Saint Roch is the patron saint of dogs, bachelors, surgeons, tile makers, invalids, and diseased cattle. He helps pilgrims and is invoked against epidemics and diseases of the skin. In the Italian Renaissance painting by Giovanni Buonconsiglio (ca. 1465, ca. 1535) he is shown in traveling attire, pointing at his plague bubo, in company of Saint Sebastian, whose arrows were thought to carry infection, especially the plague.
Saint Roch is now believed to be a hagiographic doublet in which two stories about saints are combined into one. The original saint, Saint Racho (died ca. 660 CE) warded off storms (tempests). The later figure became the protector against the plague (“tem-pest” became “peste,” meaning plague in French). He was a young French nobleman whose life was an uninterrupted succession of miracles. Giving up riches for a mendicant life in Italy, he saved important people from the plague, but contracting it himself, he was saved by a dog who licked his wounds and brought him daily nourishment. He died most likely in 1370 in Vorghera, Italy; and his relics found their way to Venice, where they are revered to this day.
St. Sebastian with St. Roch and St. Lawrence, ca. 1500
Oil on canvas
San Giacomo dall’orio, Venice, Italy
GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief