A saint who represented both sides in the war between religion and science…
In the mid-14th century, in response to the horrors and social consequences of the Black Death, a group of 14 saints began to be venerated in Germany, each ‘responsible’ for a particular patronage, whether against plagues, headaches or family strife, or for safe childbirth, physicians and protection.
They became known as the Fourteen Holy Helpers – and it’s hard not to think of them as some sort of saintly band of X-Men.
They were venerated on 8 August, and in the 16th century indulgences were attached to their devotion, but their joint feast was dropped in 1969. One of these 14 was Pantaleon (also known as Pantaleimon).
Legend has it that Pantaleon, like several others in this A-Z, was the son of a rich pagan, in this case Eustorgius of Nicomedia (modern Izmit in Turkey); his mother was Saint Eubula, and he lived in the late third century.
After her death he drifted away from her faith and focused on studying medicine, becoming physician to the emperor Maximian. It is even said that he began to celebrate idolatry.
A bishop of Nicomedia, Saint Hermolaus, won Pantaleon back to the church by convincing him that the best physician for men was Christ.
Pantaleon then brought these two traditions of faith and healing together by healing a blind man, and a as a result converted his own father to Christianity. When he inherited his father’s wealth, he distributed it to the poor.
Meanwhile the authorities of medicine were unimpressed, and denounced him to the emperor during the Diocletian persecution. The emperor tried to save his physician by persuading him to denounce his faith, but Pantaleon was unbowed and came to trial.
At the trial he challenged the pagan priests to heal a man who was paralysed – they failed, and he succeeded, but was tortured and ultimately beheaded for his trouble (c305 AD).
According to tradition, his tortures were prolonged by his continued survival despite all odds: an apparition of Hermolaus saved him from burning torches; an apparition of Christ quenched a bath of molten lead; wild beasts sent to tear him limb from limb were cowed and sought his blessing; and when he was bound to a wheel, the ropes snapped.
When their swords bent as they tried to behead him, his executioners became Christians themselves, and only when Pantaleon permitted their cuts did he fall.
Pantaleon is remembered on 27 July and there are numerous churches named after him, particularly in southern France. Relics of his are said to be in Paris, and his head at Lyon. He is the patron of physicians, bachelors, torture victims and tuberculosis.
Other ‘P’ saints
- St Patrick (386-493) is of course the patron saint of Ireland, remembered on 17 March. Born somewhere in western Britain, he is also the patron of excluded people, engineers and Nigeria.
- St Philomena was supposedly a 4th century saint from Italy, but was only venerated from the 19th century, and was removed from the Catholic calendar of saints in 1961 due to lack of historical information. Some still recall her feast on 11 August, however, and she is a patron of children, lost causes and sterility.