pilgrim's garb, and made a pilgrimage to Rome. Taking a pilgrimage route called the "Via Tolosana," he went through Arles, Aix-en-Provence, and Tarascon, where St. Martha and her sister, St. Mary Magdalene, lived after they left Palestine. Then he crossed the mountains and made his way to Florence and Siena.

When he got to the town of Acquapendente, his life took a miraculous turn. First, he met with a man named Vincenzo, who ran the city's hospital. Roch wanted to work there to serve the sick, but because the times were blotted by pestilence, Vincenzo was afraid that the pilgrim wasn't hearty enough for the job. But St. Roch was visited by an angel; the Golden Legend recounts what happened next:

[T]hem that were sick he blessed in the name of Christ, and as soon he had touched the sick men they were all whole. And they said and confessed as soon as and this holy man Rocke was come in. All they that were vexed and sick, and the fire of pestilence had infected, he extincted it and delivered all the hospital of that sickness. And after he went through the town, and each house that was vexed with pestilence he entered, and with the sign of the cross and mind of the passion of Jesu Christ he delivered them all from the pestilence. For whomsoever Rocke touched, anon the pestilence left him.

Having relieved Acquapendente of the epidemic, he made his way to Rome, curing people all along the way. Once in the Eternal City, he went to the Arcispedale di Santo Spirito in Saxia -- the oldest hospital in Europe -- and spent three years there working to cure the ill. It was during his stay in Rome that he had his famous meeting with a Cardinal, and then the Pope. The Golden Legend:

In those days there was at Rome a cardinal of the title of Angleria, which is a province of Lombardy, and the blessed Rocke came into this cardinal's place. And as he stood tofore him a little, suddenly a marvellous comfort and hope entered into the courage of the cardinal. He understood the young man Rocke to be right dear with God, for his cheer, his manners, and his attemperance showed it, wherefore he commended him to Rocke that he should deliver him from the pestilence and conserve him. And then Rocke did sign in the cardinal's forehead and made with his finger a cross. And anon an apparent sign and a very cross was seen impressed in his forehead, and so the cardinal was preserved from the pestilence. Nevertheless, for the novelty of the thing, he prayed S. Rocke that the token of the cross should be taken away, lest thereby it should be to the people a new spectacle. Then Rocke exhorted the cardinal that he should bear the sign of the cross of our Redeemer, in memory of his passion, in his forehead perpetually, and worship it reverently, by which sign he was delivered from the hard pestilence.

The cardinal then brought S. Rocke to the pope, which anon saw that is godly, a bright ray and heavenly, shining out of the forehead of Rocke. And after, when his divine virtue was known to the pope, Rocke obtained of him full remission of sin. Then the cardinal began to inquire of Rocke of his lineage and of his country, but Rocke affecting no mortal glory, hid his lineage and received again of the pope his blessing and departed from him.

Roch left Rome and went from city to city, visiting hospitals and the homes of the sick to cure those afflicted with the pestilence. He ended up in the city of Piacenza, and here, tragedy struck: St. Roch himself got sick with the virulent disease.

Then S. Rocke, sore oppressed with fervent pain of the pestilence, suffered patiently himself to be ejected out of Piacenza, and went into a certain wood [likely in present-day San Rocco al Porto], a desert valley not far from Piacenza, always blessing God. And there as he might he made him a lodge of boughs and leaves, always giving thankings to our Lord, saying: O Jesu, my Saviour, I thank thee that thou puttest me to affliction like to thine other servants, by this odious ardour of pestilence, and most meek Lord, I beseech thee to this desert place, give the... comfort of thy grace.

Near where he hunkered down in the woods, in agony from fevers and sores, lived a nobleman named Gotard. Gotard had many dogs, one of whom was in the habit of stealing bread from Gotard's board. By a miracle of God, that dog was inspired to take the bread to St. Roch, who had no one but God to care for him.

Gotard got to wondering what the dog was doing with that bread, so followed him and came upon Roch in his little lodge of boughs and leaves. Roch warned him to not come too close because of his sickness, so Gotard left. But he prayed about it and was led by God to return to Roch and learn from him about the Christian way of life. Roch told him that he should leave his possessions to his heirs and endure the humility of having to beg for a living. Gotard was embarrassed to do this where people knew him,

but at the last by the busy admonition of S. Rocke, Gotard went to Piacenza, whereas he had great knowledge, and begged bread and alms at the door of one of his gossips. That same gossip threatened sharply Gotard, and said he shamed his lineage and friends by this foul and indecent begging, and put him away, being wroth and scorning him. For which cause Gotard was constrained to beg busily at the doors of other men of the city.

And the same day the gossip that so had said to Gotard was taken sore with the pestilence, and many others that denied alms to Gotard. And then anon the city of Piacenza was infect with contagious pestilence, and Gotard returned to the wood and told to S. Rocke all that was happed.

Roch took pity on the people of Piacenza and, though ill, left Gotard behind, went to the city to cure the sick, and returned. News of Roch's presence in the forest spread, and people came to him there to be healed. The Golden Legend tells us that even the "wild beasts which wandered in the wood, what hurt, sickness or swelling they had, they ran anon to S. Rocke, and when they were healed they would incline their heads reverently and go their way."

At some point during their stay in the woods, Gotard went to Piacenza for supplies. While he was gone, Roch prayed that God would heal his own body. When Gotard returned, he found Roch sleeping, and heard an angel saying to Roch, "O Rocke, friend of God, our Lord hath heard thy prayers, lo, thou art delivered from the pestilence, and art made all whole, and our Lord commandeth that thou take the way toward thy country." When Roch awoke, he was healed.

His health restored, he decided to leave and make his way North. En route, he passed through a war-torn area, and In Voghera, Italy he was taken to be a spy. Never wanting his noble origins to be revealed, and only wanting to be seen as a servant of Christ, he said nothing -- and was imprisoned for five years. Then,

[i]n the end of the fifth year, when God would that his soul should be brought into the fellowship of his saints, and be always in the sight of God, he that bare meat to S. Rocke into the prison, as he was accustomed every day, he saw a great light and shining in the prison, and S. Rocke kneeling on his knees praying, which all these things he told to his lord.

And the fame hereof ran all about the city, so that many of the citizens ran to the prison because of the novelty of this thing. And there saw and beheld it and gave laud thereof to Almighty God, and accused the lord of cruelty and woodness.

Then at the last, when S. Rocke knew by the will of God that he should finish his mortal life, he called to him the keeper of the prison, and prayed him that he would go to his lord, and to exhort him in the name of God and of the glorious Virgin Mary, that he would send to him a priest, of whom ere he died he would be confessed, which thing was anon done. And when he had confessed him to the priest and devoutly taken his blessing, he prayed him that he might abide alone three days next following for to be in his contemplation, by which he might the better have mind of the most holy passion of our Lord. For Rocke felt well then that the citizens prayed the lord for his deliverance, which things the priest told to the lord.

And so it was granted to S. Rocke to abide there alone three days. And in the end of the third day the angel of God came to S. Rocke, saying thus: O Rocke, God sendeth me for thy soul, of whom in this last part of thy life that what thou now desirest thou shouldest now ask and demand.

Then S. Rocke prayed unto Almighty God with his most devout prayer, that all good Christian men which reverently prayed in the name of Jesu to the blessed Rocke might be delivered surely from the stroke of pestilence. And this prayer so made, he expired and gave up the ghost.

Anon an angel brought from heaven a table divinely written with letters of gold into the prison, which he laid under the head of S. Rocke. And in that table was written that God had granted to him his prayer, that is to wit, that who that calleth meekly to S. Rocke he shall not be hurt with any hurt of pestilence.

St. Roch is the patron of volunteers, dogs, pilgrims and, especially the sick -- most especially those struck with a plague or pestilence. He is depicted in art as a man garbed in the habit of a pilgrim (usually with a shell-shaped pilgrim badge), often baring one of his legs to show a sore left by the pestilence that ravaged him in his later years, accompanied by the dog who brought him bread, and bearing a pilgrim staff, and a gourd or canteen to hold water. Sometimes a cross will be shown on the left side of his breast to symbolize the cross-shaped birthmark he had. His relics may be venerated at the Church of San Rocco in Venice, Italy.


First, note that St. Roch's name is spelled a few different ways in English: Rock, Roch, Rocke, etc. In Italy he's known as "San Rocco."

