Saint Roch

Saint Roch
Saint Roch

Saint Roch
Born c. 1348 (trad. 1295)
Montpellier, France
Died 15/16 August 1376/79, Voghera, Italy (trad. 1327, Montpellier, France)
Honored in The Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, Episcopal Churches, Aglipayan Church, the Third Order of St. Francis
Canonized by popular fervour; added to the Roman Martyrology by Pope Gregory XIV (1590-1591)
Major shrine Church of San Rocco, Venice, Italy
Feast August 16 or August 17 by the Third Order of St. Francis
Attributes Wound on thigh, dog offering bread
Patronage Invoked against: cholera, epidemics, knee problems, plague, skin diseases. Patron Saint of: bachelors, diseased cattle, dogs, falsely accused people, invalids, Istanbul, surgeons, tile-makers,[1] gravediggers, second-hand dealers, pilgrims, apothecaries

Saint Roch or Rocco (Arabic: روكز‎; Albanian: Shën Rroku; German and Latin: Rochus; Catalan: Roc; Italian: Rocco; French: Roch; Maltese: Rokku; Polish: Roch; Spanish, Filipino and Portuguese: Roque; Slovak: Roch or Rochus; Slovene: Rok; Croatian: Rok or Roko; Hungarian: Rókus; Greek: Ρόκκος); lived c.1348 - 15/16 August 1376/79 (traditionally c.1295 – 16 August 1327[2]) was a Christian saint, a confessor whose death is commemorated on 16 August; he is specially invoked against the plague. He may also be called Rock in English, and has the dedication of St Rollox in Glasgow, Scotland.


The cult of Saint Roch

According to the research of the Belgian historian Pierre Bolle[3] (2001), which today represents the most exhaustive work on ancient lives of the saint, Saint Roch is not properly a historical saint. The work of Bolle by using a rigorous historical methodology, has clarified which of the hagiographies were the most ancient, and which were instead simple reworkings and additions.

According to Pierre Bolle, Saint Roch is a hagiographical doublet of a more ancient saint, Saint Racho of Autun (died ca. 660). Invoked for protection against storms, the figure of Racho would be the basis of the name of this saint (Racho/Roche), and of the patronage of the saint who recovers from the plague, patronage that would have been generated through aphaeresis, i.e. the fall of the first syllable of the word, from the French name "tempeste" (storm): thus, from "Racho", invoked to protect from "tem-peste", to "Roche" protecting from "-peste" (plague), the step was short. It was supported by the theories of medieval medicine, that attributed the causes of illness to the corruption of air and to the consequent breaking of the equilibrium of humours inside the human body.

According to the veteran scholar André Vauchez, doyen of hagiographical studies, introducing the volume of essays resulting from a symposium on Roch in Padua, Italy, 2004, Bolle's doctoral thesis "devastates pretty much everything we thought we knew about St. Roch and his cult"[4] Consequently the thesis of Bolle has completely revolutionized the studies on the saint, even if in the hagiographic field the existence of doublets and homonyms to the base of the creation of new saints is a well known procedure.

Veneration of Saint Roch is not so easily dismissed from the Internet, however. Gian Paolo Vico, of the Associazione San Rocco Italia,[5] asserts that a prisoner of French origin held for five years died in Voghera, Italy the night between the 15 and 16 August, between 1376 and 1379, who according to some sources attained a certain fame for sanctity in Piacenza and Sarmato. according to Vico the 1391 calendar of Voghera[citation needed] records a mid-summer festival in honor of Sancti Rochi (St. Roch of Montpellier, the 16th of August) and not Sancti Rochonis (St. Racho of Autun, the 25th of January), indicating the existence of two different saints.[6] This information proves that a local cult and feast of St. Roch of Montpellier existed at least as early as 1391, starting in Voghera before Montpellier. We also have documentation of the body of St. Roch of Montpellier present in Voghera in 1469 and it being venerated since at least then; and of a feast in his honor being celebrated in 1483 in the presence of his remains. This information has led to the now common belief that St. Roch probably died in Voghera, Italy, instead of Montpellier, France.


Saint Roch, Scilla, Calabria.

