In our self-obsessed, individual-driven world of medical breakthroughs, technological wonders and incredible Hot Pocket innovations, human beings are only becoming more self-reliant, insular and independent. We are ‘masters of our fate,’ and the ‘captains of our souls.’ Many of us have no need for God or anything of the sort. We are our own helpers, are own healers.
But back in the 14th Century, when the Black Plague was mowing down everything in sight, we weren’t quite so sure of ourselves. We needed all the help we could get. In those days, the people turned to 14 Holy Helpers to deal with their many problems. Let’s have a look at this elite group and what they were called upon to help protect against.
Agathius – - Headaches
At first glance, this seems like overkill having a Heavenly Helper designated just for headaches. But then again I can’t imagine spending a day productively threshing wheat, being a blacksmith’s apprentice or cheesemongering with a pounding headache.
Barbara – - Fever, Sudden Death
I’m glad to see others share this Sudden Death concern. Ever since turning 30, I’ve been terrified of just randomly keeling over.
Blaise – - Illness of the Throat, Protection of Domestic Animals
I just read that the Black Death also killed huge amounts of animals, so this makes sense. Today, most people have incredibly useless animals – like pythons or unskilled cats – but I suppose they still merit a petition of Blaise for good fortune and nice treats etc.
Catherine of Alexandria – - Sudden Death
It’s good that we have two ‘sudden death’ options – hedge our bets a little bit.
Christopher – - Bubonic Plague, Travel Danger
I wish I had been aware of these Heavenly Helpers before writing this post. Just a couple weeks ago, I had to fly in one of those terrifying tiny planes. Really could’ve used some comfort bouncing around in those clouds.
Cyriacus – - Deathbed Temptation
This one I don’t really get. What sort of deathbed scenario are we talking about here? I imagine the deathbed being the least tempting time of your life. What sorts of shenanigans can you engage in when you’re about to shove off?
Denis – - Headaches
Again with the headaches. Seems like it would be more efficient to split up the helping duties a bit, but hey what do I know. Although maybe one is for legitimate headaches, and the other is for hangovers etc.
Erasmus – - Intestinal Ailments
I’ll leave the ‘Er-as-mus b…” jokes to someone else. Seriously though, I’m thrilled to have a new advocate for my beleaguered digestive system.
Eustace – - Family Discord
“Dear Eustace, Please help to smite Uncle Tito; his jokes are really starting to cross the line.”
George – - Health of Domestic Animals
More animal support here.
Giles – - Bubonic Plague, Good Confessions, and help for Cripples, Blacksmiths and Beggars
Now here’s a Holy Helper worth his salt; Giles seems like he’s helping lots of people.
Margaret of Antioch – - Childbirth, Escape from Devils
If any ladies reading this are currently giving birth, working on that final push, try shouting, “MARGARET OF ANTIOCH!!!!” as loud as you can.
Pantaleon – - Physicians, Cancer, Tuberculosis
Another good helper.
Vitus – - Epilepsy, Lightning, Protection of Domestic Animals
Next time you’re considering trying that last hole of golf with a storm a brewin’, consider invoking Vitus. Or maybe just head to the clubhouse.
While the 14 Holy Helpers have lost a bit of appeal as of late (it appears their feast days were removed in 1969, except for Catherine of Alexandria), I think this is a nice concept. We’re such know-it-all’s these days. We’re ‘self-made,’ self-sufficient, and we don’t need help from anyone.
Say what you will about the idea of seeking help from above or beyond (or wherever), but in my mind, there is an implicit humility in this act that is good. It’s hard for us to admit that we need help, but it’s a good exercise to swallow the pride and do so. Generally speaking, humility is always better than vanity. And I also like the notion of acknowledging/respecting those who’ve come before us. That’s another thing we’re terrible at nowadays.
So here’s to you 14 Holy Helpers. Thanks for all your help in times of trouble!