Many prepare for this feast by making a novena to St. Roch starting on August 7 and ending on August 15, the eve of his feast on August 16. For today, the Litany of St. Rocco would be perfect, as would this prayer translated from Italian:

O Holy God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through the intercession of San Rocco, our friend, deliver us from all diseases and from all sins, and protect our families

O glorious San Rocco, help us to feel like pilgrims on this earth with our hearts turned to the sky. Pray for peace and serenity for our families. Protect our youth and instill in them a love of virtue.

Pray for comfort and healing for the sick. Help us to use our health for the good of needy brothers. Intercede for the unity of the Church and world peace. Help us to practice chairty here on earth so we might one day share with you immortal glory.

In common with St. Joseph, St. Anthony, St. Gerard Majella, St. Rita of Cascia, and St. Januarius (Gennaro), St. Roch is most especially cherished by the Italian people. All over Italy, his day is celebrated with great festivity. Nowhere, though, is it celebrated as grandly as in Palmi, Italy -- a town in Calabria, the region found in Italy's "toe." It begins with the city setting out lights a few days before his feast, with the churches setting out lights to correspond with the prepartory novena 9 days before.Then there is a great street fair, and la sfilata dei Giganti -- the "parade of the giants" in which two large papier-mâché figures named Mata and Grifone are paraded in the streets.

To thank San Rocco for past healings or to pray for ones in the future, ex-votos made of wax are left in great abundance on the altar to San Rocco in the local church. Women drop down at the church's door and walk on their knees to the altar to leave them. Children and teenagers make representations, called deserti, of scenes from the Saint's life: time he spent in solitude, time he spent caring for the sick, and time he spent imprisoned.

On his feast itself is a great procession of a statue of San Rocco -- this one with a difference: among those who process are the "spinati": bare-chested, bare-footed men who penitentially don conical-shaped "garments" made out of branches from a type of thorny, prickly Calicotome shrub, bound together with reeds and willows. These fit over the head and drape down over the torso, causing irritation and bleeding if worn without protection underneath. Women might wear little crowns made of the same branches. All clasp an image of San Rocco to their chests as they process. At the end of the procession, they pray in the old Palmese dialect:

O santu Rroccu filici e 'mbiatu, Cu cerca grazzia e cu di vui s'inchina. Arretu a na spina fustu 'ndinocchiatu, di notti e jornu e di sir'e matina. E cu nu libriceddhu accreditatu, la studiau la leggi divina, e di Gesù Vui fustu mandatu, mi disponiti grazzij sir'e matina. Gloria Patri, Figghju e Spiritu Santu, santu Rroccu è nu gran santu, è gran santu di valuri, santu Rroccu lu protetturi.  
O Saint Rocco happy and blessed, whoever seeks grace to you bows. Behind a thorn you were kneeling, by night and by day and by evening by morning. And with a book, you studied the divine law, and you were sent by Jesus to arrange graces from evening to morning. Glory to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, Saint Roch is a great saint, he is a great saint of valor, Saint Roch is the protector.

When the feast is ended, a big fireworks display is had after midnight. And, of course, all throughout, foods are enjoyed. A recipe for a doughnut-shaped cookie eaten on St. Roch's day:

Taralli di San Rocco (makes 24)

3 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond or use a teaspoon of lemon juice in the batter along with 1/2 teaspoon of zest
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or lemon juice if going the lemon route)
colored sprinkles for decorating

Preheat oven to 350oF. Line two baking sheets with parchment. In a big bowl, beat the eggs until light and fluffy. Add in the sugar and beat until mixture is pale in color; about 2-3 minutes. Mix in the melted butter and vanilla until smooth. Add in the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until the mixture comes together and forms a dough.

Dust your work surface with flour and lightly knead the dough together into a large ball. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Cut each of those fourths in half to make 8 equal dough balls. Take each dough ball and gently roll into a 12-inch-long rope, using a bit more flour if the dough is sticky. Cut each rope into three equal pieces and pinch ends together to make rings. Place on prepared baking sheets about two inches apart (you should be able to fit a dozen cookies per baking sheet). Bake for about 18 minutes, or until the tops are light golden brown. Ice when cool.

To make the icing, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. Flip over the cooled cookies and dip the tops into the icing letting the excess drip off. Place on parchment paper and top with sprinkles.