According to his Acta and his vita in Legenda Aurea, he was born at Montpellier, at that time "upon the border of France" as Legenda Aurea has it,[7] the son of the noble governor of that city. Even his birth was accounted a miracle, for his noble mother had been barren until she prayed to the Virgin Mary. Miraculously marked from birth with a red cross on his breast that grew as he did, he early began to manifest strict asceticism and great devoutness; on days when his "devout mother fasted twice in the week, and the blessed child Rocke abstained him twice also, when his mother fasted in the week, and would suck his mother but once that day".[8]

On the death of his parents in his twentieth year he distributed all his worldly goods among the poor like Francis of Assisi— though his father on his deathbed had ordained him governor of Montpellier— and set out as a mendicant pilgrim for Rome.[9] Coming into Italy during an epidemic of plague, he was very diligent in tending the sick in the public hospitals at Acquapendente, Cesena, Rimini, Novara[10] and Rome, and is said to have effected many miraculous cures by prayer and the sign of the cross and the touch of his hand. At Rome, according to Legenda Aurea he preserved the "cardinal of Angleria in Lombardy"[11] by making the mark of the cross on his forehead, which miraculously remained. Ministering at Piacenza he himself finally fell ill. He was expelled from the town; and withdrew into the forest, where he made himself a hut of boughs and leaves, which was miraculously supplied with water by a spring that arose in the place; he would have perished had not a dog belonging to a nobleman named Gothard Palastrelli supplied him with bread and licked his wounds, healing them. Count Gothard, following his hunting dog that carried the bread, discovered Saint Roch and became his acolyte.

On his return incognito to Montpellier he was arrested as a spy (by orders of his own uncle) and thrown into prison, where he languished five years and died on 16 August 1327, without revealing his name, to avoid worldly glory. (Evidence suggests, as mentioned earlier, that the previous events occurred, instead at Voghera in 1370s.) After his death, according to Legenda Aurea,

"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."

The townspeople recognized him as well by his birthmark;[12] he was soon canonized in the popular mind,[13] and a great church erected in veneration.

The date (1327) asserted by Francesco Diedo for Saint Roch's death would precede the traumatic advent of the Black Death in Europe (1347–49) after long centuries of absence, for which a rich iconography of the plague, its victims and its protective saints was soon developed, in which the iconography of Roche finds its historical place: previously the topos did not exist.[14] In contrast, however, St. Roch of Montpellier cannot be dismissed based on dates of a specific plague event. In medieval times, the term "plague" was used to indicate a whole array of illnesses and epidemics.

The first literary account is an undated Acta that is labeled, by comparison with the longer, elaborated accounts that were to follow, Acta Breviora, which relies almost entirely on standardized hagiographic topoi to celebrate and promote the cult of Roch[15]

The story that when the Council of Constance was threatened with plague in 1414, public processions and prayers for the intercession of Roch were ordered, and the outbreak ceased, is provided by Francesco Diedo, the Venetian governor of Brescia, in his Vita Sancti Rochi, 1478. The cult of Roch gained momentum during the bubonic plague that passed through northern Italy in 1477-79.[16]

Statue of St Roch in Bílá Hora, Prague (1751)

His popular cult, originally in central and northern Italy and at Montpellier, spread through Spain, France, Lebanon, the Low Countries, and Germany, where he was often interpolated into the roster of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, whose veneration spread in the wake of the Black Death. The magnificent 16th-century Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the adjacent church of San Rocco were dedicated to him by a confraternity at Venice, where his body was said to have been surreptitiously translated and was triumphantly inaugurated in 1485;[17] the Scuola Grande is famous for its sequence of paintings by Tintoretto, who painted St Roch in glory in a ceiling canvas (1564).

We know for certain that the body of St. Roch was carried from Voghera, instead of Montpellier as previously thought, to Venice in 1485. Pope Alexander VI (1492–1503) built a church and a hospital in his honor. Pope Paul III (1534–1549) instituted a confraternity of St. Roch. This was raised to an arch-confraternity in 1556 by Pope Paul IV; it still thrives today.[18] Saint Roch had not been officially recognized as yet, however. In 1590 the Venetian ambassador at Rome reported back to the Serenissima that he had been repeatedly urged to present the witnesses and documentation of the life and miracles of San Rocco, already deeply entrenched in the Venetian life, because Pope Sixtus V "is strong in his opinion either to canonize him or else to remove him from the ranks of the saints"; the ambassador had warned a cardinal of the general scandal that would result if the widely-venerated San Rocco were impugned as an impostor. Sixtus did not pursue the matter but left it to later popes to proceed with the canonization process.[19] His successor, Pope Gregory XIV (1590–1591), added St. Roch of Montpellier, who had already been memorialized in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for two centuries, to the Roman Martyrology, thereby fixing August 16 as his universal feast day.[6]

Numerous brotherhoods have been instituted in his honor. He is usually represented in the garb of a pilgrim, often lifting his tunic to demonstrate the plague sore in his thigh, and accompanied by a dog carrying a loaf in its mouth. The Third Order of St. Francis, by tradition, honors him as a member of the Order, and still includes his feast on its liturgical calendar, observing it on August 17.

Saint Roch joined Saint Gerald (San Gerardo) as a patron saint of the city of Potenza, Italy.

Saint Roch churches


Burial place of Saint Roch, Church of San Rocco in Venice, Italy
Saint-Roch, Paris, designed by Lemercier, begun 1653: pen-and-ink drawing by Charles Norry, 1787


  • Saint Roch Church in Rayfoun, Lebanon
  • Monastery of Saint Roch, Dekouaneh, Lebanon
  • Monastery of Saint Roch, Riyak, Bekaa, Lebanon

North America

South America

  • Iglesia de San Roque in Tarija, Bolivia
  • Igreja de São Roque em São Roque (Sao Roque Town), Estado de São Paulo (São Paulo State) Brazil
  • Iglesia de San Roque en San Francisco de la Montaña, Panamá
  • Parroquia de San Roque, en Paranà, Provincia de Entre Rìos, Argentina


  • St. Rocky Church, Pootharakkal, Thrissur, Kerala, India
  • San Roque Parish, Bagumbayan, Quezon City
  • San Roque Roman Catholic Parish, Sulop, Davao del Sur, Philippines
  • San Roque Church, San Roque, San Pablo City, Laguna, Philippines
  • San Roque Chapel, Bongoran, Oas, Albay, Philippines
  • Saint Roch Catholic Church in Kahuku, Hawaii
  • St. Roch's Church in Hanmer Springs, (Canterbury, New Zealand)
  • St. Roch's Church in Glen Iris, Melbourne, Australia
  • San Roque Church in JP Rizal St., San Roque, Marikina City, Philippines.
  • San Roque Parish Church of Navotas (Metro Manila, Philippines)
  • San Roque Cathedral, Diocese of Caloocan (Metro Manila, Philippines)
  • San Roque Parish Mandaluyong City [2] (Metro Manila, Philippines)
  • San Roque Parish Church Cavite City (Philippines)
  • San Roque de Manila Parish in Rizal Avenue, Sta. Cruz, Manila (Philippines)
  • San Roque Parish Church, Bagumbayan, Quezon City (Philippines)
  • St. Roch Parish, Baluarte, Gapan City, Nueva Ecija, Philippines
  • Gumayu'us San Roque in San Roque village, Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands
  • St. Roch's Church in Seethapal, Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu, India
  • St. Roch's Church in Puthukudyiruppu, Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, India
  • St. Roch's Church in Veepu Vilai, Puthukkadai, Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, India
  • St. Roque's Chapel, Bandora, Ponda, Goa, India
  • St. Roch Church in Nadu Aarupuzhi, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, India
  • St. Roch Chapel (St. Rocky), Muringoor (Mandikkunne), Chalakudy, Thirssur, Kerala, India
  • San Roque GKK Dist. 1 Chapel, Tupaz St., Matina Crossing, Davao City
  • San Roque Parish Ilasan, Tayabas City, Philippines
  • San Roque de Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines
  • St. Rochs grotto at Assumption Church, Cheriyathura, Trivandrum, India
    St. Rochs Association celebrates the feast on the second Sunday of December.
  • San Roque Chapel, Mabolo Valenzuela City (Philippines)
  • Saint Roch Catholic Church, ThaKhai, Thailand
  • St. Roch Church in Arockiapuram, Neyyoor, Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, India
  • San Roque de Montpellier Parish, Poblacion, Asturias, Cebu (Philippines)
  • San Roque Parish, Brgy. San Roque Tarlac City (Philippines)

Other things named after St Roch

Popular culture

  • A popular Spanish tongue twister is El perro de san Roque no tiene rabo porque Ramón Ramírez se lo ha robado ("Saint Roch's dog has no tail because Ramón Ramírez stole it").
  • In Bolivia, Saint Roch's day, though not as celebrated as it once was, is considered the "birthday of all dogs", in which the dogs around town can be seen with colorful ribbons tied to them.
  • The main train station of Montpellier, France is named after St. Roch, as well as a church, a hospital and many squares and streets.
  • In Bingen, Germany there is a St. Rochus pilgrimage church on top of a hill. Every year in August a one week pilgrimage — the "St. Rochusfest" — is held in memory of a 17th century vow of the city council.
  • Some churches that are named after the saint distribute, as a pietistic practice, the "bread of Saint Rocco" to parishioners on August 16, his feast day.
  • Saint Rocco's procession is featured in the movie The Godfather Part II. In the procession, the St. Rocco Society of Potenza, Inc., which still exists after its commencement in 1889, carries the Italian-made (original) statue in a similar manner that a replica statue is carried today. The original statue, also from 1889, can be viewed in St. Joseph's Church in New York City.
  • According to Montague Summers' The Vampire in Europe, St. Roch was prayed to in Poland to ward off vampire attacks.
  • The initials VSR (Viva San Rocco or Long Live St. Rocco) can still be found above doorways in Europe: This was engraved as a plea to ward off the plague.
  • In Batman: Arkham City, Calendar Man commits a crime on the Feast Day of St. Roch (August 16th). He notes that it is an obscure holiday but says "I couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate the dog days of summer."


  1. ^ Patron Saints Index: Saint Roch
  2. ^ The date was offered by Francesco Diedo, Vita Sancti Rochi 1478.
  3. ^ Bolle, Saint Roch. Genèse et première expansion d'une culte au XVeme siècle (Free University of Brussels) 2001.
  4. ^ "qui ruine à peu près toutes les certitudes que l'on croyait avoir à propos de saint Roch et de son culte", San Rocco: Genesi e prima espansione di un culto. Incontro di studio—Padova, 12–13 febbraio 2004 Antonio Rigon and André Vauchez, eds. (Subsidia hagiographica, 87.) (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes) 2006:1.
  5. ^ Associazione San Rocco Italia web site
  6. ^ a b Paolo Ascogni and Pierre Bolle. Rocco di Montpellier: voghera e il suo santo. Documenti e testimonianze sulla nascita del culto di un santo tra i più amati della cristianità (Voghera, 2001).
  7. ^ An estimated date, about 1295, has been interpolated.
  8. ^ Legenda Aurea, William Caxton's translation, 1483.
  9. ^ He is conventionally portrayed with pilgrim's wide-brimmed hat, staff and purse.
  10. ^ "There is little concern for mapping a logical itinerary" remarks Louise Marshall, "Manipulating the Sacred: Image and Plague in Renaissance Italy" Renaissance Quarterly 47.3 (Autumn, 1994:485-532) p. 502 note 39.
  11. ^ Perhaps Angera was intended.
  12. ^ Recognition by a birthmark— "the fairy sign-manual" as Nathaniel Hawthorne called it in "The Birthmark"— is a literary trope drawn from universal, sub-literary folktale morphology, given the designation H51.1 in Stith Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (Indiana University Press) 1955-58; the birthmark recognition has figured in Romance and marvel literature since Odysseus was recognized by his scar, long before the Hellenistic period; the birthmark-recognition motif can equally be found in Chinese and Mongolian narratives.
  13. ^ The Roman Church did not officially canonize Roch until the seventeenth century. Marie Schmitz-Eichhoff, "St. Rochus: ikonographische und medizinisch-historische Studien", Kölner medizin-historische Beiträge 3 (1977), noted in Christine M. Boeckl, "Giorgio Vasari's 'San Rocco Altarpiece': Tradition and Innovation in Plague Iconography" Artibus et Historiae 22 No. 43 (2001:29-40) p 39 note 13.
  14. ^ Boeckl 2001:35.
  15. ^ Very fully demonstrated by Irene Vaslef, in a dissertation noted by Marshall 1994:502 and note, 503.
  16. ^ The earliest testimony is Roch's appearance in two altarpieces from the Vivarini Venetian workshops in 1464 and 1465. (Marshall 1994:503 note 41, 504 and note 45).
  17. ^ Marshall 1994:505.
  18. ^ "St. Roch"Catholic Encyclopedia.New York: Robert Appleton Co. 1913.
  19. ^ Marshall 1994:503 note 43. Also Peter Burke, "How to be a Counter-Reformation Saint", in Religion and Society in Early Modern Europe,1500-1800, ed. Kaspar von Greyerz (London: Allen & Unwin, 1984), p.47.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Acta sanctorum, August, iii.
  • Charles Cahier, Les Characteristiques des saints, Paris, 1867

External links

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