In Butera, a city in Caltanissetta, Sicily, San Rocco is also feted in a big way. Celebrations begin the day before, on the Feast of the Assumption, when the sounds of cannon salutes and bells fill the air. On the feast itself, there is the usual procession -- again, barefoot -- but the Saint's icon is adorned with basil. Once the statue has arrived at its destination, babies are undressed and held up naked toward San Rocco's image, an act symbolizing their parents placing their children under the Saint's patronage.

San Rocco is also very popular in Tolve, in Basilicata, Italy, and pilgrims come from all over the region to join in the celebrations. As a votive offering, parents will dress their children as the Saint; otherwise, the wearing of traditional regional clothing is prevalent. Mass is offered, and a one hundred verse-long hymn is sung, and in between the verse, the people respond: Evviva Santi Rocco! Santi Rocco evviva! Evviva Santi Rocco ca int'a Tolve stai! [Note: when singing this elsewhere, one would replace "Tolve" with the name of one's city]

Then there is the procession of San Rocco's image, which is adorned with gold chains, medals, watches, bracelets, and necklaces that have been donated for the cause.

You'll find many big celebrations of San Rocco in the Anglosphere as well, especially in ethnically Italian parishes, and in parishes named for the Saint. Because of the large Italian American population in New York, San Rocco's feast day is celebrated there in a big way. It's centered around the The Most Precious Blood Church on Mulberry Street, and the festivities are sometimes moved to the nearest weekend so more people can participate.1

Now for some music for the day: the song referred to above, but with music to accompany it:

And a hymn written for the same purpose:

Inno A San Rocco

Nessuno ha un amore più grande de questo:
è dare la vita agli amici lontani.

San Rocco, sei padre dei poveri ancora:
chiunque ti onora ottiene pietà.
San Rocco, ritorna, risplendi di luce:
al cielo conduce tua vita e tuo amor.

è questo il comando che sempre vi ho dato:
amarsi l'un l'altro come io ha amato voi.

avevo pur fame mi hai dato il tuo cibo:
avevo ancor sete, da bere tu mi hai dato.

Amen. Amen.
Hymn to San Rocco

No one has a greater love than this:
is to give life to distant friends.

San Rocco, you are still the father of the poor:
whoever honors you obtains mercy.
San Rocco, come back, resplendent with light:
your life and your love lead to heaven.

this is the command I have always given you:
love each other as I loved you.

I was hungry you gave me your food:
I was still thirsty, you gave me to drink.

Amen. Amen.

In Italy (and in France), St. Roch and his dog are used to describe two souls who are closely bound up together in some way. One saying is "chi ama san Rocco ama il suo cane" ("who loves Saint Roch loves his dog" -- i.e., "if you like person A, you'll like person B -- or will have to like person B because B "comes with the package"). Another is "chi vede san Rocco vede presto il suo cane" ("whoever sees San Rocco soon sees his dog" -- i.e., person A and person B are always together, like "Sears & Roebuck" or "Frick and Frack").

And, speaking of dogs, today is a good day to be extra-grateful for their beauty. What noble and wonderful creatures they are, seemingly made just to be our friends and helpers! Give your dog an extra pat on the head, and a longer walk than usual (and let him stop and smell and mark things!). Give him a pig ear or big beefy soup bone or whatever it is that makes his tail wag! For a simple dog treat you can make at home, try these:

Scooby Snacks

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (can use white flour)
1 large egg
1 cup peanut butter (as natural as possible, with no Xylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons honey

Mix the flour and egg. Add the peanut butter, water, and honey, and stir until you have a stiff dough (it will be sticky). Roll out on a floured surface to 1/2-inch thick and cut into whatever shapes you like (your dog wants bone shapes). Bake on a parchment-lined cookie sheet at 350oF for 18 to 20 minutes ('til golden). Cool completely.


1 FYI, t
he scene in Godfather II in which Don Corleone killed Don Fanucci took place during this feast. The feast in Godfather III was the Feast of San Gennaro. But if you attend the Festa di San Rocco in New York's Little Italy, and as the footnote reads on the page about the Feast of San Gennaro, "don't bring that up; Italian-Americans can get annoyed by the mafioso stereotypes, especially given that fewer than .3% of Italian-Americans are 'made';  Italian-Americans commit crime at rates no higher than those of other groups; Italian criminals like those of La Mano Nera preyed their fellow Italians most of all; and the relatively few Italian bad guys were brought down in large part by Italian-Americans like Joseph Pistone, Rudy Giuliani, etc."

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